Falcons salary cap pulse check ahead of training camp

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The Falcons today look much different than they did yesterday. Atlanta has gone through a total transformation since the new regime took over.

In Dan Quinn’s final year, the Falcons boasted a roster made up of Matt Ryan, Todd Gurley, Julio Jones, Alex Mack, James Carpenter, Dante Fowler, Keanu Neal, and Ricardo Allen. Their 2022 roster features none of those players.

Terry Fontenot has been hard at work — trading two franchise pillars in Ryan and Jones, parting ways with once-lucrative contracts like Fowler and Allen. When the new regime took over in Atlanta, they inherited quite the mess on the books. Thomas Dimitroff handed Fontenot bloated contracts that were always going to have to be dealt with.

Atlanta is carrying around an insane amount of dead money because of those moves though, which Fontenot described as taking it on on the chin. First and foremost, Ryan’s $40.525 million dead cap figure is the largest in league history and is joined by Jones’s $15.5 million, Fowler’s $4.666 million, and a few others to total an eye-popping $63.2 million.

Regardless of how the Falcons did it, they were always going to have to eat a ton of dead money. And the new regime knew it. “We knew it was going to be brutal for two years on the cap, no matter how we did it,” Smith told Jeff Schultz of The Athletic.

Still, the Falcons can see the light at the end of the tunnel. After recent extensions with Grady Jarrett and Jake Matthews, Atlanta locked down two essential pieces in the trenches while creating some cap space this year.

Today, the team has nearly $13.4 million in cap space, according to Over The Cap. Outside of Deion Jones‘ contract, the books look healthy moving forward. If Fontenot can rid the cap sheet of Dimitroff’s parting gift, he’ll have as close to a fresh slate as a general manager could get. With the league’s salary cap estimated to rise to $220-225 million in 2023, the Falcons should have between $131-136 million in cap space next offseason.

If the Falcons can somehow find a suitor to take Jones’s contract, the dead cap figure would only be $5.34 million in 2022 and 2023, with savings of $14.7 million and $13.1 million, respectively.

The Falcons’ cap health moving forward still isn’t excellent, but it is dramatically improved from when Fontenot and Arthur Smith took over. Brad Spielberger of PFF quantified the league’s cap health, and Atlanta ranked 18th based on five categories — active draft capital, three years of effective cap space, total prorated money, Top 51 valuation, and 2020 UFA valuation.

With over $13 million in cap space, the Falcons could still add at least one starting-caliber free agent. Arthur Smith has already stated the team will add to free agency as training camp approaches.

Speaking on the thought process behind having so many receivers on the roster at this point in the offseason, Smith noted that since there isn’t actual football going on, they’re afforded the opportunity to go heavy in that area for two or three weeks to create as much competition as possible.

However, once real football commences, there will be more big men on their way. Smith noted that once training camp approaches, there will be additions along the trenches to balance things out. So instead of having 100 receivers and only a dozen linemen, they’ll get closer to equilibrium. However, I wouldn’t get excited about a high-profile signing, despite the Falcons having the cap space to pursue one. I imagine this is just procedural, and Atlanta will add depth competition, not starting-caliber free agents. Still, it is exciting that maybe the Falcons will make a splash free-agent signing in the trenches.

Hopefully, the Falcons add serious competition for Jalen Mayfield and a worthwhile running mate for Grady Jarrett, but I wouldn’t get your hopes up.

Regardless, the new era of Falcons football is here, and we are in its infancy stage. Fontenot and Smith can’t be adequately judged in 2022, but what they do in 2023 and beyond will really cement their legacy (or lack thereof).

Photographer: Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire

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