Despite the struggles of starter Matt Ryan in 2015, the Atlanta Falcons’ primary concern heading into this year’s offseason remains at addressing who is the backup at quarterback.
Last year the Falcons kept Sean Renfree at the spot after he won the training-camp competition against veteran T.J. Yates. Yates returned to Houston, where he was able to help guide the Texans to a trio of wins, aiding their late-season playoff push.
Unfortunately Yates never was able to do that in his brief time in Atlanta after the team snagged him via trade in June 2014. But the Falcons hope that whomever is their backup in 2016 could potentially pull off that same feat if they find themselves missing Ryan for a considerable amount of time in the future.
Questions remain if Renfree is that guy. Despite beating Yates in a fair and open competition this past summer, Renfree has done little in three summers with the Falcons to indicate that he’s destined to be the type of backup quarterback that can help salvage a season for a playoff-bound team.
It was telling how little confidence the Falcons had in Renfree heading into the 2015 season when they briefly dabbled with Rex Grossman as a contender for the backup spot.
It remains to be seen if Renfree did anything over the past six months to garner more confidence from the Falcons coaching staff. He saw brief action in a pair of blowouts this past year (against Houston and the Carolina Panthers). It was telling when the play-calling for Renfree when he got his only real action as a passer against the Panthers late in the year featured a number of short, high-percentage passes, indicative that the coaching staff still has some concerns about Renfree’s grasp of the system.
However it should be noted that Renfree wasn’t the only player that wasn’t super keen “mastering” the system last year. That likely means that if the Falcons are going to attempt to make an upgrade, they’re most likely to target a free agent that has experience playing for Shanahan.
The most prominent of the free agents that fit that requirement is Matt Schaub, who the Falcons showed interest in last offseason. Schaub ultimately landed with the Baltimore Ravens and was looked competent in one of his two starts for them in 2015.
Schaub turns 35 in June and still is intent on continuing his NFL career. With the Ravens not expected to re-sign him, the Falcons should have a fairly good shot of attracting the quarterback they originally selected in the third round of the 2004 NFL Draft.
However the Falcons could also opt to go younger at the position. While Renfree does give them one developmental passer already on the roster, an upgrade via the draft could also be an enticing option.
The 2016 quarterback draft class looks much more promising than last year’s group, and Ryan’s struggles this past year does raise some concerns about his long-term staying power in Atlanta.
Ryan’s contract doesn’t run out until after the 2018 season and drafting a rookie now could give them three years of development as a potential replacement down the road.
However the limited number of picks the Falcons currently possess coupled with a wealth of other more pressing needs all across the roster makes spending a mid or late-round pick on another developmental quarterback more of a luxury than a necessity.
Yet it’s unlikely that the Falcons will be content to just bring back Renfree and practice squad member Matt Simms to camp this summer without added competition. Whether it’s a veteran free agent or a developmental prospect in the draft, the Falcons seem poised to make at least one significant addition at quarterback in 2016.