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Taylor Gabriel needs a big season to land a big contract in 2018

The dynamic receiver needs to build on 2016.

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

Both Taylor Gabriel and Ricardo Allen will play the 2017 season making far less money than their talent and production warrants. Only one of them will have a realistic shot at cashing in a major way next offseason, because only Gabriel will not be a restricted free agent.

That provides some urgency for the speedy receiver, who came over to Atlanta after the Browns foolishly cut ties with him and put up 35 receptions, 579 yards, and 6 touchdowns in the regular season, plus highlight reel grabs in the postseason. His talent is obvious and he’ll have the advantage of a full season in Atlanta to make his case in 2017, and he’ll be angling for the kind of contract that one of the league’s premier slot receivers should expect.

This is where things get complicated for Gabriel and the Falcons. The team already has Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu under contract on big money deals, which doesn’t preclude one for Gabriel but certainly makes things it more difficult, particularly with Jake Matthews, Devonta Freeman, and potentially Matt Ryan coming up. Then there’s the small matter of the target picture in Atlanta, which could change with Steve Sarkisian in town, Justin Hardy ready to come on, and Austin Hooper figuring to fight for more receptions. I think we take it as a given that Gabriel is going to get more balls thrown his way, given how dynamic he was, but I’m not sure it’s going to be that cut and dry with so many mouths to feed.

If Gabriel proves he can still be insanely productive with Kyle Shanahan elsewhere, he’ll be in line for a big payday, and it’ll be interesting to see if the Falcons keep him around or if Shanahan and the 49ers throw a huge contract at him. It’ll likely come down to how many touches Gabriel can manage in this offense, though, so monitor him in preseason and the early going to see how this one shakes out.