July 15th, 2019 was a critical day in Falcons franchise history

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The date is July 15th, 2019. It’s a Monday, and Falcons fans are well aware of the deadline that looms at 4:00 P.M ET. At that time, if a contract extension has not been signed, Grady Jarrett will have to play the upcoming season under the franchise tag, something both parties would like to prevent.

For the Falcons, it’s obvious they need to lock up their star defensive tackle for the foreseeable future, but there are complications. Specifically, Thomas Dimitroff has shown a little too much loyalty to his own over the years, forcing him to get creative whenever he wants to make room for another bloated contract. He also is hoping not to make the same mistakes he has in the past and overpay for past production.

For Jarrett, he wants security, but he also feels like he is a top player at his position that has yet even to start his prime. Jarrett wants to be paid like the Aaron Donald’s and Fletcher Cox’s of the world. However, he has yet to ever quite mimic their production.

In the days leading up to the July 15th deadline, all reports suggested that the Falcons and Jarrett’s situation was one of those that was going to come down to the wire. But on the day of, it looked like the signs pointed towards Jarrett playing 2019 under the franchise tag.

As lunchtime passed on Monday, there was still no word on a deal, and nothing appeared to have changed. That is until 1:48 Eastern Time when Adam Shefter broke the best news of the Falcons offseason. Atlanta reached an extension with Jarrett for four years worth $68 million, making him the third-highest paid (in terms of AAV) defensive tackle in football – behind Cox and Donald.

At the time, it felt like a fair deal for both signs, but in hindsight, it looks like the Falcons avoided potential disaster.

Despite the new deal, Jarrett’s focus on the upcoming season never wavered. Here is what he told 92.9 The Game just a couple of days following the announcement of his new contract:

“More than anything – I’m motivated,” Jarrett said. “A lot of times, guys get a big check, and they go to chill and relax. I just feel like its totally the opposite. Like I said in my interviews at minicamp, I just feel like there is so much more out there for me.”

Jarrett continued later in the conversation, “I’m hungry; I’m always hungry for more. It’s not a greedy thing; it’s a thing of always wanting to continue to be better and be at the top of your game. That’s what drives me.”

He wasn’t lying. Jarrett responded with his best year as a pro in the first year of his new contract, setting career highs in nearly every statistical category:

Tackles: 69 combined (career-high)

Sacks: 7.5 (career-high)

Tackles for Loss: 12 (second-most in career)

QB Hits: 16 (career-high)

 

As a result, Jarrett was named to his first Pro-Bowl and should have been selected as the starter. Unfortunately, Pro-Bowl voting rarely has anything to do with putting in the most deserving players. He was also named a Second-Team All-Pro, which is an honor that captures his stellar campaign much better.

Jarrett was the MVP of the entire team – not just the defense. He is the heart and soul of that side of the ball, finishing the season with an elite grade (grade of 90 or above), according to Pro Football Focus. Everything about his game was fantastic this past season, and there only signs of him continuing to improve as he looks ahead to his age 27 season. And to think, the Falcons were only a couple of hours away from him potentially becoming an unrestricted free agent this offseason, which would have been a nightmare following his breakout campaign.

Had Jarrett hit the open market, it’s hard to see him settling for much less than a $100 million payday. Fletcher Cox’s contract paid him $103.2 million over six years, and he signed that deal back in 2016. Cox and Jarrett are now much more comparable after Jarrett’s 2019 season, and you could even make an argument Jarrett is the better player today. Add in the competition for his services, and you have all the makings of a mega-contract.

The Falcons already have cap issues as is heading into 2020. They are going to have to maneuver obstacles just to bring back Austin Hooper, who they may have to use the franchise tag on as well. Not to mention, Dimitroff might have a free agent or two he wants to bring in. Could you imagine trying to get all that done, while also attempting to win a bidding war for the one player on your defense that showed up every week? There’s virtually no way Dimitroff could have juggled all those balls and kept everybody.

So while we all knew re-signing Jarrett at the buzzer last July was a big deal, I don’t think we realized at the time just how critical it was. The Falcons are going to have to put together a near-perfect offseason to return to Super Bowl contention in 2020; I don’t even think it would have been possible had they not extended Jarrett six months ago. Thank God things worked out the way they did, or Atlanta would be in a heap of trouble.

 

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