Tue, 06 Jun 2023

Exclusive: Free agency recap with Terry Fontenot

Atlanta Falcons
24 Mar 2023, 00:57 GMT+10

The Falcons general manager talks Jessie Bates III, patience and the quarterback room in Atlanta. Tori McElhaney

Editor's note: The statements and opinions regarding players and/or potential future players in the article below are those of the AtlantaFalcons.com editorial staff and are not of the Atlanta Falcons' football personnel unless noted in a direct quote.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Falcons entered into the 2023 league year with the second-most cap space in the league. Getting to the point of having money to spend was a point that was two years in the making. In an exclusive interview with AtlantaFalcons.com, general manager Terry Fontenot said it was a point that required patience to get to; patience that had to come from every level of the Falcons organization.

"It starts with the head coach, Arthur Smith. He has to look at it like, 'OK, we have to go out and find good, tough, competitive football players and we have to do it on a budget,' and that's not always easy," Fontenot said. "Same thing with the patience from the organization, same thing with the patience from the owner, patience from the fans."


Official free agency signings: S Jessie Bates III, DL David Onyemata, LB Kaden Elliss, QB Taylor Heinicke, LB Tae Davis, CB Mike Hughes, WR Mack HollinsFalcons acquire TE Jonnu Smith in Patriots tradeAtlanta reinstates DT Eddie Goldman from reserve/retired list

Fontenot, Smith and the rest of the Falcons organization have been working with a tight budget since the new regime took over in 2021. That was not the case in 2023, and it wasn't the case because for the last two years the Falcons have been conservative and disciplined in their spending. There is still discipline to be had this offseason, too, but it's discipline that was made easier with north of $60 million in cap space to spend.

And spend the Falcons did over the last two weeks. Fontenot breaks down the primary moves, and provides commentary on how the Falcons reached their decisions.

Jessie Bates III

Thinking back to the Bates signing, it was fairly easy for the Falcons to come to the decision to bring him to Atlanta. There's the skill set, of course. He's not one of the best young safeties in the league for nothing. He doesn't sign this expensive second contract if he's not. He is.

Bates, Fontenot said, is a player who had every characteristic the Falcons not only look for when acquiring players, but characteristics they need.

"We not only want players who will be good at their position, but who're going to make people around them better," Fontenot said. "(Bates) has done that through his career."

Bates is a playmaker, who's last five years in Cincinnati warrant the contract the Falcons have extended to him.

He's in Atlanta now, and Fontenot said there's a high level of excitement around his future with the organization. In terms of big ticket guys in free agency? The Falcons feel they've punch an important ticket with Bates.

Extending Chris Lindstrom

Before any major news on the Falcons free agency moves hit, Atlanta made Lindstrom an offer that cemented him as the highest paid guard in NFL history. When the legal tampering window opened last Monday, the Falcons and Lindstrom agreed to a five-year, $105 million extension.

According to Fontenot, this move continued to prove that the Falcons are prioritizing two things: The line of scrimmage and rewarding their own.

"He embodies all of the characteristics and traits of the program we want to be, the person he is, the way he operates, the way he competes on a daily basis, obviously he has a lot of physical talent," Fontenot said of Lindstrom. "... He's the type of guy we want to build around."

This extension for Lindstrom comes after the Falcons extended Jake Matthews and Grady Jarrett in 2022. It's been reported that the Falcons have extended Kaleb McGary, too, though that extension has not been officially confirmed or announced by the organization. The Falcons have also re-signed Lorenzo Carter.

Fontenot said these moves have indicated exactly what the Falcons want them to. That "it's important to prioritize the front, and prioritize our players," Fontenot said.

Kaden Elliss, David Onyemata

What came first: The chicken or the egg? Or better yet: Ryan Nielsen's hire as the Falcons next defensive coordinator or the Falcons interest in these two Saints defenders? According to Fontenot, it's the latter.

"Those players, David and Kaden, they were already going to be players that we were going to go after," Fontenot said.

They were players who had been on the Falcons radar since the 2022 season ended, in fact. When Nielsen was hired, Fontenot said the decision to bring them in only "crystalized."

"Ryan comes in and he wants them, too, but it was (really about) the way they play football," Fontenot said. "We talk about versatility. We talk about toughness. We talk about violence and competitiveness. They really fit those characteristics. We knew we wanted to add those players to the front seven. When Ryan came in it just confirmed it."

Now the chicken and the egg(s) are reunited in Atlanta, and Cam Jordan may be none too pleased he lost some good eggs in New Orleans.

The quarterback room with Taylor Heinicke

The first word Fontenot used to describe Heinicke was "moxie." He's got it.

He's someone who has taken advantage of every opportunity he's gotten throughout his career. He's been an important backup for Washington over the last few years and he's someone Fontenot said the Falcons know has the talent to compete.

He also has the talent to push Desmond Ridder, something Heinicke said when he signed with the Falcons last week that he's fully planning to do. It was Heinicke who confirmed he was Ridder's backup in 2023.

"They drafted (Ridder) high last year for a reason. They believe in him for a reason," Heinicke said. "He showed some good film last year and if something unfortunate happens to him, I'll be ready to go. That's kind of been my life the last three years. So, it's kind of the same territory."

Speaking of Ridder, Fontenot did have an update on the young quarterback.

"We've talked a lot about Desmond and how excited we are about him," Fontenot said. "I know every time we talk to him or reach out to him he's somewhere working, and that's who he is as a person."

Why? Well, because Fontenot feels Ridder and Heinicke have a certain slate of intangibles that make them good players to build around.

"If you don't have the intangibles, I don't care how much physical talent you have, it doesn't matter. Both of those players have the intangibles," Fontenot said. "We know the way they're going to work, the way they're going to compete."


"We're excited about our quarterback room," Fontenot concluded.

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