The week of the NFL Combine, there was some confusion about whether or not the Falcons were going to pick up the 5th year of Takk McKinley’s deal. Thomas Dimitroff came out and said the team had not yet decided, but then Dan Quinn revealed that they were not before walking back his comments a bit. Now we know the official answer, as McKinley himself broke the news on Twitter yesterday afternoon that the Falcons are not picking up his fifth-year option.
The team later confirmed the decision.
Following the 2018 season, many believed McKinley was on his way to a break out 2019, in terms of sacks. When it came to pressure, the 2017 first-round pick was already elite. In just his second season, according to ESPN’s Next Gen Stats, the former UCLA standout finished with the second-highest pressure rate in the entire league, behind only Jerry Hughes, and ahead of names like Von Miller, Aaron Donald, and Khalil Mack.
Unfortunately, not enough of that pressure has turned into sacks. McKinley only had 3.5 of them in 2019 and has become the king of the “almost sack.” However, it hasn’t helped that in his entire tenure with the Falcons, they have surrounded him with lackluster pass rushers. Outside of Grady Jarrett, nobody is helping McKinley on the defensive line. If a quarterback ever needed to evade pressure, they knew to roll out to Vic Beasley’s side, who was typically stonewalled at the line of scrimmage. With Dante Fowler Jr., Marlon Davidson, and hopefully another free agent pass rusher in the fold, McKinley will finally be in an ideal situation to rack up some sacks, which could make him a popular target in free agency next offseason, something the Falcons could have avoided by picking up his fifth-year option.
If Atlanta had decided to make this move, they would have owed McKinley around $10.1 million in 2021 — far less than what they paid Vic Beasley last year after picking up his fifth-year option. If they were willing to offer Beasley, who was a one-trick pony without a motor, $12.8 million, they should have had no hesitation in doing so for a player like Takk, who is continuously working to create pressure and never gives up on a play.
If this decision was based more on his attitude, I’m a little more understanding. McKinley has had a questionable persona throughout his tenure in the NFL, starting with his draft day outburst and ranging to his actions on social media. Perhaps they question his maturity and do not want to be snakebitten by another fifth-year option, as they were with Beasley.
Injuries have also been problematic. The Falcons knew about his shoulder problems coming out of college, which required an operation, and most recently, McKinley had a second shoulder surgery this offseason after being placed on injured reserve late in the season. That’s another reason the Falcons might be hesitant.
These fifth-year options are not guaranteed unless the player is injured by the start of the new league year, which would be March of 2021 for McKinley. They already took that risk on Keanu Neal, their 2016 first-round pick, and he tore his Achilles last season, so Atlanta could not rescind their offer. Combine this with Atlanta’s poor decision on Beasley, and you can see why they aren’t exactly fond of taking another gamble on McKinley.
With that being said, if I were the Falcons, I would have picked up the option. $10.1 million for a high-quality pass rusher on a one-year deal is almost impossible to find in free agency. McKinley has shown a lot of promise in his three years with the team, and this could be the season he breaks out, thanks to the help he will have around him. Sacks aren’t the only stat that matters; pressures are equally, if not more important. Just look at this quote from defensive guru Bill Belichick:
Bill Belichick on sacks and pressure pic.twitter.com/fa9QtpPmul
— Carlton (@SlopingGiraffe) April 30, 2020
There aren’t too many players that apply pressure like Takk, and he’s also no slouch against the run. If he does see a spike in his sacks this year with more help around him, the Falcons are going to regret this decision when he’s an unrestricted free agent next offseason.