With this win-now situation the Falcons were in over the past 5 seasons, the biggest sacrifice in that was cap room in the future. Adding a pandemic and a fraction of the normal revenue halting the salary cap in its place has expedited the problems for Atlanta. 6 guys make up a massive chunk of the salary cap. Here is how I would attempt to fix this Falcons roster going into next season. (all numbers provided by Over The Cap)
This is one of the strangest built teams in the NFL with a majority of their money tied up in their top 7 players. Cutting Matt Ryan or Julio Jones would cause more harm than it would help. I really don’t wanna see Grady Jarrett leave Atlanta at this time. All of that brings us to the two top candidates, Jake Matthews and Donte Fowler Jr. Matthews has been a solid tackle for the better part of a decade in the NFL, but he is never going to be elite. Matthews turns 30 this year, and if he will get his last big contract on the open market. Fowler, on the other hand, might be the easiest cut on this roster. He got a massive deal to come over from the Rams and be the pass rusher the Falcons have spent a decade trying to find. He signed a massive deal worth around 15 million a season and proceeded to get 3 sacks this year. Yes the Falcons paid 5 million per sack this season. Needless to say, its time for him to find a new home. The other two “money saving” cuts that I would make would be for James Carpenter and Isaiah Oliver. Releasing Carpenter leaves another massive hole on the offensive line, but Atlanta cannot afford not to cut him and save that 5.3 million dollars. The Isaiah Oliver cut has more to do with his play on the field than real significant savings. Atlanta has not been able to solve their issues on the back end of the defense, and it looks like Oliver could be another in a long line of poor draft picks. The final cut, although a little unnecessary, would be Ito Smith for me. Smith is a glorified third down back that I do not believe can be a bell cow for this team. The last couple of drafts have produced some great backs from the second round forward, and Atlanta could improve the running game using that outlet. I might consider keeping him around due to no running backs being on the roster if he is cut, but he should not be on the team past next year.
Cuts: Jake Matthews, Donte Fowler, James Carpenter, Isaiah Oliver, Ito Smith (If needed)
Dragging out Ryan’s or Julio Jones’ contracts does nothing but lead to more problems down the line. The only guy I would talk to about a potential restructure would be Grady Jarrett. The dominant defensive tackle has been one of the best player on this mediocre defense since he entered the league in 2015. He just signed a major extension in 2019 for 4 years 68 million (38 million guaranteed). At 28 years old, this is Jarrett’s last big contract and I am sure he wants to make the most of it. If they can convert most of his base salary into a roster bonus, Atlanta could have up to 16 million dollars in cap space on June 1st. I want to see Grady as a lifetime Falcon, and I hope this suggestion will not put a bad taste in his mouth. He is the cornerstone to build around.
Restructures: Grady Jarrett
There aren’t a ton of huge free agents that could potentially walk out the door this summer. Guys like Todd Gurley, Ricardo Allen, and Brian Hill were serviceable last year, but for one reason or another do not make a lot of sense to bring back for another go around. The first guy I look at resigning is Alex Mack. 3 new starters on the offensive line is more than I am willing to part with at this time, and bringing back Mack on a one year deal seems much safer than trying to find some new blood in free agency. Mack is 34 and in the twilight of his career. I believe he will understand the circumstances and if he wants to go chase a ring, then I thank him for his service to the Falcons. I have Mack receiving between 4-5 million for that season, although it might cost a little extra. The other guy I would offer a contract to in the first cycle is Younghoe Koo. He was one of the brighter spots for a team that struggled all year long to the point where he was one of the two Falcon pro bowlers this year (Grady Jarrett being the other). Now, I am not going to go crazy and say he deserves Justin Tucker money, but if Atlanta can keep him for a reasonable price (less than 3 million), I believe he would be a great addition to this free agency group. My final potential resigning (strong emphasis on potential) is Keanu Neal. When he is on the field, he is one of the most dynamic safeties in the NFL. The biggest problem is he has spent just as much time on the injury report as he has on the field. 2020, he was able to stay healthy all season and record 74 tackles and one interception, but I am not sure if that is good enough to warrant a second contract. If Neal is willing to sign a one year prove it deal, then we could see him return for at least one more season.
Resigning: Alex Mack, Younghoe Koo, Keanu Neal
If Atlanta resigns all of the players mentioned, not including Keanu Neal, they will barely have enough to sign their draft class. This team will not be in the running for guys like Joe Tuney, Allen Robinson, Shaq Barrett, Karl Joseph or anyone in the upper echelon of their position. Some guys that I might consider in this position are young and inexpensive. This team is not built to compete in free agency this year and I do not think Atlanta will make too many roster moves that have anything more than (R) beside their name. The draft is going to be their opportunity to build and find UDFA’s to fill out the rest of the roster. I’ll throw a couple names out there just to see if any stick, but don’t expect to see any of these players on the roster come September. A team in this situation needs to be willing to take punts on players, so here are a few that could be in that scenario.
Free Agents: (None) Alex Redmond LG, Sidney Jones CB, Tavon Wilson (SS), Wayne Gallman (RB)
Overall this team is in about the worst shape its been in this century. Next year will be much more interesting than this year when the Matt Ryan contract becomes cut eligible. Do the Falcons attempt to get their QB? Possibly. Do they look to begin the rebuild process under new coach Arthur Smith and GM Terry Fontenot? Maybe. One thing is for sure about this team though. The winning window has closed and there is not much that can be done to reopen that window.