May 5th is the deadline for franchises to make their decisions regarding their 2017 first-round draft picks. Prior to that day, the Falcons will inform Takkarist McKinley whether they plan to pick up his fifth-year option, which is scheduled to pay him $10.1 million in 2021 if exercised.
Of course, this is only the first hurdle a first-round pick has to overcome. A team can exercise a player’s fifth-year option in May, but it does not become fully guaranteed until March of the following year. The Falcons famously proceeded to pay Vic Beasley his scheduled $12.8 million after an abysmal 2018 campaign, which is why many are calling for not just Dan Quinn’s head but Thomas Dimitroff’s as well. That decision, along with possible new management, could affect whether or not McKinley is retained for another season.
McKinley’s situation is much different than Beasley’s, however. He’s yet to have an all-pro campaign like Beasley did back in 2016, but he’s been a far more consistent presence over his three years in the league. The sacks haven’t come in bunches – McKinley only has 16.5 of them in 44 games. With that said, he’s been one of the best at pressuring the QB in the entire league, which often paints a better picture than sacks.
In 2018, he ranked second in the NFL in pressure rate, behind only Jerry Hughes and in front of Khalil Mack, Aaron Donald, and Von Miller. That’s some pretty elite company to keep, and it’s no fluke, although his inability to finish the play cannot be wholly exonerated. He still needs to improve in that area, but the makings of an All-Pro pass rusher are there.
In all likelihood, it will be up to the new regime to decide how much promise they see, and according to Mike Sando of The Athletic, he doesn’t believe McKinley’s shown enough to earn his fifth-year option. “I don’t see it unless Atlanta makes changes and somebody wants Takk McKinley in a 3-4,” an evaluator in Sando’s article said.
I can see where Sando and this unnamed evaluator are coming from. It will hinge on the new coaching staff and how they plan to change things up. However, even with the lack of sacks, McKinley still ranks third among 2017 draft choices in the category, and he might be the best in the class at creating opportunities for himself.
Not to mention, the Falcons are unbelievably weak at the defensive end spot already, assuming they let Vic Beasley walk in free agency. Perhaps the incoming staff is not fond of McKinley’s attitude, which has come into questions at times, but if they can get past that, I don’t see why they wouldn’t extend the offer and see if he can have a breakout 2020. If he does, you have him under contract at a reasonable price tag for 2021, and if he doesn’t, you cut ties, and there is no harm done. Sando makes a valid point, but I could see the Falcons playing the wait and see approach here, given their lack of depth at the position.