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Atlanta’s 2019 free agent class makes the need for financial restraint clear

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Costly, long-term deals now could cripple the team’s ability to re-sign some of its best talent in the near-term.

NFL: NFC Divisional Playoff-Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Falcons have had a quiet, cautious sort of free agency. There’s little doubt they’ll fill their open roster spots, and they may well do so with quality players, but the possibility of an unexpected splash seems more and more remote.

We’ve talked a lot about the short-term reasons for that—the Falcons clearly didn’t love the top-level talent in this class, they think they can replace some of their better free agents with cheaper options, they simply don’t have a lot of cash on hand until a Matt Ryan and/or Jake Matthews extension goes through—but we haven’t spent much time at all talking about why they might be reluctant to tie up big dollars in players who will hit the cap hard in 2019 and beyond. I thought we might do that today, if you have the time.

So here’s a list of free agents the Falcons will be looking at a year from now if they don’t work out extensions. I’ve bolded the most important names, as I am wont to do.

  • QB Matt Ryan
  • QB Matt Schaub
  • RB Tevin Coleman
  • RB Terrence Magee
  • WR Justin Hardy
  • TE Logan Paulsen
  • G Andy Levitre
  • G Ben Garland
  • T Jake Matthews
  • T Ty Sambrailo
  • T Austin Pasztor
  • DT Grady Jarrett
  • CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson
  • CB Leon McFadden
  • S Ricardo Allen
  • LS Josh Harris

This list contains five starters, one key (if affordable) special teamer, and one potent offensive weapon who gets starter’s snaps at times. The Falcons may not re-sign Levitre or Coleman, but Matt Ryan, Grady Jarrett, Jake Matthews and Ricardo Allen are all viewed as integral players inside Flowery Branch, and the Falcons will need to reward all of them with extensions to keep them around. Ryan and Matthews may actually give the Falcons some short-term cap relief if they sign new deals, but Allen, Jarrett, and Coleman (if he re-signs) are all set to cash in next year.

The Falcons have talked again and again about keeping their own top-shelf talent around, which makes quite a bit of sense. These are players you’ve helped coach up and are familiar with your locker room and scheme, which makes them strong fits. It also helps that the Falcons have unearthed some rare talents like Jarrett, Deion Jones, Takkarist McKinley, and Devonta Freeman, to name a few, who figure to be long-term contributors to a contending Falcons team. The best way to do that is to not sink a lot of money into outside players unless you’re getting an elite contributor at a position you just can’t fill otherwise.

So while it doesn’t get mentioned very often because we are justifiably concerned with the here and now, do bear in mind that the Falcons are likely approaching free agency in 2018 with 2019 and even 2020 in mind. If they weren’t, we’d have a lot more to fret about.