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Why did the Falcons bring Derrick Shelby back?

It’s not a question of on-field talent, it’s a question of cost.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons telegraphed letting Adrian Clayborn, Taylor Gabriel, and Dontari Poe walk, so those weren’t true surprises. Cutting ties with Levine Toilolo was a bit surprising, too, but given production versus contract, it was fairly understandable. Cutting Derrick Shelby, though? That was a bit of a surprise.

There’s little point in arguing that Shelby, with his 2016 injury woes and fairly one-dimensional skill set in Atlanta, would have been a crushing loss had the Falcons had a replacement ready. But it’s also true that Shelby is a very good run stopper and can play defensive tackle in a pinch, both of which are valuable enough traits that you could justify keeping him around at his 2018 salary. The cut saved some cash, sure, but then the Falcons went out and wiped out those savings by re-signing Shelby to a reported one year, $3.25 million deal.

So what gives?

My guess is that the Falcons had hoped to find a couple players to replace Shelby on the open market, did not find them/watched them go elsewhere, and decided bringing Shelby back for one year made enough sense that they could swallow a mildly-reduced contract in 2018. It may well be true, too, that Shelby has to hit incentives he didn’t have to in his old contract to earn the total value, which would help the Falcons keep their dollars in order.

But I also suspect that the major draw of doing this for Thomas Dimitroff, as convoluted and minimally helpful for 2018 as it is, is the prospect of not having Shelby’s full contract on the books in 2019. The team has a bunch of big money extensions coming up, as we’ve chronicled here elsewhere, and they’ll want to maximize their cap space heading into next year to take care of as many of them as possible. If not having Shelby’s full deal on the books in 2019 helps with that, but you had to eat a decent-sized contract for 2018 to keep him around, it sort of makes sense. If you squint. And gel your hair.

I’m glad to have him back—the defensive end rotation is a lot deeper with his presence, and he can at least help out at defensive tackle—but the whole situation is still a little weird. Thankfully, in a few months we’ll be talking about what Shelby is hopefully doing on the field, not this whole saga.