Pro Football Focus designates best and worst Falcons’ contracts

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Many factors led to the Falcons tumultuous downturn over the past few years, but the most glaring reason for despair was caused by the past regime’s mishandling of the salary cap. The proof is in the new regime having to trade away Julio Jones to create some cap relief. Thomas Dimitroff handing out massive contracts to anyone and everyone is the root cause of all this, but there are two sides to every story. For each abysmal contract the Falcons have on the books, there’s an equal amount of team-friendly deals. Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus released a feature of every team’s best and worst contracts.

The “best” contracts are those where the team is receiving more on-field value than compensation. Still, Spielberger omitted rookie contracts because they provide tremendous surplus value, so Calvin Ridley isn’t eligible. There is also a distinction between absolute value and relative value. Strong absolute value would be a contract that doesn’t take up much cap space, regardless of position. In comparison, great relative value would be a quarterback making $30 million per year, which is where the market is at this point — great relative to the position. Thus, Jake Matthews was designated the best contract; Spielberger’s reasoning:

If you’re looking for another reason why the Falcons recently moved on from wide receiver Julio Jones, it’s because the Falcons arguably have the fewest veteran contracts currently providing value to a franchise.

Interior defender Grady Jarrett and Jake Matthews are very good players at premium positions with some surplus value compared to their contracts, especially with the recent explosion of the left tackle market, but the list pretty much ends there.

Matthews has played 4,357 snaps over the last four seasons, the most of any tackle in the NFL. His 84.1 grade is eighth-best among all left tackles since 2017. You can’t ask for much more from your blindside protector, and the former No. 6 overall pick of the 2014 draft still has three years remaining on his contract, with a total cash flow of $39.5 million.

The cap-strapped Atlanta Falcons restructured his contract this offseason to clear room, but an extension for the 29-year-old could be coming in the not-so-distant future.

Matthews’ contract received a maximum restructure, which saved the Falcons $8.6 million at the time, putting his cap hit at $12.3 million. He’s the longest-tenured member of the offensive line and one of the most reliable tackles in the league since he started protecting Matt Ryan‘s blindside in 2014. Matthews will be extremely valuable for this young offensive line, but the same can’t be said for Spielberger’s choice for the Falcons’ worst contract on the books — Dante Fowler.

Fowler agreed to revise his contract this offseason after signing for three years, $45 million during the 2020 offseason, turning the 2022 year into a void year and reducing his 2021 base salary by $7 million down to $6 million. His situation could have potentially served as a cautionary tale for the Rams with respect to edge defender Leonard Floyd, but Fowler’s success alongside DI Aaron Donald in Los Angeles was unsurprisingly not replicated on a poor defensive line in Atlanta.

Fowler’s 8.1% pressure percentage in 2020 tied for 119th among edge rushers with at least 25 pass-rush snaps.

This seemed like an obvious choice and was Dimitroff’s parting gift to the organization. He had career lows in every major pass rushing statistic — one forced fumble, three sacks, four TFL — and a career-low in games played. Terry Fontenot reworked the deal to save $7 million, but the 2022 void year will make him a free agent an offseason earlier and only leaves a $4.66 million dead cap charge. Even with all these money-saving transactions, Fowler’s contract is still by far the most egregious one on the books.


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