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Atlanta Falcons: Ranking the top six free agents in team history – Falcons Wire

When it comes to free agency, the Atlanta Falcons haven’t traditionally gone after the biggest names or impact players on the market. Instead, the team has been forced to look elsewhere for hidden value.
Kicker Younghoe Koo and RB Cordarelle Patterson are two recent examples of this method working out well for the Falcons. Neither player signed with much fanfare but both turned into key contributors and could potentially go down as some of the best free-agent acquisitions Atlanta has ever made.
Here’s our ranking of the six best free-agent signings in team history.
Anderson signed with the Falcons two times during his NFL career. His first, and most notable, stint came after he was released by the Saints due to questions regarding his accuracy and salary cap constraints. These concerns came despite Anderson being voted first-team All-Pro four times while in New Orleans.
Anderson would receive less accolades in Atlanta, but he was part of arguably the most iconic moment in team history. With a chance to go to the Super Bowl — to face off against the John Elway-led Broncos — Anderson hit a walk-off field goal to defeat the No. 1 seeded Vikings in the 1998 NFC Championship game. Anderson ended his career atop the Falcons’ all-time scoring list (806 points), however, he was eventually upstaged by a guy who will also see his name further down this list.
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Before there was Julio Jones, there was Roddy White. Before White, there was Terance Mathis. All three receivers have scored at least 350 points with the Falcons and make up the top three pass-catchers on their all-time scoring list. Unlike Jones and White, however, Mathis wasn’t drafted by the team.
Before coming to Atlanta, Mathis was the 140th overall pick by the Jets in 1990. His first four years in the NFL weren’t noteworthy. In fact, Mathis’ top regular season yardage total was 352 prior to signing in Atlanta. His first season with the Falcons would be the best of his career.
Mathis totaled 1,300 yards and 11 touchdowns in 1994 — both higher than his career totals in New York. He made the only Pro Bowl of his career in 1994. Mathis would follow up with three more seasons of over 1,000 yards and racked up double-digit scores once more in 1998. Mathis remained the Falcons’ go-to target until he departed in 2002 and later retired after his lone season with the Steelers.
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When Warrick Dunn joined the Falcons in 2002, he didn’t come from a rival NFC South team, but rather a Tampa Bay team that was previously in the NFC North. It wasn’t until 2002 that the Bucs moved to the NFC South due to divisional realignment, leaving Dunn to face his former team twice a year.
While Dunn wasn’t a bad player while in Tampa Bay, he definitely had a bigger impact in Atlanta, rushing for 1,000 more yards and 11 more touchdowns during his six years in Atlanta. Dunn had three 1,000-yard seasons in a row, going for 1,106, 1,416 and 1,140 yards from 2004-2006. What he did on the field was incredible, but it should be noted that his actions off the field are what carry the weight of his legacy.
Dunn has done some truly admirable work helping out low-income families. In 2019, he was presented the Muhammad Ali Legacy Award for his contributions to his off-field charities.
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The Falcons offensive line has been one of the team’s biggest weaknesses, but that is no way an indictment on recently retired center Alex Mack. Originally drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 2009, Mack spent seven seasons in Cleveland before signing with Atlanta in 2016.
The then-31-year-old had just appeared in the Pro Bowl during his final season with the Browns. Mack added three consecutive Pro-Bowl appearances with the Falcons from 2016-2018, while earning All-Pro honors in 2016 and 2017. Despite performing at a high level, the Falcons couldn’t do much to re-sign their star center during the 2021 offseason. Mack ended up signing with the 49ers in 2021, before retiring in 2022.
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The Falcons have been very lucky at the kicker spot with Morten Anderson, Mick Luckhurst, Matt Bryant, and Younghoe Koo. However, until Koo spends another 10 years in Atlanta, Bryant will remain the best kicker to ever sign in Atlanta as a free agent. Bryant signed with the Giants as an undrafted rookie in 2002, before spending time with the Colts, Dolphins, and Buccaneers. He eventually signed with the Falcons in 2009.
Bryant finished six of his seasons in Atlanta with a field goal percentage over 90 — and three more seasons above 86 percent. Bryant was released after the 2018 season but rejoined the Falcons prior to the 2019 season after multiple failed attempts to replace him. However, Bryant converted on just 64 percent of his kicks that year and was replaced by Koo midway through the season.
He may have never kicked his way to a Super Bowl berth, but he did kick his way atop the Falcons’ all-time scoring list with 1,163 points.
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While the other spots on this list are open to debate, the top spot belongs to Michael “Burner” Turner. A fourth-round pick by the Chargers in 2004, Turner spent four seasons backing up LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego before signing with the Falcons in 2008.
Similar to Terance Mathis, Turner’s first season with the Falcons eclipsed his previous career highs in terms of yardage. In 2008, Turner posted 1,600 yards, 17 touchdowns and was voted a first-team All-Pro. He would go on to make two Pro Bowl appearances in Atlanta.
With a rookie Matt Ryan at quarterback, the team benefited from having an elite ground game led by Turner. Although his season was cut short in 2009,  he finished with 871 rushing yards on an average of 4.9 yards per attempt – the highest of his time in Atlanta.
Turner went on to record over 1,300 yards in both 2010 and 2011, adding double-digit scores. In 2012, despite being one of the Falcons’ all-time best seasons, Turner eventually flamed out and finished the year with 800 yards. Turner ended his Falcons career eighth on the team’s all-time scoring list, and as the top running back. Turner fell just 600 yards shy of becoming the team’s all-time rushing yards leader.
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The Atlanta Falcons have bolstered their defensive front, signing veteran nose tackle Eddie Goldman to a one-year deal on Wednesday.
Looking at Pro Football Focus’ starting lineup projections for the Falcons with player grades.
Looking at Pro Football Focus’ starting lineup projections for the Falcons with player grades.
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