The Atlanta Falcons currently sit atop the NFC South with a 4-4 record, despite boasting one of the least talented rosters in the NFL. Marcus Mariota is nothing more than a backup-caliber quarterback. Though the offensive line has improved, it’s still suspect in pass protection. The offense has also been missing its most effective weapon in Cordarrelle Patterson, and the defense is absolutely barren of talent outside of AJ Terrell and Grady Jarrett.
Despite all of those circumstances, Arthur Smith has this group hungry, staying competitive in just about every contest this year, which is why I believe he should garner some Coach of the Year consideration. Circling back, the roster is so deficient of talent because Terry Fontenot has stripped this team down to build it back up.
He inherited a mess of a salary cap sheet, with bloated contracts at every turn. Getting rid of Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Deion Jones, and others has resulted in Atlanta carrying nearly $80 million in dead money this year. This means that instead of the Atlanta Falcons using all $200-ish million of the league salary cap, they’re working with around $130 million to field a competitive team.
Arthur Smith is working with the Bad News Bears, yet he continues to pull wins out of his hat. The Falcons have a serious shot at making the postseason in a year that everyone thought would be a throwaway. They’ll probably have to beat the Buccaneers in the season finale if they want to squeak into the playoffs, but excitement for next season is already creeping into my mind.
The Falcons traded Calvin Ridley to the Jaguars in the final moments before the NFL trade deadline, which gets his $11.11 million fifth-year option off the books for next season, giving the Falcons even more cap space next year. According to OverTheCap, the Falcons currently sit with $74 million in cap space for 2023. That is more spending money than this team has had in what feels like a decade. Moreover, Jake Matthews‘ $30 million cap hit could be restructured to push that figure over $90 million.
That money will go to good use with needs all over the roster. Marcus Davenport, Elgton Jenkins, Isaiah Wynn, Allen Lazard, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Andre Dillard, Jessie Bates, Da’Ron Payne, and others could all be available this offseason. If the Atlanta Falcons continue their impressive, efficient spending in free agency, you can expect this team’s talent level to rise to that of a playoff-caliber team. Terry Fontenot has essentially been shopping in the back of the store in the great value aisle, and now, he’ll be able to spend big on premier free agents. The Falcons are primed to be big spenders in free agency this offseason.
Photographer: Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire