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TDWII's 2020 Off-Season Proposal v1.0


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So - I was on the rebuild train.  In Arthur Blank's position, I'd have started anew, which would have spurred/required a significantly broader/deeper roster overhaul.  But, with AB/TD/DQ making one last run, the changes I believe you'll see the Falcons make to the roster will be muted.   

Fact #1 – the Falcons find themselves in a dicey cap situation for the next two seasons.  2021’s cap situation is more concerning than 2020’s.

Fact #2 – DQ & TD required a 2nd half 6-2 stretch to save their jobs…but for the moment, their job status can best be described as year-to-year.  A slow start to 2020 could make that a week-to-week proposition.

As I considered how the Falcons should proceed over the course of the next 2-4 months, there is probably more ambiguity/compromise to my recommendations than I’ve had in the past.  The primary question being ‘How do you put the Falcons in the best position to succeed in 2020 without selling out the future?’.  Whether you agree on whether any of us should 'worry' about the cap situation, what I'd avoid is racking up bills that could appear on someone elses tab.  And I believe Rich McKay has been inserted into the org structure to preserve a sense of long term franchise planning so that 2020 doesn't become an 'at all costs' type of off-season which could further cripple 2021.

Roster Decisions; Hooper/Campbell/Beasley

The Falcons have quite a few FA’s who’ve been contributors not only in 2019, but prior to that they’ll need to make tough calls on; the primary 3 being Hooper, Beasley, Campbell.  Each of these players can likely earn a multi-year contract on the market.  The biggest debate is seemingly centered around Hooper who has developed into one of the leagues better TE’s.

I stated this elsewhere but DQ has stated getting back to running the football will be paramount.  In 2019, the Falcons led the NFL in pass attempts by a whopping 51 (Falcons had 684; CAR was 2nd with 633).  The median in 2019 was 573 (GB).  If the Falcons are to be successful in 2020, it can’t be by dropping back 734 times (including sacks).

For me…and with the Falcons 1) cap situation and 2) uncertain long term prospects, Hooper is a player I let go.  I'll use the example of OJ Howard in TB.  In 2018, he looked to be one of the better young TE’s after an impressive rookie year.  In 2019, with an HC who has found little use for them in his offense…Howard became milk carton worthy.  It’s not to say that would happen here…but a new regime may not see the value in Hooper as this one does.  And with the large cap hits on a FA contract signed in 2020 being due in 2021, along with the fact that the Falcons simply need to reduce their reliance on the passing game if they have any hope for 2020 success – Hooper needs to find employment elsewhere.

Verdict:  Do not pursue re-signing Hooper/Campbell/Beasley; recoup 2021 comp picks likely to be 2 4th’s & a 5th.

Restructure/Release

This will likely fall into the ‘beat a dead horse’ refrain for me this off-season.  But additional restructures to push cap availability in 2020 into 2021 & beyond should be minimized as much as possible.  If you’re talking about adding a year to Mack deal and converting all or some of his 2020 salary into bonus so that you can have some additional maneuverability, that’s probably the extent to what I can live with because Mack still is a worthy cog in our OL, but perhaps not at his current cap figure.

But when you look at some other potential cap casualties, where the Falcons find themselves now is a ‘ride or die’ mentality.  And the alternative option to replacing someone on the roster today with someone else, may hurt the chance(s) of the Falcons being successful in 2020.  If that happens…2021 become a ‘blow-up’ year.  While there were those of us that thought that should happen sooner rather than later, you’re not going to ‘tank’ if DQ/TD fighting for their jobs.

But aside from Sambrailo and potentially Stocker…I’d likely leave the roster alone in this regard.  Yes, I’d keep Freeman.  Brian Hill is an RFA and Ito Smith is uninspiring to at this juncture trust with a significant part of the rushing attack.  At worst, the dual disappointing signings in Brown/Carpenter can add IOL depth.  While Trufant seems to have become an AFMB whipping boy of sorts, he did have 4 INT’s in 8 games last year, and he remains by far the Falcons most accomplished and respected DB.  If a team came knocking on the door trade wise, I’d listen.  And I’d even keep Schaub.  Again, TD/DQ are in survival mode still and some/any type of injury to Ryan that even kept him out for 2-3 games could be catastrophic to their fate.  Schaub showed well in SEA…and because of the state of the FO/Coaching staff, I think there are certain areas of the roster they can’t cut corners on.  This is one of them.  So they’ll pick up his Club Option.

But ultimately, this is an all-in year for not just TD/DQ, but this era of the Falcons inclusive of quite a few players.  And if Blank was going to stick with DQ/TD…it’d be tough to turnover a multitude of big money contracts for the sake of cap space to pursue ‘new blood’.

Verdict: Sambrailo is really the only veteran contract that I’d jettison providing a cap savings of $3.7M+.  This leaves the Falcons with close to $14M in cap space.  Add a year to Mack's deal and convert a decent portion of his 2020 salary ($5M) to bonus...we can get to $16.5M in 2020 cap space.

Other Falcons FA’s

There are some other FA’s the Falcons have to make calls on which include:

Tyeler Davison
Younghoe Koo
Wes Schweitzer
Brian Hill
Adrian Clayborn

…if they’re not listed above, I’m not considering them priorities for action in the pre-draft portion of FA.

A lot of people are simply assuming Hill will be back.  But he’s an RFA this off-season and the lowest tender (original round) on a 1 year deal he’d be eligible for would be $2.144M.  While Hill has done nicely to salvage his career from the scrap heap…re-signing him to that amount (along with the corresponding cap hit (which would only be $1.356M less than what we’d save by jettisoning Freeman) seems like a bad use of limited cap space.  For my money, it also ensures that by allowing Hill to walk, Freeman stays no matter what.

Spotrac has Koo listed as an RFA…but while he began his career in 2017, I don’t think he was on an active roster in 2018.  So the possibility exists that he could still be an EFRA, which would reduce the contract we’d have to put in front of him.  But Original Round Tender RFA’s earn $2.144M (estimated by OTC).  The difference between RFA & EFRA is about $1.5M, an important distinction.  At the same time, Koo’s performance in 2019 warrants a return, even if competition is brought in.

Of the four players listed above, Davison is the priority.  His signing was one of the highlights of the 2018 off-season and he turned in a career year.  Run stopping DT’s seem to struggle to secure multi-year contracts.  At the same time, I’d be surprised if Davison wasn’t able to find a team to give him a bump in compensation for 2020 even on a 1-year deal.  Hopefully the Falcons can secure him at an economical price point.

The one that has me puzzled with regard to the desire to keep him is Clayborn.  Given the state of our DL…Clayborn from my POV is the type of guy you look to upgrade from, not re-sign.  It’s not that he’s awful, but he’s fairly non-descript and the type of player that perhaps prevents you from throwing a young guy into the mix in a more meaningful way.

Verdict: Davison is the primary target…Koo is also surely to be kept.  Everyone else is disposable or at least can be waited on to see how their market develops, if at all.  If we’re working off a $14M cap number after Sambrailo’s release, I suspect the Davison/Koo signings take us down to $10-11M in cap space ($12.5-$13.5 if we extend Mack).

Talk McKinley & the 5th year option

On October 3, 2018, the following article appeared with this headline in advance of the Falcons/Steelers match-up; "I respect Big Ben 'but he hasn't seen me'".  With 4.5 sacks in his first 3 games of 2018, I think we all thought Talk was rounding into one of the better pass rushers in the NFL.  In his next 21 games, he put up sacks at a Vic Beasley pace (6).  I know advanced stats have his pass rush rate at higher levels, but now on his way to a 3rd shoulder surgery and with his production/progress having leveled off considerably...and having gone thru this exercise with Vic Beasley in 2019, I can't see the Falcons committing themselves to either 1) negotiating a long-term deal with him next off-season or 2) a $10M 2021 cap hit.

Verdict: Decline - if he balls out, you can pay the piper in 2021 and push out painful cap consequences to 2022.

Free Agency

…so to that end the idea of adding FA payroll to an already top heavy and bloated core seems counterproductive.  I recognize that there are holes on the roster…but if we could sign a legitimate long term ‘piece of the puzzle’ FA, I’d have likely at least kept one of the big three options listed above.

But as our cap situation stands today and the next two years (listed below), payroll added this year in a multi-year contract form is going to hit 2021 harder than 2020.  And 2021’s cap situation is already more dire than 2020’s.

2020: $194.2M – 43 players
2021: $186.6M – 25 players
2022: $96.8M – 14 players

To that end, while we will likely add some veteran FA’s via small 1-year deal type arrangements, those likely won’t come into focus until the second stage of FA which is impossible to predict at this early stage of the game.  If I’m running the show, I’ve shuttered the doors come the middle of March when FA opens and let the dust settle after and see where we are and what’s left.

Verdict: Sit out this years’ frenzy

2020 Draft

With draft tools out there like The Draft Networks Mock Draft tool, the ability to simulate viable courses of action has never been easier.  Mine came out as such (5 rounds) and I’ll just make some comments on it…

FD 2020.jpg

1)      At 1:16…I think the Falcons are in a good place to either draft Epenesa or Gross-Matos.  They’re different players but if added to the Falcons DL, should be able to add value based on skillsets the Falcons lack at the moment.  I would not be surprised to see Gross-Matos jump Epenesa during the draft process due to his upside, but for now…Epenesa seems to have a higher floor.

2)      If there is one thing lacking about the TDN Mock Draft simulator, it’s its treatment of RB value.  Yes – we all know that RB’s are devalued, but I can’t see a guy like Dobbins lasting until #47.  The issue the Falcons have IMO is that they have two MUSTS this off-season that have to be addressed this off-season.  DL and RB.  DL was covered by 1:16.  But IMO, there are three RB’s at the top of this draft class that are a tier above the rest in this RB class; Swift, Taylor and Dobbins.  Each have pros/cons…none are in CMC, Zeke, Saquon territory.  But I see each as either late 1st or early 2nd round talents/targets.  And with an RB room that consists of JAG’s and a quickly deteriorating Freeman, I don’t think the Falcons can risk losing one of them.

3)      From a trade perspective, trading both 2nd‘s could get the Falcons up to 1:23 (Patriots) or 1:29 (TBD) if they trade #47 & #78.  I don’t have my ear to the ground like a pro GM does, but to me at a minimum, the latter option needs to be on the table to ensure one of the three RB’s is a Falcon.

4)      I was also surprised that Biadasz (best name for an OL ever) lasted until 2:55 and should be there, the Falcons should run up to select him.

5)      Okwuegbunam is a TE prospect that faltered this year I think in part due to QB play.  But I liked him in 2018 and was a tad surprised he returned to school given Drew Lock’s departure.  I suspect some of his 1st round buzz at the time was a bit overblown, but if he’s there at 4:109, it’d be a nice get.

Depth Chart Pre-Draft (Post-Draft)

QB: Ryan, Schaub, Benkert (3)
RB: Freeman, Dobbins, Smith; Ollison (4)
WR: Julio, Ridley, Gage, Blake, OZ (5)
TE: Stocker, Okwuegbunam, Graham (3)
OL: Matthews, Carpenter, Brown, Mack, Lindstrom, McGary, Biadasz, Gono (8)

DL: Takk, Epenesa, Bailey, Fotu, Jarrett, Davison, Cominsky, Senat, JTM, Larkin (9)
LB: Debo, Oluokun (2)
DB: Trufant, Oliver, Sheffield, Miller, Neal, Allen, Kazee, Lucas (8)

LS: Harris (1)
K: Koo (1)

While there are other players technically under contract, I’d say these are the Top 44.  We know we’ll have a punter, so really 45.  But there are opportunities for this roster to be bolstered by the draft with some UDFA’s and one-year veteran deals, but you’re starting to see a thinning of the ranks depth wise as we start to let some guys go.

FAQ

Two F’in LB’s?: It’s a concern.  But where/when we can shop for veteran depth here is in April or post draft.  Tough to foresee that market at this stage.

Re-sign Davison?  One year or multi?  In past years, I’ve overvalued IDL run-stopping specialists both in terms of contract value and term length.  I’d go a Jack Crawford style deal (3 yr; $9M) at most.  But…if his market didn’t develop…would prefer the one year option.

We’re pretty thin at OT…? Agreed…again, there are guys like LaAdrian Waddle or Dennis Kelly that can likely be had for cheap one year deals that hit the cap in the $1-2M range you can secure for depth purposes.  But we’d be in trouble if Matthews/McGary got injured…I feel better about Gono at G than T I I feel good about him at all yet.

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