Once the Falcons firmly decided to hang onto Vic Beasley for one more season and re-sign Grady Jarrett, the opportunity for Thomas Dimitroff to make substantial moves in free agency became nothing more than a pipe dream. They were able to make some quality additions; however, bringing in James Carpenter and Jamon Brown on team-friendly deals to beef up the interior of their offensive line. They also added Luke Stocker to their tight-end group, re-signed Logan Paulsen, and brought in Kenjon Barner to be their kick return specialist and a possible third-down back option – all moves that will allow the Falcons to focus on defense during the draft.
But the loss for Atlanta in free agency did not come in the form of who they did or did not sign; it occurred because of the lucrative multi-year deals that were being handed out like candy by other franchises.
The Falcons will not be significant players in free agency for the foreseeable future due to how well they have drafted since Dan Quinn became the head coach. Their focus will remain on keeping their young core intact while adding free agents sparingly where they see fit. The former just got a lot tougher after this offseason.
Thomas Dimitroff and Company are currently trying to negotiate extensions with Julio Jones and Grady Jarrett. Neither of those players will come cheap, and they are only the beginning of what is set to be an onslaught of young Falcons lining up to get paid. Deion Jones, Austin Hooper, Vic Beasley, and De’Vondre Campbell are all set to be unrestricted free agents at the end of the 2019 season. Keanu Neal will be playing under his fifth-year option for over $9 million in 2020 and will want to be paid handsomely once that concludes. In other words: there is no way the Falcons can keep them all.
C.J. Mosley recently signed the most lucrative deal for an inside linebacker by a longshot (5 years, $85 million). The Falcons have reportedly already begun the process of negotiating a contract for their star middle linebacker, Deion Jones. Indisputably, Jones and his agent are going to be using Mosley’s contract as a starting point, as players so often do once it is their turn to get paid. Jones is one of those integral pieces the Falcons will not let go of, but it’s going to cost the team a pretty penny and will result in the organization making a gut-wrenching decision on one of their other players.
The same can be said for Keanu Neal. The Falcons are not going to want to let their enforcer on the back-end – who has meant so much to their defense since being drafted in 2016 – walk. The problematic part is Landon Collins set the bar for safeties this offseason, signing a 6-year, $84 million deal with the Redskins. Atlanta may not have to match that offer, especially if Collins cannot live up to it over the next couple seasons, but it is not going to be far off.
That leaves the Falcons paying seven players: Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Desmond Trufant, Jake Mathews, Grady Jarrett, Deion Jones, and Keanu Neal all well over $10 million per season, and that doesn’t include the possibility of re-signing the likes of Vic Beasley, Austin Hooper or De’Vondre Campbell.
Beasley is a likely candidate to walk at the end of the season no matter what. The price for quality, or even some not so quality, edge rushers has gone through the roof. If Beasley cannot have a bounce-back campaign in his fifth season, the Falcons are not going to be interested in re-signing him. If he does have a year reminiscent to 2016, when he led the league in sacks, it would be nearly impossible for the Falcons to sign him without the risk of losing a player like Deion Jones or Keanu Neal.
Austin Hooper is a player the Falcons want to keep. He’s improved every season since being drafted in 2016 and reached his first Pro-Bowl last year. But when seeing players like Jesse James, who has never sniffed 500 yards receiving in a season, sign a contract for 4-years, $22 million; it becomes increasingly difficult to see Hooper in a Falcons uniform past 2019.
To a lesser degree, the same can be said about De’Vondre Campbell. The former fourth-round pick has exceeded all expectations, becoming a full-time starter as a rookie in 2016. He had 94 tackles last year, and the Falcons would love to hang onto him past 2019. Unfortunately, that probably cannot happen. There’s a pecking order to these pending free agents, and it looks something like this.
- Julio Jones
- Grady Jarrett
- Deion Jones
- Keanu Neal
- Austin Hooper
- De’Vondre Campbell
- Vic Beasley Jr.
If there were an imaginary cut-off line, it would lie somewhere before or after Austin Hooper. Unless a severe injury takes place: the Falcons will make sure Julio Jones, Grady Jarrett, Deion Jones, and Keanu Neal are all taken care of.
The organization can always “get creative” with the cap like they did this year by restructuring Matt Ryan’s contract to save $7 million, but at a certain point, that’s just pushing the damage further and further back. Eventually, the Falcons are going to bite the bullet and make the painful decision to part ways with some of their core pieces.