With the Falcons’ 2018 season circling the drain, it’s time to look ahead to the 2019 offseason. There’s been plenty of buzz about the very real possibility of Atlanta netting a top-5 pick in next year’s draft, but what about the Falcons’ cap situation heading into 2019? On the surface, it looks like the team could be in relatively good shape financially, but how much money are we really talking about?
To find out, I did some digging on Spotrac and came up with a mock 2019 offseason. Let’s take a closer look at an approximation of 2019 for the Falcons, and just how much tinkering they’ll be able to do in free agency.
Estimated 2019 Cap Space: $26.49M
This number is based on the cap going up by about $11M in 2019, and takes into account the estimated $4.4M in rollover from 2018’s cap that the Falcons should have. We’ve heard reports that the cap could go up by as much as $14M, or as little as $10M, so this number could change slightly in either direction.
Potential 2019 Cap Casualties
EDGE Vic Beasley
($12.8M, zero dead cap)
Beasley is an easy cut, for both on-field reasons (he simply hasn’t been good in 2018) and for financial reasons (the team can save $12.8M by cutting him, with no cap penalty). This is the easiest call of the bunch, and it nets the team a significant amount of cap.
CB Robert Alford
($8.5M, $1.2M dead cap)
Alford’s poor play came at the worst possible time for him, as the Falcons can get out of his contract for a minimal $1.2M dead cap hit. Atlanta saves $8.5M by moving on from Alford, making this another very easy decision—particularly with second-round pick Isaiah Oliver waiting in the wings.
RT Ryan Schraeder
($3.95M, $3.8M dead cap)
Things start to get more interesting with Schraeder. You break about even financially by cutting him—you could make it even easier by designating Schraeder as a post-June 1st cut. However, Atlanta doesn’t have a successor waiting behind him, and financially it might make more sense to wait until 2020. This cut may not come until training camp, if it comes at all.
WR Mohamed Sanu
($4.6M, $2.8M dead cap)
I don’t think the team moves on from Sanu in 2019, simply because his contract is passable for a WR2 and they don’t “need” the money from cutting him at this point. Sanu brings a significant dead cap hit of $2.8M, but also a pretty substantial savings of $4.6M.
EDGE Brooks Reed
($4.5M, $940K dead cap)
Another cut that might not happen until after the draft, Brooks Reed is carrying a pretty sizable $5.4M cap hit into 2019. He already took a pay cut in 2018 to stay with the team, so that could be an option again if he wants to stick around. Look for the Falcons to add 2-3 more EDGE players, through a combination of free agency and the draft—if that happens, Reed is likely gone.
“Big Ticket” 2019 FAs
DT Grady Jarrett
(estimated value: $15M/yr)
Grady Jarrett has been the most consistent defensive lineman the Falcons have had in ages. He’s a force against both the run and pass, and Atlanta is not letting him walk. Look for Jarrett’s deal to fall somewhere in the $15M/yr range, though the team could decide to limit his cap hit in 2019 through a sizable signing bonus.
WR Julio Jones*
(estimated value: $20M/yr)
Julio is not technically a free agent in 2019, but the Falcons made it clear that they’re planning to give him his new contract this offseason. That means we’re likely to see a jump in his cap number in 2019 and beyond. Julio will want to be paid like a top-flight WR1, and right now that means around $20M/yr (about a $6.5M increase from his previous 2019 cap number). Again, the team could choose to limit his 2019 cap hit through a large signing bonus.
Other notable 2019 FAs
RB Tevin Coleman - most of us thought Coleman was almost certainly headed to a starter’s contract in 2019, but his lackluster play as the lead back in 2018 may have tanked his value. If Coleman is willing to return on a reasonable deal—say, $4M/yr—then there’s a chance he could be in Atlanta next season.
G Andy Levitre - Levitre’s health has been a big issue over the past two seasons. However, if he wanted to return on a cheap deal (say, $3M for one year) I wouldn’t necessarily be against it. Levitre has been an above-average guard throughout his tenure in Atlanta, and the chance of getting him healthy for one final season could be worth the minimal investment.
QB Matt Schaub - Schaub has been the Falcons’ backup QB for the past several years, but his days in Atlanta are probably over. Expect the Falcons to bring in another veteran and perhaps a mid-round draft pick to compete for the QB2 role in 2019.
C/G Ben Garland - Garland has proven himself as nothing more than a reserve interior offensive lineman. If he’s willing to return on a vet minimum contract or similar, that’s fine. Otherwise, he’s probably headed elsewhere.
EDGE Derrick Shelby - The Falcons cut Shelby at the beginning of 2018, then brought him back when they failed to add another competent EDGE. I don’t think Shelby returns to the team in 2019.
CB Justin Bethel - Bethel is not a good CB, but he’s a great special teams player. I think he’s worth the $2M he’ll cost to re-sign as a core part of the Falcons’ special teams unit.
EDGE Bruce Irvin - Irvin hasn’t exactly looked inspiring in his few games in Atlanta, but he’s familiar with the scheme and could return in 2019 if he’s willing to take a reasonable deal. If Brooks Reed gets cut, expect Irvin to take his spot.
TE Logan Paulsen - Paulsen has been a great blocker in 2018 that has also contributed a few clutch catches. I’d definitely bring him back on a similar contract in 2019.
Estimated 2019 Cap Space after draft picks, expected cuts, and re-signings: $14M
This figure represents what I expect the Falcons to have left over in my “mock offseason”. To arrive at this number, the Falcons made the following moves:
Cut Vic Beasley (save $12.8M)
Cut Robert Alford (save $8.5M)
Cut Brooks Reed (save $4.5M)
Re-sign Grady Jarrett ($15M)
Re-sign Julio Jones ($20M, net cap increase of $6.5M)
Re-sign Bruce Irvin ($3.5M)
Re-sign Justin Bethel ($2M)
Re-sign Logan Paulsen ($1.2M)
Tender Brian Poole (2nd round, $3.1M)
Sign 9 draft picks (est. $7M)
At this point, the Falcons would have 50 players signed to the roster and $14M remaining to use on the final three spots. The UDFAs would all be cheaper than any of the top-50 contracts, so they wouldn’t count against the cap. Atlanta generally likes to keep around $5M in reserve for emergency signings, which would theoretically leave about $9M left over. That’s enough to sign one decently high-profile free agent, like a Brandon Graham or Allen Bailey, or a few mid-tier guys.
So, the Falcons probably don’t have as much space as you’d think at first glance. However, I’d say my mock offseason is rather conservative—we could easily see the Falcons take the more aggressive route and cut Schraeder and/or Sanu to free up more space. They could also elect to let Irvin walk and bank on draft picks or other players stepping up—the team seems to genuinely like Steven Means, for example.
Either way, the team has flexibility and could potentially go after one of the big names in free agency—a Ndamukong Suh, Ezekiel Ansah, or Jared Veldheer—as well. Unlike 2018, they do have the capacity to make some more creative moves if they so desire.
What do you think of this mock offseason, and the Falcons cap situation in 2019? What moves would you make if you were Atlanta’s GM? Any particular free agents you’d love to see in red and black?