Grading Falcons in free agency: Special teams gets boost with Justin Bethel

A breakdown of the initial wave of free agency for the Atlanta Falcons:

Grade: C: The Falcons entered free agency with the mindset of bargain shopping without much cap space. They might have been a tad more aggressive had quarterback Matt Ryan agreed to a contract extension and, thus, lowered his $20-million-plus cap figure in 2018. But that wasn't the case, so the Falcons needed to remain within a strict budget. They were able to fill some needs by signing a guard, a blocking tight end and a special-teams demon. Those moves didn't exactly put Atlanta over the top, but general manager Thomas Dimitroff firmly believes there were no major holes to fill for a team just two years removed from the Super Bowl. We'll see.

Most significant signing: Justin Bethel. The three-time Pro Bowl special-teams player, who came over from the Cardinals, is the type of ace coordinator Keith Armstrong needs on his units. Bethel led the Cardinals in special-teams tackles for five consecutive seasons. The Falcons struggled with their kick coverage last season as Armstrong tried to work new faces in the mix. Expect Bethel to make an immediate impact. Said coach Dan Quinn of Bethel: "The first thing that jumps out is his speed, and you know for us that's where it starts. He's had a terrific background on special teams, and for us that's a real area of emphasis going into this offseason: How do we improve our starting field position in terms of how we cover. That goes into kickoff coverage. That goes into punt coverage. And his experience outside at gunner, that's really where, 'You better make sure you have two in the vice because if he gets singled, he's going to get a lot of tackles.'"

Most significant loss: Dontari Poe. The two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle played his role last season as a run-stuffer who took up blocks and made life easier on guys such as Pro Bowl linebacker Deion Jones. Without Poe, the Falcons need to find another big body to plug in up front. Quinn told reporters at the owners meetings that such a player isn't yet on the roster, and defensive tackle appears to be the position the Falcons are prioritizing in the draft. If they wanted, they could bring back unsigned Ahtyba Rubin for more depth up front.

Player they should have signed: Ed Dickson. The versatile tight end who last played with Carolina could have given the Falcons another red-zone threat while also filling the role as a blocker. In fact, the Falcons were in the mix but couldn't come close to matching the three-year, $10.7 million contract the Seahawks gave to Dickson. Said Panthers tight end Greg Olsen of Dickson: "I have always felt Ed was an underrated NFL tight end. He was held in high regard in our locker room not only for his ability to run/pass block but also his ability in the passing game. I feel he is a starter-caliber NFL player." The Falcons will count on Austin Hooper as their pass-catcher and newly signed Logan Paulsen as their run-blocker.

What's next: The Falcons need to address the need for a impact defensive tackle next to Grady Jarrett. Maybe they'll find that guy with the 26th overall pick in the draft among a group of guys such as Da'Ron Payne, Maurice Hurst, and Taven Bryan. The team could use a speedy receiver to replace Taylor Gabriel, and enhancing the offensive and defensive lines is always a priority. Plus, finding a capable return man is a must. Quinn said Justin Hardy and Marvin Hall are internal candidates for punt return and Hardy and Reggie Davis for kickoff returns, but Quinn also hinted another returner could be found via the draft.

Additions: OG Brandon Fusco, TE Logan Paulsen, CB Justin Bethel, DE Derrick Shelby.

Losses (by release/trade/signed elsewhere): DT Dontari Poe, WR Andre Roberts, KR/PR Taylor Gabriel, TE Levine Toilolo.