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A Julio Jones trade, Matt Ryan’s successor and 10 Falcons moves to consider this offseason - The Athletic


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by Tori McElhaney for The Athletic

 

There likely aren’t many people who envy new Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot this offseason.

With limited salary cap space, a significant lack of depth and some big needs to fill via the draft and free agency, the Falcons in a tough spot heading into the 2021 season. Fontenot and new coach Arthur Smith have their work cut out for them.

Here is a look at the 10 biggest decisions Fontenot and Smith will have to make in the coming months:

Restructure Grady Jarrett’s contract

With two years left on his current contract and at 27 years old, Jarrett is a top candidate for a contract restructure. As we’ve written before:

“By restructuring Jarrett’s contract in a similar sense to how the Falcons restructured Julio Jones’ extension in 2019, it would free up some much-needed cap space while making Jarrett happy with more money upfront. It would lower the cap hit in 2021 and make Jarrett’s cap number more manageable moving forward, which doesn’t seem like a bad option considering he isn’t someone the Falcons would want to lose any time soon.”

Doing so would make sense for Jarrett and the Falcons. The Falcons also could look to restructure Jake Matthews’ and Deion Jones’ contracts, and potentially Dante Fowler’s. All four are candidates for contract restructures, which would free up necessary cap space heading into free agency.

Find RB1

The last few seasons haven’t been abysmal for the running game, but they haven’t been spectacular. Perhaps mediocre is the best word for the Falcons run game in recent years.

Many hoped Todd Gurley would revitalize the run game in 2020 when he signed a one-year deal with the Falcons. That revitalization didn’t come, and Gurley ended up losing his lead back title toward the end of the season after a knee issue flared up. He missed one game in the final half of the season and never got back to where the Falcons needed him to be. In the end, the Falcons coaching staff felt more comfortable with Ito Smith. That doesn’t bode well for the Falcons resigning Gurley.

The Falcons may have to find a No. 2 as well. Brian Hill is an unrestricted free agent this year. There’s no guarantee he’ll be back either (though it is easier to see Hill back than Gurley). Regardless, the Falcons have some work to do to find a spark in the run game.

Perhaps the best bet for the Falcons is finding a back in the draft. We all know the lifespan of a league running back. Getting some fresher, younger legs may work better for the Falcons. If they choose not to re-sign Hill, finding a No. 2 in free agency would be the next move.

Find someone who can change the pass rush immediately

Takk McKinley didn’t. The Falcons thought he could, but he didn’t.

Fowler didn’t, either. The Falcons thought he could, but he didn’t.

The moves Atlanta has made to bolster its pass rush in recent years have not been successful. In the case of McKinley, it was an outright failure as the edge rusher’s behavior and lack of production left the Falcons no choice but to release him in 2020 after he took to Twitter to air out his displeasure with not being traded before the deadline.

With Fowler, he didn’t live up to the expectations the Falcons had for him when they acquired him in 2020. The Falcons needed a lot more than they got from Fowler by way of production. If the Falcons keep Fowler (which they likely will, as his cap hit is $18.5 million and his dead cap hit if they trade him is $9.3 million), then he has his work cut out for him to show that his 2019 production wasn’t a fluke.

Regardless of the adjustments Fowler makes, the Falcons need help in the pass rush sooner rather than later. The pass rush is to the defense as the rushing attack is the offense: at times disappointing, at other times nonexistent. These are the two most immediate problem spots. Finding someone via the draft or free agency to come in and shake things up for an opposing quarterback is a much bigger need than just about anything on this list. Even Smith may agree.

“You always love to have depth on both sides of the line of scrimmage in a perfect world,” Smith said. “It doesn’t always happen that way, but it certainly helps.”

Re-sign Younghoe Koo

This is a no-brainer. Koo was as good — if not better — than just about every kicker in the league 2020. He was 8 for 8 from 50-plus yards. He missed only two field goals on the year. At one point during the season, Koo was the leading scorer in the NFL. That had a lot to do with the Falcons’ inability to score in the red zone, but we digress.

When Smith was asked who he was most excited about after studying the roster, he said Koo without hesitation. It makes sense why Smith would name Koo first; the Titans’ kicking game in Smith’s two years as the offensive coordinator wasn’t reliable. Koo’s return to the Falcons is basically set in stone at this point.

Sign several one-year contracts

There are only so many ways to say that the Falcons have no money. They do not have the means to be big players in free agency. What they can do is garner much-needed depth by handing out one-year contracts that will not impact the 2022 or 2023 cap.

Fontenot all but confirmed that the Falcons will be looking for mid- to lower-level free agents when he said he and his staff will need to dig into their scouting roots this offseason.

“We’re going to have to earn our jobs,” he said. “We’re scouts, and we’re going to have to go find players because you can’t just build your roster with overpaid players in free agency or top draft picks. We’ve gotta really dig. We have to dig and find value in free agency.”

This could be mutually beneficial for both Atlanta and any player in question. The Falcons would be able to add depth at a cheaper rate. And since the Falcons have the lowest number of signed players in the league, if players are looking for playing time, Atlanta might be better positioned to offer it than other teams in the league.

Add much-needed depth at safety

 

The Falcons have officially parted ways with Ricardo Allen. They could do the same with Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee, both unrestricted free agents this year. That leaves young and relatively inexperienced Jaylinn Hawkins as the only safety under contract with the Falcons. Hawkins started two games last year, but when Allen and Neal were healthy, his snaps were limited by the two veterans’ presence.

A top priority this offseason will be to fill this room. The secondary in Atlanta is already a young one and one that has taken its bruises over the last two seasons, particularly at cornerback. What the Falcons don’t need in 2021 is a safety group that has the same inconsistency issues as the cornerback group.

The Falcons will need to find reliability as they work to refill this group. Drafting a couple of defensive backs would be a start, but replacing the experience they lost will be important, too, and they’ll have to turn to free agency to do that. The Falcons might consider re-signing Kazee, who’s coming off of a season-ending Achilles injury. It happened early in the 2020 season, and the Falcons have seen players come back from the same injury and still be productive (Allen in 2018 and Neal in 2019). Keeping Kazee isn’t that farfetched.

More cap casualties could come

The Falcons already have parted ways with Allen and defensive end Allen Bailey for cap reasons; the veteran duo saved the Falcons nearly $11 million in cap space. The Falcons likely will have more cuts considering Fontenot’s “hard decisions” comment from last week. Guard James Carpenter could be on the chopping block, as could defensive tackle Tyeler Davison.

Time will tell if the Falcons add any more names to this list, but they need to make cap room somehow, and cutting higher dollar veteran depth is one of the easiest ways to do so.

Find depth behind Matt Ryan

Ryan will be the quarterback for the Falcons in 2021. His contract is too challenging to even think about trading him this offseason.

However, Ryan isn’t necessarily the problem this offseason; his backup is. Matt Schaub retired following the 2020 season. Kurt Benkert was released alongside cap casualties Allen and Bailey in February. So, that leaves Ryan as the lone quarterback in the room.

There are many options in front of Fontenot as to where to find Ryan’s backup. He could keep the No. 4 pick in the draft and draft Ryan’s successor, having him learn behind Ryan for a year until the Falcons could afford to part with Ryan.

The Falcons could find depth via free agency. They do not have the means to sign some of the most expensive names on market like Mitchell Trubisky, Andy Dalton, or Ryan Fitzpatrick. They could look to find some cheaper options, preferably players who would fall around the lower million-value category.

Shop around Julio Jones

The wording is important here. It isn’t that the Falcons should trade Jones in 2021 or that they should part with him this offseason. It’s simply that they should shop around — look at some potential trades for Jones and evaluate what the Falcons could return.

This season may Jones’ last season in a Falcons uniform. By putting out feelers for what they could get for Jones, the Falcons would be in a better position to trade Jones when they officially put him on the market. Atlanta has a lot of decisions to make this offseason, this one isn’t too high on the list, but that could change if there is a big market for Jones. But this move is more likely to happen in 2022 than 2021, though if they’re smart, they are having those discussions.

Trade down for draft capital

The Falcons very well could keep the No. 4 pick, but they are considering trading back.

The Falcons need depth and a lot of it. They need success stories at running back. They need impact players on the edge. They need consistency in the secondary. All of these needs could be acquired over time, but the Falcons need help and bodies in rooms now. If the Falcons choose to trade down, they get a lot of young talent immediately and likely with team-friendly rookie deals.

Of course, the possibility of trading down to accrue more draft capital could depend on how things fall in free agency. If the Falcons fill their needs there, it takes pressure off the front office to do so in the draft. If not, then trading down seems like a probable course of action.

“You never want to reach for needs in the draft,” Fontenot said, “but when you address some of those needs prior to the draft you feel better about going about with the right approach in the draft.”

 

 

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These guys write the same articles and rearrange the topics and wording constantly. 😄

 

I will say that if there is a vet that could net us significant draft capital, it's Julio. Do I think it's likely? Not at all. But I do think if they get wowed by an offer, they'd certainly have to seriously consider it.

They can talk about moving him in 22, but honestly, it's probably a cut with no compensation at all at his age. It's either now or never on that front, imo. 

 

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7 minutes ago, thanat0s said:

These guys write the same articles and rearrange the topics and wording constantly. 😄

 

I will say that if there is a vet that could net us significant draft capital, it's Julio. Do I think it's likely? Not at all. But I do think if they get wowed by an offer, they'd certainly have to seriously consider it.

They can talk about moving him in 22, but honestly, it's probably a cut with no compensation at all at his age. It's either now or never on that front, imo. 

 

Isn't athletic paid subscription? Some one pays for this ****? Julio’s dead money from trade this year is worse than Ryan. How about just leave Ryan and Julio trade talk crap in 2021. Julio can be traded next year if the Falcons draft some one like Chase and if they want to resign Ridley. 
I just can’t wait for the season to start and not deal with same crap packaged differently in every article.

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1 minute ago, falcons007 said:

Isn't athletic paid subscription? Some one pays for this ****? Julio’s dead money from trade this year is worse than Ryan. How about just leave Ryan and Julio trade talk crap in 2021. Julio can be traded next year if the Falcons draft some one like Chase and if they want to resign Ridley. 
I just can’t wait for the season to start and not deal with same crap packaged differently in every article.

GP gets it so we don’t have to. All hail GP! 😄

As for Julio, a post June 1 trade appears to be the real savings with the least cap hit. Of course that means all our compensation is in 22, but it gives us summer roster flexibility once the June 1 cut list solidifies. 

Like I said, I don’t see it happening in 21, but I’m sure it’s on their list of possibilities. 

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4 minutes ago, thanat0s said:

GP gets it so we don’t have to. All hail GP! 😄

As for Julio, a post June 1 trade appears to be the real savings with the least cap hit. Of course that means all our compensation is in 22, but it gives us summer roster flexibility once the June 1 cut list solidifies. 

Like I said, I don’t see it happening in 21, but I’m sure it’s on their list of possibilities. 

Julios dead money post June 1st will still be 45 M but spread over 3 years. Julio would leave with huge dead money for next two years(38M) and other 7 M in 2023. Falcons could sign a premier FA for that much dead money. There is no advantage trading julio post June 1st, he can play the year out. 

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Regardless if Julio gets traded, I think the team will be in better shape going into the 2021 season than most predict. I do believe that Fontenot and his other scouts will find players that can come in and play as well (maybe better) as what we currently have on defense. I think the biggest contribution is going to come from coaching where I believe that the Falcons have gotten drastically better. I don’t have lofty expectations for the upcoming season, but I do expect the Falcons to be a much better team.

Edited by 4dabirds
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30 minutes ago, falcons007 said:

Julios dead money post June 1st will still be 45 M but spread over 3 years. Julio would leave with huge dead money for next two years(38M) and other 7 M in 2023. Falcons could sign a premier FA for that much dead money. There is no advantage trading julio post June 1st, he can play the year out. 

Don't want to trade Julio, but the numbers you're giving are if he's cut. A huge chunk of Julio's guaranteed money is able to be traded. Trading Julio after June 1st only leaves us liable for 7.75 mil of dead money this year and frees up 15.3 mil.

https://overthecap.com/salary-cap/atlanta-falcons/

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1 hour ago, Falcons_Frenzy said:

I didn't like the Fowler signing. Product of the system and players he had around him. Visible red flags even casual fans could see. I'm so glad DQ and TD are gone. 

I put the blame for this squarely on AB. When you give a GM/HC the win this year or else edict they are likely to take unnecessary risks, like signing a contract year performance pass rusher.

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1 hour ago, Francis York Morgan said:

Don't want to trade Julio, but the numbers you're giving are if he's cut. A huge chunk of Julio's guaranteed money is able to be traded. Trading Julio after June 1st only leaves us liable for 7.75 mil of dead money this year and frees up 15.3 mil.

https://overthecap.com/salary-cap/atlanta-falcons/

I just looked at his contract, the Only difference than what I thought was the guaranteed money. 2021 salary was included in guarantees. The 2021 salary portion can be traded to new team.
So Falcons get a 15 M relief by trading him Post June 1. That would still have Falcons on the hook for 23 M dead cap (7 M dead cap in 2021 and additional 15 M in 2022).
Just coz it’s only 7 M in 2021 doesn’t mean the rest of the dead cap disappears. 

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HolyCow... After you read this article, you can see how badly DQ,TD, Mckay, Blank (falcon for life) buried this team over the last few years. Two of these guys are no longer here, but Two are. I hope they both learned to stay out of football decisions.

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2 hours ago, falcons007 said:

I just looked at his contract, the Only difference than what I thought was the guaranteed money. 2021 salary was included in guarantees. The 2021 salary portion can be traded to new team.
So Falcons get a 15 M relief by trading him Post June 1. That would still have Falcons on the hook for 23 M dead cap (7 M dead cap in 2021 and additional 15 M in 2022).
Just coz it’s only 7 M in 2021 doesn’t mean the rest of the dead cap disappears. 

Didn't say the rest of the dead cap disappears, I was just clarifying because what you initially said was wrong. 23 mil dead over two years is a huge difference from 45 mil over three.

1 hour ago, NWFALCON said:

They definitely messed up getting rid of Jason Butt 

I do miss him

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21 hours ago, thanat0s said:

GP gets it so we don’t have to. All hail GP! 😄

 

Just taking one for the team....:tiphat:

It does seem as though they are rehashing and rewording the same article over and over. I wonder with the new regime if certain sources are now gone and new ones trying to be discovered. Also, it seems as if Fontenot and Smith may be a little more close mouthed than their predecessors. As a fan, I miss having more info on my team, but hope that it pays off with some better football than we've seen. 

 

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10 minutes ago, Goober Pyle said:

Just taking one for the team....:tiphat:

It does seem as though they are rehashing and rewording the same article over and over. I wonder with the new regime if certain sources are now gone and new ones trying to be discovered. Also, it seems as if Fontenot and Smith may be a little more close mouthed than their predecessors. As a fan, I miss having more info on my team, but hope that it pays off with some better football than we've seen. 

 

True, but it's possible being new they just don't have a ton of info on the current roster, either. Maybe after they've built their first team they'll be able to talk about it with facts rather than hypotheticals.

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