3 bold predictions for Falcons 2022 offseason — Free Agency and NFL draft

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Last offseason was the first of Terry Fontenot’s reign over the Falcons front office, and it was predictably anti-climatic. The decisions of Thomas Dimitroff’s front office financially handicapped the Falcons in 2021, and the signings reflected those circumstances.

Atlanta exclusively handed out one-year deals that were close to or at the veteran minimum in free agency — Mike Davis, who received a two-year contract, being the lone exception. This free agency period might entail Fontenot handing out more money, but don’t expect anything ridiculously lucrative.

The Falcons are still suffering from the previous regime’s mistakes — Julio Jones and Dante Fowler dead cap hits, Deion Jones‘s bloated contract, and Matt Ryan‘s record-setting cap hit due to restructures.

Fontenot will have to restructure, extend, and/or cut a few players to get in the green as they currently stand $7.3 million over the league’s $208.2 million salary cap. But it isn’t as complicated as it seems; he can easily create significant cap dollars to sign free agents.

With a bit more cash to spend and another chance to select an elite-caliber prospect in the draft, the Falcons might be a bit more frivolous this offseason. After all, fortune does favor the bold. Here are three bold predictions for the Falcons this offseason:

The Falcons don’t trade Calvin Ridley

If you gauged the temperature surrounding the prospect of trading Ridley on social media, you’d come away convinced the All-Pro is well on his way out of Atlanta.

However, social media isn’t indicative of reality like so many believe. The truth is that the public has no idea what Ridley is going through, his intentions, or how the organization feels about his future with the team. Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith spoke to members of the media on Tuesday at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, where the two men didn’t shed any light on the situation.

Steve Wyche most recently reported it is “likely” the star receiver is shipped out of Atlanta, and Ian Rapoport provided further information. On NFL Network, Rapoport called the situation extremely complex but emphasized that IF he were to get traded, Ridley would fetch “a lot” in return.

I’m saying this is a bold prediction because everyone automatically assumes Fontenot is going to deal him. He saw firsthand how much Matt Ryan and Arthur Smith struggled in 2021 with such mediocre weapons — outside of a rookie tight end and aging running back. Regarding Ridley, I don’t think Fontenot lets it get to the point it got with Julio Jones.

Sure, Ridley could have already made up his mind and the consistent badgering from Falcons fans on social media could’ve pushed him to this point, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the new regime attempts to work out a solution — after all, oddsmakers have Ridley returning to Atlanta as the most likely outcome.

Jalen Mayfield heads into training camp as the starter at left guard

For many Falcons fans, there wasn’t a more hated player throughout the 2021 season than Jalen Mayfield. His poor play was just that bad. Many expect the Falcons to bring in a veteran to compete with Mayfield for the starting left guard position, and I’m predicting that doesn’t happen.

There will most likely be a veteran depth signing, but the Falcons won’t sign a starting-caliber guard in free agency. I believe the coaching staff and front office’s initial plan was for Mayfield to learn behind Matt Gono or Josh Andrews, but those plans went to shit due to injury. Therefore, they were forced to take their lumps with Mayfield.

I don’t see it changing anytime soon either. It is far too early to give up on a player the franchise invested a third-round pick in. I could see the veteran signing giving him some competition, but Mayfield goes into camp as the clear-cut No.1 option.

Terry Fontenot drafts Matt Ryan’s heir apparent in one of the first two rounds

The Falcons are sure to restructure Matt Ryan’s contract in the coming days, or they’ll head into the 2022 season with the highest cap hit in league history — just shy of $50 million. However, it’ll make it more difficult to move off him in 2023. Given this crop of quarterbacks not being as pro-ready as other classes, one of these prospects could actually use two seasons of mentoring from a veteran like Ryan to develop.

Falcons’ leadership has been adamant about always looking for quarterbacks, so I’d fully expect them to take one this draft to begin the grooming process. It’s just a matter of when they’ll decide to do it. It could be a mid-round pick, but I’m predicting the Falcons will take a signal caller in one of the first two rounds.

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