The Atlanta Falcons are a long way off from the 2016 NFL Season when they were in Super Bowl LI. Within the past three seasons, the Falcons have accumulated an 18-30 record. Last season, the Falcons showed they needed a culture change and a redo in all front office and coaching staffs. This season, the Falcons turn to former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith as their new head coach. Atlanta will be facing some pressure as they rebuild their team despite having Pro Bowl-caliber talent on both sides of the ball. There will be even more pressure on four Falcon players, who are in the last year of their contract. These players will need to perform significantly to receive a potential contract extension or another opportunity for a longer NFL career.
Atlanta Falcons Players Facing Make-or-Break Contract Years
Dante Fowler Jr. – Defensive End
Fowler will be playing in his seventh year in the NFL and his second year with the Falcons. Fowler had some up-and-down seasons, with last season being disappointing with Atlanta. Last season, Fowler accounted for 23 total tackles, 12 solo tackles, four tackles for loss, and three sacks. The season before with the Los Angeles Rams, Fowler accounted for 58 total tackles, 40 solo tackles, 16 tackles for loss, and 11.5 sacks. The Falcons signed Fowler to a three-year, $45 million deal with a team-option out following the 2021 NFL season. Fowler has shown to be inconsistent too often, which is concerning for him being a former third overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. If Fowler has another disappointing season with the Falcons, they might release him from the expensive contract.
Hayden Hurst – Tight End
The addition of Florida Gators tight end Kyle Pitts with the fourth overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft does not add pressure to Hurst’s presence on the team. Last season was the best year for Hurst in his first with the Falcons after being traded from the Baltimore Ravens in the previous off-season. Hurst caught 56 receptions for 571 yards and six touchdowns last season for Atlanta. Hurst will be playing in the final year of his four-year, $11 million rookie deal. He will also be 28-years old when the 2021 NFL season starts. Hurst will look for a potential long-term and expensive contract with the Falcons. Hurst will need to help the Falcons offense in the passing game and running game for the Falcons to reward him such a contract. He will need to work even harder with a loaded passing game with Pitts and Calvin Ridley sharing the passes.
Isaiah Oliver – Cornerback
Among all of the position groups for Atlanta that have the most pressure this season, the secondary needs to be upgraded in some measure. The Falcons have the worst secondary, according to Pro Football Focus. Oliver is playing in the last year of his four-year, $4.6 million rookie contract. In his three years for the Falcons, he has not shown to be a reliable starter. Pro Football Focus gave Oliver an overall grade of 58.8. He allowed 68 receptions this past season, which tied for third-most in the league. Last season, rookie cornerback AJ Terrell had the best overall grade by Pro Football Focus at 60.8, but he allowed the second-most receptions in the NFL with 71. There is room for Terrell, but time is running out on Oliver. If Oliver cannot improve in his fourth season in the league, he will likely be gone.
Younghoe Koo – Kicker
Kickers are not given much respect or worth than other positions, but there are exceptions. In an underwhelming 2020 season, Koo was a bright spot for the Falcons and the fans. Koo was one of the only two Falcons to be selected to the Pro Bowl. As an All-Pro Bowl season, Koo was 37-of-39 on field goals and was 8-of-8 from 50+ yards. The Falcons extended Koo to a one-year, $920,000 contract. Koo has a chance to earn a long-term contract with the Falcons in another high-caliber and accurate kicking season. He has become one of the key faces of the franchises and a fan favorite in just one year. If he can replicate the same results again in 2021, there will be no doubt he will receive a beneficially and expensive extension.