How much cap space can the Falcons actually create this offseason?

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The Falcons will have a lot of difficult decisions ahead of them this offseason; Terry Fontenot could potentially trade away multiple long-time Falcons, and that’s not even considering the bevy of impending free agents he will consider bringing back.

As it stands right now, the NFL salary cap is expected to be at $208.2 million. OverTheCap has the Falcons at a projected $12.52 million available in cap space with only 29 players on the active roster. Atlanta is not in a position to trade or cut any of their essential contributors, but that might have to happen for the Falcons to create any meaningful cap space. So, how can Fontenot create the most amount of cap space?

*All figures are courtesy of OverTheCap

Restructures

Restructuring contracts will always be the most efficient way to clear up cap space, but it obviously has drawbacks. Kicking the can down the road in terms of pushing off the money to later years in the contract will always be a double-edged sword — save now, pay later. Ryan’s restructure seems like a no-brainer when you see how much can be saved, but the reason he’s set to count almost $50 million against the cap this year is because of constant restructuring.

The team can restructure Kyle Pitts and A.J. Terrell’s contracts, but it would net minimal cap savings. These three players are the most likely to have their current deals altered. Restructuring Ryan seems unlikely considering all the money that will be pushed into 2023, and Jones’ play couldn’t have encouraged the coaching staff or front office that he’s worth keeping around. Matthews is the only restructure that makes sense.

Trades (Pre-June 1st/Post-June 1st)
  • Matt Ryan — $8.137 million/$23.750 million
  • Grady Jarrett — $16.5 million
  • Deion Jones — $9.366 million/$14.707 million
  • Jake Matthews — $4.1 million/$12.5 million
  • Calvin Ridley — $11.116 million
  • Total Savings: $49.219 million/$78.573 million

Many of these scenarios are unlikely for various reasons. Beginning with Ryan, trading the veteran quarterback before June 1st would come with $40 million in dead cap. Even dealing him after June 1st would come with nearly $25 million in dead cap. Still, the more considerable obstacle in this situation is finding a team willing to trade for Ryan that late into the offseason. It seems unlikely a team is still searching for their starting quarterback as players report for training camp.

Trading Matthews is as improbable as it gets; it is doubtful the Falcons trade him for such minimal cap savings given the massive hole his vacancy would create. Matthews is the least likely to be moved out of the bunch.

The other three will garner much more serious consideration from Fontenot. Ridley may very well force himself out of Atlanta, which would save the team his entire 2022 salary — his $11.1 million fifth-year option. Trading him pre- or post-June 1st wouldn’t impact the potential savings.

Jones hasn’t lived up to the extension he signed a few offseasons ago, and that could culminate in a trade. A deal could wind up saving the team almost $15 million if it were struck after June 1st, but I wouldn’t mind a deal that only saved the team $9 million. His play this year was filled with moments that had me questioning his desire to be on the field, so it might be best for both parties if they get a fresh start.

Jarrett is the team’s most desirable trade piece and could net the Falcons over $16 million in cap savings. 2022 is the final year of his contract, so if the Falcons don’t have any intention of extending him, they should explore this avenue.

Cuts (Pre-June 1st/Post-June 1st)
  • Matt Ryan — $8.137 million/$23.750 million
  • Grady Jarrett — $16.5 million
  • Jake Matthews — $4.1 million/$12.5 million
  • Tyeler Davison — $3.8 million
  • Kendall Sheffield — $2.54 million
  • Mike Davis — $2.5 million
  • Total Savings: $37.577 million/$61.59 million

It is obvious the Falcons aren’t going to cut Ryan, Jarrett, or Matthews. If Fontenot wanted those savings, he could easily work out a trade to, at the very least, recoup some draft capital. Davison, Sheffield, and Davis are a different story.

All three were disappointing in 2021 for different reasons. Davis didn’t perform close to the career-year he experienced a season ago in Carolina and could easily be replaced by a rookie. The only downside to cutting Davis is his reliable pass blocking. His potential replacement would have to be able to hold up in pass protection.

Davison and Sheffield couldn’t even get on the field this year to prove their worth. Neither gave the front office any reason it should keep them. Cutting all three would save the Falcons almost $9 million, which has to be enticing for a team struggling to generate cap space.

Extensions
  • Matt Ryan — $18.104 million
  • Grady Jarrett — $12.304 million
  • Deion Jones — $10.537 million
  • Jake Matthews — $9.104 million
  • Calvin Ridley — $8.120 million
  • Total Savings: $58.169 million

Only a couple of these extensions make sense — Jarrett being the most serious candidate. If the Falcons don’t intend to trade Jarrett away, they have to extend him. There’s no sense in waiting until the following offseason, where he can test free-agent waters to drive up the price for the Falcons.

Extending Ryan will clarify the Falcons’ direction. If the staff and front office are satisfied with his play in 2021, I wouldn’t be shocked if they extended him. However, this was statistically the worst year of Ryan’s career; it is clear his play is deteriorating.

Matthews’ contract is set to expire after the 2023 season, so his status isn’t as pressing as Ryan’s or Jarrett’s. Still, he’s only 29-years-old and could be in Atlanta for many more years if the staff feels he’s got more in the tank. With tackles playing into their 40s, it isn’t unreasonable to extend Matthews.

Ridley and Jones won’t be extended. Those are pretty self-explanatory.

The reality is the Falcons will use a combination of the above options, but they have more options than you might think to create substantial cap space.

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