The Falcons will likely have a lot of difficult decisions to make this offseason. Terry Fontenot traded one of the greatest players in franchise history — Julio Jones — in his first offseason as GM; in his second, he might end up trading other long-time Falcons — i.e., Calvin Ridley, Grady Jarrett, Deion Jones. That’s not even considering the laundry list of impending free agents Fontenot will have to consider bringing back.
The Falcons will once again be working against the salary cap in 2022 as they did in 2021. Fontenot went through last spring with one hand tied behind his back, which resulted in an entire free-agent class signed to one-year, team-friendly deals — outside of Mike Davis.
As it stands right now, the NFL salary cap is expected to be at $208.2 million. OverTheCap has the Falcons at a projected $12.52 million available in cap space with only 29 players on the active roster. Given their lack of overall talent, Atlanta isn’t really in a position to part ways with any of their main contributors; however, it will happen because Fontenot needs to create some meaningful cap space.
The primary reason the Falcons are in this position is because of the previous regime’s careless handling of the salary cap. The Falcons handed out lucrative deals to Julio Jones, Jamon Brown, Desmond Trufant, Devonta Freeman and others that now have considerable dead cap counting against Atlanta’s cap sheet. Deion Jones will likely join that group too. In an effort to make a final push for a Super Bowl, Thomas Dimitroff’s front office restructured Matt Ryan‘s contract a nauseating amount of times. All of those things have contributed to the position the Falcons find themselves in.
Terry Fontenot has done a decent job cleaning up the cap situation, but there’s only so much he can do while trying to field a competitive team. The Falcons still have some atrocious contracts on the books, but which one is the worst?
Bleacher Report identified one in their piece of every NFL team’s worst contract. I’m sure you can probably guess… Matt Ryan.
The Contract: Five years, $150 million, expires in 2024
It’s difficult to rebuild your roster when a 37-year-old quarterback is taking up nearly a quarter of the salary cap. That’s where the Atlanta Falcons are headed in the 2022 season.
The Falcons just had their fourth consecutive losing season, and Ryan is showing his age. He just posted his lowest touchdown percentage since 2015 and had his worst QBR ever.
They could trim that dead cap hit to $24.9 million if they designate him a post-June 1 cut or trade. But either way, it would be extremely pricey for the Falcons to move on from Ryan this offseason.
Ryan’s nearly $50 million cap hit in 2022 is absolutely hindering Fontenot from building a more complete roster. Unfortunately, any adjustments to that figure will affect future cap hits. If the Falcons decide to restructure Ryan’s contract, they’ll save over $11 million against the 2022 salary cap, but those savings roll over to 2023. Ryan’s 2023 cap hit could rise to be over $54 million in this scenario. The Falcons could always add void years or extend Ryan to lessen that burden.
However, Ryan’s play hasn’t declined to the point he’s unplayable. He’s one of the better quarterbacks in this league. Ryan isn’t the reason the Falcons are losing, but he’s also not the reason they’re going to start winning games. The veteran quarterback is still a valuable player; there are a bevy of franchises that would love a player of Ryan’s caliber.
Though his cap hit is hard to swallow, Deion Jones’s contract is much worse, in my opinion. He’s obviously getting paid less than Ryan, but a $20 million cap hit in 2022 for a player that objectively had a horrible season in 2021 isn’t ideal. Jones’ lack of recognition, missed tackles, and concerning effort levels make his salary that much more unpleasant.