Without a doubt, one of the biggest surprises of the Falcons 2016 season has been waiver-wire pick up Taylor Gabriel. The 5’8”, 165 pound un-drafted receiver out of Abilene Christian was surprisingly waived by the Cleveland Browns after the preseason concluded. The Falcons promptly claimed him, surprising many fans when they cut Nick Williams to do so.
Needless to say, that decision looks brilliant in hindsight.
Over the last four games, Gabriel has scored 5 TDs (4 receiving, 1 rushing) and has showcased speed that may be the fastest on the team. His 2 TDs against the Cardinals were simple WR screens that he was able to take to the house from 35 and 25 yards out.
The addition of Gabriel has added depth that the Falcons haven’t had at wide receiver for some time. Keep in mind: most fans thought Justin Hardy would be the clear WR3 this year, with Aldrick Robinson securing the WR4 spot. Gabriel has essentially leap-frogged both of those guys, even though Robinson and Hardy are still capable of producing.
That said, it’s important to note that Gabriel is a restricted free agent after this season. At this point, it seems like a foregone conclusion that the team will sign him to a new deal, but that may not be absolutely set in stone.
Given that Gabriel is a restricted free agent, the Falcons may opt to place a tender on him instead. Since he was undrafted, the most likely scenario would be Gabriel getting the second round tender in 2017. This would allow the Falcons to take a year to see if his contributions can continue while also not breaking the bank (2nd round tender is a little over $2 million in guaranteed money).
Keep in mind: the Falcons did this same exact thing with Ryan Schraeder this year, when many thought he would be extended before the season began. Obviously, the team saw enough out of Schraeder to get him locked up to a five year extension during the season and there’s no reason to think they won’t take the same tact with Gabriel.
Something else to ponder: the team is probably still hoping that Devin Fuller - the 2016 7th round pick, currently on injured reserve - can compete for one of the WR spots in 2017. If Fuller can secure a spot, they may take a wait and see approach with him and Gabriel in 2017. Though there is certainly enough room on the roster for both guys, the team may want to see what options they have internally before pulling out the checkbook for Gabriel.
While Gabriel’s performance this year has been impressive, the team is probably not in a rush to get him inked to a long-term deal. Between the free agent tender and seeing how other players progress, there’s little doubt Gabriel has a spot on the roster in 2017. If he continues to play like he currently is, there’s a good chance he’ll be on the team in 2018 and beyond.