Falcons: Jake’s dream plan for Terry Fontenot’s first offseason

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Happy first day of the offseason! I try to do this every offseason for the Hawks, Braves, and Falcons — but this one is very special. This is the first non-Dan Quinn or Thomas Dimitroff offseason in the history of this website, so anything can happen. One of Terry Fontenot‘s specialties is acquiring players in free agency, and with reports that the salary cap may be higher than expected, he may be able to cash in on some impact free agents. Keep in mind, this is something I do for fun with a lot of educated guesses for contact figures — don’t lose sleep over it. I trust Fontenot to make the right moves.

Housekeeping:

Exercise Calvin Ridley‘s 5th year option

Exercise Hayden Hurst‘s 5th year option

For the 2017 draft and 2021 offseason, the cost of fifth-year options for a wide receiver taken from pick 11-32 was $10.96 million. For a tight end in that range, it was $6.01 million. I’ll go off of these figures for now, they’ll likely be very close.

PFF predicts Atlanta will decline Hurst’s option, but I think he’s worth another season at that price. Ridley is a no-brainer, but Hurst is a gamble considering it’s unknown how much Arthur Smith will get out of him. If you decline the option and he balls out, now he gets more expensive. If you gave up a second round pick for Hurst, I say exercise it. His $6.01 million salary would barely rank in the top 17 of the entire NFL. For now, these have no implication on the 2021 cap sheet.

Restructures:

Alex wrote a fantastic piece showing how Atlanta can get $15 million under the cap by restructuring their top six contracts. With a reported additional $10 million or more being added to the hard salary cap, that number can balloon closer to $25 million. I think Arthur Smith will get the best out of Matt Ryan, so I’m not afraid of restructuring him a fourth time. If you want to check the specific numbers of each guy, you can check that out here.

Cuts:

I listed some cut candidates here, and while I was torn for a bit — I think Atlanta keeps Dante Fowler Jr to see what he does under Dean Pees in an attacking 3-4. Onto the cuts and the savings:

K Elliott Fry ($660,000 in savings, $0 in dead cap)

EDGE Allen Bailey ($4.5 Million in savings, $1.625 million in dead cap)

G James Carpenter ($4 million in savings, $1.2 million in dead cap — Post June 1st designation)

IDL Tyeler Davison ($3.5 million, $1.2 million in dead cap — Post June 1st designation)

NFL squads are limited with Post-June 1st cuts, and teams can spread the cap hit over two seasons. I don’t think the deals are substantial enough for that, so for the sake of simplicity, we’ll stick to one season. This is a two parter.. onto the next:

Potential Trade:

A trade is probably the biggest wild card, but Atlanta can trade or cut Ricardo Allen and save $6.25 million regardless.

Falcons Trade: 2022 Conditional 6th Round Pick, S Ricardo Allen, T Willie Beavers

Broncos Trade: IDL Jurrell Casey

I wrote about reuniting Casey with Dean Pees here, and I think pairing Jurrell Casey with Grady Jarrett is a match made in heaven. Ricardo Allen is used to replace the likely departing Justin Simmons, and the Broncos get a nice ROI after trading a seventh round pick for Casey with a conditional pick.

Willie Beavers being moved is to get his salary off the books. Even though Casey missed 2020 with a torn biceps, he is still a force up the middle and immediately improves Atlanta’s defense. Ricardo Allen saves the team $6.25 million and Beavers saves $780,000, which is around half of Casey’s $13.85 million 2021 cap hit before he hits free agency in 2022.

Re-Signings:

K Younghoe Koo (Four years, $16 million — $4 million AAV)

TE Jaeden Graham (One year, $850,000 — $850,000 AAV)

WR Laquon Treadwell (One year, $1 million — $1 million AAV)

EDGE Jacob Tuioti-Mariner (One year, $850,000 — $850,000 AAV)

S Keanu Neal (Two years, $10 million — $5 million AAV)

I like Brandon Powell and Christian Blake, but they are replaceable. I see Alex Mack retiring or taking a chance with a contender. I’m good on Todd Gurley. I’ll be double dipping on running backs in the draft, so I’d let Brian Hill go as well. Atlanta can fill a lot of special teams roles with UDFAs anyways. I wouldn’t be shocked to see this regime let a lot of guys go to build their own roster. However, this is my plan — and these are the only guys I want to keep.

It sucks to pay a kicker $4 million per year, but Koo is a weapon and has earned this contract. Koo is an ERFA, which means he can be signed for a one-year league minimum contract, but I’s rather get him locked up. Graham could become a monster in Arthur Smith’s system. Although Dirk Koetter refused to use him in 2020, he averaged over 10 YPC in 2019. I’m still willing to gamble on Laquon Treadwell‘s potential for another season. I wanted Darqueze Dennard, and while he has earned himself a raise, I’ll be targeting secondary in the draft and free agency. He was pretty good for Atlanta even with the injuries, but he’s a casualty here sadly. JTM is solid depth, so I’ll give him another deal. I think Keanu Neal gets more than that, but that’s the projected contract via PFF.

Using Over the Cap’s Salary Cap Calculator and accounting for the moves so far, with the estimated rise in salary cap space, Atlanta now has $34.6 million in space before adding Casey’s $6.8 million after salary matching. That gives me roughly $27.8 million to play with in Free Agency.

Free Agent Signings:

CB Jason Verrett (PFF projected contract: Two years, $10 million — $5 million AAV)

S/SLCB Desmond King (PFF projected contract: Three years, $17 million — $5.8 million AAV)

C Corey Linsley (PFF projected contract: Three years, $33 million — $11 million AAV)

EDGE Ryan Kerrigan (One year, $5 million — $5 million AAV)

Coming in at $26.8 million, Atlanta skirts the salary cap by a whole $1 million. Look, these numbers aren’t perfect estimates, but this is just a fun dream scenario. This would be pushing Atlanta right up against the hard cap with only a little money left to spare, but you can add four impact players this offseason at positions of need.

Desmond King is criminally cheap at that price point, especially considering he’s one of the best slot defenders in the league. Jason Verrett is a lottery ticket, as it seems he never stays healthy. However, when he’s on the field — he is a lockdown corner. Corey Linsley is one of the best centers in the NFL and immediately fills the gaping hole left by Alex Mack. Ryan Kerrigan reunites with old pal Gary Emanuel on a cheap “prove it” deal. Kerrigan didn’t have an estimate via PFF and may seek more, but I think this is fair for him. If the salary cap isn’t up to $185 million, you can leave off Kerrigan or Verrett and still make a big impact in free agency.

I wanted Carl Lawson badly, he has been a revolution as of late, and pairing him with Dante Fowler Jr.could potentially open up looks for both guys. However, his projected $13 million AAV contract over four years is not cheap and doesn’t fit the budget without sacrificing someone else. I wouldn’t cry if you subbed out Kerrigan & Verrett for him.

I understand these moves could be dangerous considering Calvin Ridley, Foyesade Oluokun, and possibly Hayden Hurst will need extensions soon. Dead money from cuts also can carry over. However, with (hopefully) full stadiums in 2021, the salary cap will go back up substantially for 2022. In addition, Atlanta will have more flexibility with cuts — especially if a guy like Dante Fowler Jr. flops again, he can be released for $15 million in savings next offseason. These moves are about winning now with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones entering the twilight of their careers.

2021 NFL Draft:

I’m not going into a full on mock with trades, so i’ll just do a short chalk draft of the first 5 rounds of who I think would complete the team.

Round 1, Pick 4 — T Penei Sewell, Oregon

Round 2, Pick 35 — RB Javonte Williams, UNC

Round 3, Pick 68 — EDGE Carlos Basham, Wake Forest

Round 4, Pick 99 — EDGE Patrick Jones, Pittsburgh

Round 5, Pick 132 — S Ar’Darius Washington, TCU

I think Sewell will be a franchise left tackle for 10-to-fifteen years, so I’d be very happy picking him up. Javonte Williams is easily the third best back in this class outside of Najee Harris & Travis Etienne; his punishing running style and athleticism make him an easy pickup.

Doubling up on offense may be crazy, but if Carlos Basham is available in the third — he’s an easy pickup. He can play across the defensive line and is a fantastic versatile piece in a 3-4 next to Jarrett. If you’ve ever read any of my mocks, Patrick Jones is one of my favorite players in the entire draft. As Nick Saban would say, his “piss runs hot”. He is an incredibly gifted athlete.  Ar’Darius Washington is a bit undersized, but he gives Atlanta two safeties (along with Desmond King) with slot capabilities in nickel packages.

The Falcons have two projected  compensation picks and a sixth round pick left. I’d look to grab a box safety and thumping inside linebacker with those choices.

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