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2017 NFL free agency: Will the Falcons keep Taylor Gabriel?

The speedy wide receiver was a revelation in 2016. Will he be in Atlanta in 2017?

NFL: Super Bowl LI-New England Patriots vs Atlanta Falcons Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

In an offseason filled with pressing questions, this one’s pretty high on the list: Can (and will) the Falcons keep Taylor Gabriel around?

If Gabriel were set to become an unrestricted free agent, I would say no. Kyle Shanahan loves Gabriel and would surely want the 49ers to throw some of their massive cap space toward bringing him to San Francisco, where he’d provide the team’s new quarterback with an insanely fast weapon at wide receiver.

But Gabriel is not a UFA, he’s a restricted free agent. That means the Falcons can tender him at a level that would make another team think twice about trying to scoop him up. RFAs can be tendered at a first round level, which is the most costly option and would figure to run the Falcons more than $3 million; a second round level, which will cost under $3 million; and an original round tender which would cost you under two million. If the Falcons decline to match an offer sheet from another team, they’ll get a pick unless they give him the lowest possible tender, because Gabriel was originally an undrafted free agent.

The question is, will they pony up to keep him? Gabriel was a huge weapon for Atlanta last year, but they are returning Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Tevin Coleman, Devonta Freeman, and Austin Hooper, at the very least. Gabriel’s 35 receptions, 579 yards and six touchdowns as a receiver, plus his ability to take the ball out of the backfield, was a major boon to the offense. You won’t easily replace that output, even if Steve Sarkisian’s offense may not give him the same opportunities as Kyle Shanahan’s did, and Gabriel’s speed and obvious talent make him so dangerous.

Ultimately, it’ll come down to money and draft picks, as it always does. The Falcons are about to hand Desmond Trufant and possibly Devonta Freeman big extensions, and they’ll be looking to bolster the roster in a year where they have a little less cap space than usual. If the Falcons tender Gabriel at the second round level and some team ponies up, they may very well choose to let him walk away and get the compensation back. Unless the team wants to make him a much more prominent piece of the offense, you can argue that it would be a smart move to do so.

What do you think will happen?