After locking up defensive tackle Grady Jarrett to a 4 year/$68 million extension, the Falcons wasted little time in making sure Deion Jones will be a Falcon for at least the next five years. Arthur Blank made it public; one of the team’s priorities of the offseason would be to maintain the Falcons’ young core, specifically on the defensive side. It did not happen quickly, but the Falcons’ owner proved once again that his “word is gold” by extending two of the league’s most exciting, young defensive talents in a matter of days. So what does this mean for the Falcons going forward?
Since 2016, Matt Ryan has played the best ball of his career. However, he recently turned 34, and unless you’re Tom Brady or Drew Brees, quarterbacks start to slow down when they reach their mid-30s. Realistically, the Falcons probably have a few years left of Matt Ryan playing at an elite level. Furthermore, league-best wide receiver Julio Jones is not too far behind at age 30. This would suggest Atlanta’s Super Bowl window is nearing an end, and they must win now for Ryan to capture that elusive trophy – the only thing missing on his resumé.
With the signings of Jarrett and Jones, however, the Falcons have set themselves up to be successful, even if Ryan and Julio experience a drop off in production. Having a young, explosive defense might be even more promising than a potent offense – despite Atlanta rarely operating that way.
Take Super Bowl 50 for an example. Peyton Manning won his second Lombardi Trophy, but it is more appropriate to say the Broncos defense won the Super Bowl with Manning as a game manager. This is not to say that Manning did not contribute, but he was nowhere near the level of production he was at during his prime.
By maintaining a young, talented core on the defensive side of the ball, it will keep the Falcons in contention, even if Ryan loses arm strength as he ages. It will also allow the team to remain competitive after drafting and developing their next franchise QB.
So what’s next for the Falcons?
In an ideal world, Julio Jones receives his extension before training camp. There is confidence from both the Falcons as well as Julio’s team that a deal will be made. Speculation has also begun to spread on Twitter that an extension for Julio is imminent after the wide receiver posted an Instagram story of himself and Deion Jones on what appears to be Blank’s private plane. Regardless if an agreement is reached in the coming days, Julio is not expected to hold out of training camp.
Outside of Julio Jones, the Falcons have several pending free agents they will have to make decisions on next offseason. Austin Hooper has become one of the more reliable tight ends in football, but that also means he will come with a cost – one the Falcons may not be able to afford. The same can be said for De’Vondre Campbell and Vic Beasley Jr. Other free agents include Jack Crawford, Adrian Clayborn, Matt Bosher, Wes Schweitzer, and Justin Hardy. But it is Keanu Neal, who becomes a free agent after the 2020 campaign, that is the most logical to receive an extension following Julio Jones.
Having Grady Jarrett, Deion Jones and Keanu Neal signed as the defensive core of the future is an exciting prospect for fans. With all three healthy, and the offense having a cornucopia of weapons to utilize, the sky is the limit for the 2019 Falcons and beyond.