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Three Falcons who need good years to remain with the team beyond 2017

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These Falcons could find themselves on the chopping block or not re-signed.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Rams Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

We talked about Falcons likely to have larger roles in 2017, which could lead to more opportunities and bigger paydays down the line. There are also players who need big seasons to stay on this football team, given cap charges, recent performance, or both of those factors combined.

I’ve identified three of those players who need to have quality seasons to stick around, as they could easily be cap casualties (or in one case, not re-signed) when the new league year rolls around next March. Here are those three.

G Andy Levitre

2017: $6.225 million cap hit

2018: $8.375 million cap hit

2019: Free Agent

This one’s pretty obvious. Levitre had a nice year in 2016, starting all 16 games and playing at a high level, but he’s also costing the Falcons a pretty significant amount of money, which makes the 30-plus year old guard a potential cut in 2018. The only way he’s going to be around in 2018 without an extension is if he repeats that year again in 2017, and for the Falcons’ sake, I hope he does exactly that.

DE Adrian Clayborn

2017: $5.5 million cap hit

2018: Free Agent

Clayborn is an extremely useful player. He’s got 7.5 sacks as a part-time player over the last two seasons, and figures to be a core piece of the team’s defensive line rotation yet again. He can also play defensive tackle in a pinch, which helps him.

That said, Clayborn is coming off an injury and his contract is up after 2017, and the Falcons just signed Jack Crawford, figure to draft at least one defensive lineman, and have Derrick Shelby under contract. He’s no lock to return if he doesn’t turn in a rock solid year.

DE/LB Brooks Reed

2017: $5.04 million cap hit

2018: $5.44 million cap hit

2019: $5.44 million cap hit

2020: Free Agent

Arguably the biggest no-brainer on this list. Reed has had fine games and is a quality player, but his production has not matched his contract to this point, and the team could save millions in 2018 and 2019 by cutting him loose. This is the pivotal year for the long-haired defender, who probably needs to either show genuine improvement or draw a lot more time at linebacker to stick.