The Atlanta Falcons placed the franchise tag on star defensive tackle Grady Jarrett. This move is severely restricting the team’s flexibility to sign free agents.
The Atlanta Falcons kicked off the 2019 offseason by placing the franchise tag on defensive tackle Grady Jarrett. According to Will Brison of CBS Sports, the Falcons and Grady Jarrett are far apart on terms of a new contract. He also believes there is a good chance that Grady will hold out if he doesn’t receive the long-term contract that he desires. Take a look at the article for yourself here.
Now that Grady Jarrett is under the franchise tag, he will command a salary of 15.57 million dollars. The entirety of the his 2019 salary will count against the Atlanta Falcons cap, should the team be unable to work out a long deal with Jarrett. This is problematic for the team, as it will restrict the front office’s ability to sign a high level free agent.
The contract extension that star quarterback Matt Ryan signed last offseason kicks in this year. His cap number was scheduled increase from 17.7 million in 2018, to 22.8 million in 2019. However just recently, Matt Ryan adjusted his contact to receive more of his money up front in a signing bonus. This move saved the Falcons seven million dollars.
The Atlanta Falcons also cut former starting right tackle Ryan Schraeder. Schraeder who played college ball at Valdosta State University in South Georgia, lost his starting job to Ty Sambrailo late last season. He was cut with a post June 1 designation, allowing Atlanta to save nearly 6.5 million dollars in cap space. Atlanta has used the savings from the aforementioned moves, to shore up a few spots on the offensive side of the roster. Guards James Carpenter and Jamon Brown are the most notable players signed in free agency. They certainly add size to the team, but I questioned rather they are truly an upgrade performance wise in this article.
Backup tight end Luke Stocker is another addition to the offense. He adds versatility with the ability to double as a full back. Kit Anderson of Atl All Day covered the signing here. Kejon Barner adds speed and depth at the running back position and gives the Dirty Birds another option in the return game. Additionally the Falcons resigned their own incumbent free agents, such as right tackle Ty Sambrailo, wide receiver Justin Hardy, tight end Logan Paulsen and quarterback Matt Schaub.
Defensively the Atlanta Falcons have not done much, besides retaining a couple their own free agents. The team has resigned defensive end Steven Means and linebacker Bruce Carter. They also decided to honor the 12.8 million dollar fifth year option on edge rusher Vic Beasley, a move I called a mistake in this article. Paying Beasley is the other major reason Atlanta is struggling to find cap space this offseason. The return of injured players such as free safety Ricardo Allen and strong safety Keanu Neal, along with a full season of Deion Jones should help the Dirty Birds defense return to top ten form, despite the lack in free agent reinforcements.
The fact that most of the few free agent dollars that club had were spent on offense, furthers speculation that Atlanta could spend the majority of its nine draft picks on the defensive side of the football. General manager Thomas Dimitroff attempted to quiet that speculation by saying that all positions are still in play for the Atlanta Falcons in the 2019 draft. Kelsey Conway an atlantafalcons.com reporter, has the story here. She quotes Dimitroff as making this statement about the draft, at the Georgia Bulldogs Pro Day:
"“We need to continue to build our depth and our youth.” We’ll continue to look at the both sides of the offensive and defensive line as we go into the draft and of course many other positions we need.”"
According to overthecap.com the Atlanta Falcons only have just over of 4.7 million in cap space. Add in the 6.45 million saved from cutting Ryan Schraeder and the Atlanta Falcons have around 11.2 million dollars in room. That’s just north of the 8.1 million dollars that spotrac.com is speculating that the team will need to sign their draft class. The Falcons could always go over the cap now and make additional cuts later to get under the cap, should they be unable to clear cap space by signing Grady Jarrett. The problem with that strategy is there are very few players left for Atlanta to cut, that would offer savings while not incurring a large amount of dead money against the cap.
The team should also be concerned with releasing players that would create another hole that needs to be filled. Mohamed Sanu is the best example of that. Releasing him would save 6.25 million against the cap and cost Atlanta only 1.4 million in dead money. Yet Mohamed Sanu is too important to the Atlanta Falcons as a possession receiver. He is also a great blocking wide receiver in the run game, as well as the screen game. Additionally Sanu was Atlanta’s best short yardage running option last season, in a special package in which he played quarterback. That leaves guard Brandon Fusco, who suffered a broke ankle last year, as the best option left to be released for cap reasons. Fusco is expected to compete for a starting job at guard against the new acquisitions. Releasing him only offers a minimal savings of three million dollars, while costing the team 1.8 million in dead money.
One solution could be for the team to sign wide receiver Julio Jones to a contact extension. Owner Arthur Blank has previously said that Jones will be a Falcon for life. It is well-known that Jones wants a new contract, after his holdout and subsequent contract adjustment last offseason. According to Michael Shapiro of Sports Illustrated, the Atlanta Falcons and Julio Jones are closing in on a contract extension.
There are still some household names remaining on the free agent market. Defensive standouts such as Ndamukong Suh, Ezekiel Ansah, Eric Berry, Jamie Collins, Muhammad Wilkerson, Derrick Morgan, and Adrian Clayborn, are all still available. Morgan and Berry are from the state of Georgia and Clayborn is a former Atlanta Falcons player. Conor Orr of Sports Illustrated wrote this article on the remaining free agents available. Signing a veteran edge rusher should be of the utmost importance for the Falcons with the departure of Bruce Irvin to the division rival Carolina Panthers. Pass rusher Vic Beasley has always played much better when a veteran pass rusher is in the locker room to mentor him.
If Atlanta Falcons want to add more impact veteran free agents, agreeing to terms with Grady Jarrett is the best way to accomplish that. Hopefully the rumors of Jarrett wanting a contract similar to Los Angeles Rams star Aaron Donald are false. Should they be true, the Atlanta Falcons and Grady Jarrett could be headed for long negotiations and a potential hold out. If the Falcons front office is to maximize the salary cap space it has to work with to build the best possible roster for 2019, signing star defensive tackle Grady Jarrett to a long-term contract extension that lowers his cap number, is a task that must be completed.