What will the extension look like?
Grady Jarrett has firmly established himself as an elite interior defensive linemen. It is no secret that the Falcons are fully committed to extending him, and Thomas Dimitroff has openly stated that signing Jarrett to an extension is the top priority this offseason.
Since being drafted out of Clemson in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft, Jarrett has 179 tackles, 40 quarterback hits, 31 tackles for a loss and 14 sacks. His four seasons in Atlanta have continuously been productive, and he deserves to be rewarded for his sensational play.
To gauge Jarrett’s worth, we have to see how he stacks up against other elite players at the position. He received a Pro Football Focus pass-rush grade of 86.7, which places him fifth in that category among interior defensive lineman. He posted a 91.0 overall grade – also good for fifth at his position. Beyond that, Jarrett had a top-10 ranking for pass rush win percentage, total pressures, and pass-rush productivity. His numbers this past season are remarkably similar to Fletcher Cox’s 2017 season, as well as Malik Jackson’s final season in Denver (2015).
Jarrett is poised to be one of the three or four highest-paid defensive tackles once he signs his extension. While he will fall well short of Aaron Donald’s average annual salary of $22.5 million, he could out-earn other premier players such as Geno Atkins. In terms of what Jarret’s deal will look like, the extension signed by Kawann Short should be the baseline. Short agreed to a 5-year $80 million contract with $45 million in total guarantees in 2017.
Expect Jarrett to ink a deal worth about $80-$84 million over 5-years with close to $50 million in guarantees, and could even push Fletcher Cox’s AAV of $17.1 million, which would make him the second-highest paid defensive tackle in the league.
What does that mean going forward?
Falcons fans should get used to the team handing out big contracts to their own guys instead of shopping in free agency for the foreseeable future.
Jarrett is the first of the young defensive stars to be up for an extension, so the way the team handles this will be critical for setting a precedent going forward. With that said, the Falcons will have some gut-wrenching decisions to make in the coming seasons. Deion Jones, De’Vondre Campbell, and Austin Hooper are all set to be unrestricted free agents after next season. Keanu Neal will join them in 2020 after the Falcons exercised his fifth-year option.
It’s entirely possible that both Jones and Neal set the market for their positions, or at least come close to it. Depending on what the Seahawks do with Bobby Wagner, Jones could be looking at an annual salary of upwards of $12 million. A similar figure can be used for Neal, as it would be nothing short of hopeful to see him sign a deal worth less than the extension that Kam Chancellor signed three seasons prior.
That increases the likelihood that the Falcons will have to move on from some significant contributors over the next two offseasons. If Mohammad Sanu remains on the team this year, it’s difficult to see a way he comes back for 2020. Devonta Freeman is another name to look for, as he will have a cap hit of $9.5 million in 2020.
But the biggest question is whether the team will be able to retain De’Vondre Campbell when his rookie contract is up in 2020. Campbell will be 26 and is talented. But if he puts together another quality season, he will be a hot commodity for teams that need youth and experience at the linebacker position.
Jarrett has become an elite defensive lineman, and there is no chance the Falcons let him walk – especially considering how poor they were across their defensive line last season. Many of the other young players will be in similar positions in the years to come. The Falcons better win-now because retaining all of this talent is going to be nearly impossible.