You'll recall that we took a mid-May look at the Falcons' expiring contracts for 2016 and concluded there were several players who would be worth watching this year given their impending free agency. Today, I'd like to consider how many of those players might be heading for extensions, either in-season or just after the season wraps up.
The obvious choices here are the team's incumbent starting middle linebacker, center and star wide receiver, but there's a decent-sized list of players who could be heading for pre-free agency extensions if they can perform well. Let's take a look at that list.
- Paul Worrilow. Worrilow's had two productive years as the starter in the heart of the Falcons defense, but he has had his struggles in coverage and was asked to do way too much with too little help under Mike Nolan. With the new-look defense in place, Worrilow can earn himself an extension by simply playing well, and the Falcons may not want to risk letting him walk if he delivers a terrific one.
- Joe Hawley. Hawley's in a similar boat. The Falcons like James Stone on the interior and could look to draft a center next year, but a healthy, effective season out of Hawley could persuade the team to stick with him over the long haul. If he does well, there's no sense in letting him get to free agency.
- Julio Jones. The most obvious. Julio will command an absolutely massive contract in free agency, and the team's stellar wide receiving corps would be hugely diminished if he was allowed to leave. It's a question of when, not if, this gets done, unless the Falcons are boneheads.
- Adrian Clayborn. The Falcons rolled the dice on Clayborn, who has paired a couple of effective seasons with a couple of injury-marred ones. The strong left defensive end has some pass rushing chops and could be a nice fit for this defense, and if he acquits himself opposite Vic Beasley, he's a logical choice for a new deal. Atlanta does have to be careful of his injury history, however.
- Leonard Hankerson. Like Clayborn and Hawley, injuries have really limited Hankerson at times. As a tall, rangy receiver with good wheels, however, he certainly could become a nice target for Matt Ryan. If he does, look for the team to reward him with another deal.
Ricardo Allen. This is speculative, because Allen is an exclusive-rights free agent and isn't going anywhere regardless of what happens in 2015. If Allen does start for the Falcons are free safety and perform at a high level, though, the team may elect to give him a new, starter's contract to keep him happy and keep him around longer.
- Nate Stupar. As a core special teamer who hasn't been used much on defense, Stupar's best chance of a new contract before March comes if he really excels and perhaps carves out a small role on defense, as well. File this one under unlikely.
How many of these players do you think will get new contracts during the season? Right now, I'd only bank on Julio, with Worrilow as the second most likely.