How the Falcons handle Matt Ryan and Julio Jones’ contracts will show their future intentions

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Terry Fontenot and the Falcons must be under the $182.5 million salary cap by March 17th. As of right now, Atlanta is still around $14-15 million over that mark. The quickest way to do that would be to restructure the two most expensive contracts on the books, Matt Ryan and Julio Jones.

Starting with Matty Ice, the former Boston College Eagle has the highest cap hit in the NFL, coming in at over $40 million. If Fontenot were to restructure all of Ryan’s $21.925 million base salary, it would drop his cap hit all the way down to $26.295 million, getting the Falcons below the $182.5 million cap. However, it creates the potential for over $71 million in dead money.

Ryan has restructured his contract almost every year he’s been with the Falcons, and he’s still an obvious choice for another this offseason. But by doing so, the Falcons would be committing to him for at least another couple of seasons. Given they could be drafting a quarterback 4th overall, max-restructuring Ryan may not be the best course of action.

Moving on to Julio, restructuring all of his base salary would create about $10 million in cap space. His $23 million cap hit this season would drop to $13.5 million if Fontenot converted the entire $14.225 million base salary, but it presents a similar problem. Essentially, these moves would get the Falcons well under the league’s cap, making it enticing; however, it would make moving off of them in the future extremely difficult, effectively tying them to the team for the remainder of their contracts — both are signed through the 2023 season.

If the Falcons go that route, expect Fontenot to trade back in the draft and acquire as much capital as possible to fill the roster’s countless voids. The defense is littered with holes, and the offensive line could use bolstering. With already nine picks in April’s draft, Fontenot could easily turn that into 11 or 12 by trading the fourth overall selection.

If Fontenot chooses not to restructure either player, there are other ways for the Falcons to get under the salary cap. Restructuring Jake Matthews, Grady Jarrett, and Deion Jones would create significant breathing room and is an easier pill to swallow than Ryan and Julio. Not restructuring Ryan would point towards the new regime drafting their preference of the four quarterbacks that are expected to go after Trevor LawrenceZach Wilson, Justin Fields, Trey Lance, or Mac Jones.

It isn’t a both or neither situation, though. If Fontenot feels one has three more good years left but doesn’t feel the same about the other, he could restructure either-or. In my mind, it makes more sense to restructure Matty Ice because it is easier to age as a quarterback than a wide receiver, combined with the emergence of Calvin Ridley. If Julio can stay healthy and produce as he always does, the former Alabama wideout would be a valuable trade piece next offseason.

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