There’s no clear cut number for how much cap space the Falcons need to open up to sign their draft class and ensure they are cap compliant before the 2021 season kicks off, but roster moves will have to be made. OverTheCap projects the Falcons will have a $13.08 million rookie pool, which means they need about $7.1 million to sign their draft class. This doesn’t include any trades so that estimation is likely a little bit high.
Terry Fontenot will get the job done, but with rumors swirling around a Julio Jones trade, I trust he can get it done without going to these desperate measures. When you openly commit to Matt Ryan and select a weapon for him with the 4th overall pick, it just doesn’t make sense to go one foot in and one foot out of a rebuild. Unless the Falcons get a ridiculous offer they can’t refuse, I think Atlanta will resort to one of these tactics to sign their draft class and keep Julio in Atlanta in 2021.
5. Cuts & Trades from the old regime
I went into depth on some cut & trade candidates following the 2021 NFL Draft, so if you want to read about which players are on the roster bubble, you can find them here. Before you get too hot and bothered over this, I think these moves would be a last resort unless the right trade offer comes along. By cutting or trading the following players after June 1st, the Falcons can save the money they need to sign their draft class and get under the salary cap before the season starts. Obviously, not all of these guys will be cut, and teams are limited with Post-June 1st cuts anyways.
As I noted in the other article, I’m not advocating for any of these guys to lose their job; they’re just some logical choices on the roster bubble. These decisions likely won’t come until after camp, and some guys may find homes on the practice squad. Some of these players are special teams contributors that could be replaced by rookies or just guys that Thomas Dimitroff and Dan Quinn drafted. Since the Falcons are operating under the Top-51 rule, they will still have to account for the 53 salaries they take into Week 1. For now, this is a temporary solution to the problem. Cap savings are listed to the right of the player’s name.
RB Qadree Ollison ($772k)
RB Tony Brooks-James ($780k)
FB Keith Smith ($1.075m)
WR Greg Dortch ($780k)
TE Hayden Hurst ($1.99m)
T Willie Beavers ($780k)
IDL Deadrin Senat ($920k)
CB Isaiah Oliver ($2.18m)
CB Kendall Sheffield ($660k)
CB Delrick Abrams ($780k)
S TJ Green ($920k)
A guy like Hayden Hurst and *possibly* Isaiah Oliver could net you something in a trade, and the Falcons won’t move on from Hurst unless they do get a decent trade offer. Keith Smith is interesting because the Falcons did bring in some fresh blood for potential H-Back options. Deadrin Senat’s seat has gotten hotter with the addition of Olive Sagapolu. I don’t know if Isaiah Oliver and Kendall Sheffield will be on the chopping block this early, but it is possible. Once again, this is just an example, but the Falcons can gain $11,637,000 in cap space from the names above alone. That’s more than enough to sign their draft class.
4. Matt Ryan Extension
This one seems a little less likely considering Matt Ryan hasn’t played a snap for Arthur Smith, and he would be 38 whenever his contract expires in 2023. However, this regime obviously believes in Ryan, and perhaps this will be an option on the table if he plays well in 2021. I don’t think it’s entirely out of the question, but like with the above scenario, I think it’s down the rung for options to clear cap space. Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers have been very effective after turning 37, but those are two first-ballot Hall of Famers. We saw Drew Brees, an all-time great, deteriorate right in front of our eyes after turning 40 — and Terry Fontenot got a first-hand look at that. I wouldn’t be opposed to giving Ryan an extra year, but two years may be pushing it. We will have to wait and see
3. Grady Jarrett Restructure
Restructures can be a bit tricky in the NFL. While the league salary cap should rise a decent bit in 2022, the big spike from the new television deal isn’t expected until 2023. There are implications for next season, but the Falcons should have a decent amount to work with (OverTheCap projects $203m). No player on this roster would be opposed to a restructure; they’re getting a fat guaranteed check and more security down the road — two things any NFL player would want. On top of that, the new CBA doesn’t require the player to approve a restructure. So the Falcons could do it without even communicating with Jarrett. By max restructuring Grady, the Falcons would gain $6.75 million in cap space, which could be enough to sign their draft class. They may need a little more room, but it’s certainly a start. I prefer the other two options below.
2. Julio Jones Restructure
I still believe that Julio Jones has plenty of good years left in the tank. I’m not concerned about the injury dinks he suffered in 2020; he has been a very durable player for most of his career. When he’s healthy, he’s still the best receiver in the NFL. By max restructuring Julio, the Falcons could save $10.2 million in cap space. It’s a bit of a roll of the dice because moving him becomes near impossible after that if the injury bug does bite again in 2021, but I’m willing to bet on Julio coming back and dominating under Arthur Smith.
1. Grady Jarrett Extension
This is the easy number one choice for me; giving Grady Jarrett a new contract is a no-brainer. Not only should Atlanta be able to afford him in 2022, but they could also defer a considerable amount to 2023 when the salary cap is projected to be at over $225 million (via OverTheCap). Grady is only 28 and is one of the three best interior defenders in the entire NFL. He is the best player on this defense and arguably the whole team. Locking him up gives you an elite building block on the front seven and saves a ton of cash in a season when you need it. What’s not to like?