The Falcons haven’t re-signed Matt Bryant yet, and it’s getting closer and closer to the buzzer of free agency.
And, it’s high time we all stop thinking this is inevitable. If it were, it’d have already happened.
There’s a realistic chance the Falcons let Bryant go, and it’s certainly a reality we have to address, and wave caution flags at. Only one potential absence on the 2018 Falcons roster scares me more than the loss of Andy Levitre (it’s that), and it’s a potential absence that could, well, already cost the Falcons in the playoffs in crunch time.
Let’s look back on the 2017 lead-up to the playoffs just for a second. After the Tampa Bay game in November, the Falcons’ offense went cold in red zone efficiency. They only scored seven touchdowns in five December games (and three of those came against a fledgling Bucs defense), skating to the playoffs on spirited defense and, yes, the foot of Matt Bryant.
In those five games, Bryant nailed thirteen field goals – including five in the playoff-sealing regular season finale against the Panthers. When Steve Sarkisian’s offense would freeze in field goal range, out would come the golden foot to boot in three more points.
The Falcons won a playoff game on Bryant’s foot – after the offense struggled to score on Los Angeles’ front seven, the kicker booted in four more field goals to help Atlanta pull away from the home team Rams. If the Falcons offense had been able to just get Bryant in range against that ferocious Eagles front (and had gravity not been so cruel to Keanu Neal’s knee), two more FGs would’ve iced Philly and sent the Falcons to the NFC Championship. You can assume Bryant would’ve made them. He always does.
Atlanta was eleventh in the league for completed field goals under Bryant’s watch, under ten of the league’s best (and younger) talents. They were fourth in 2016. Much lower in 2015, though Shayne Graham played down the stretch that season after a Bryant leg injury.
The reliable kicker’s always around the top-tier of the league in field goal percentage, and though Father Time has taken his knicks on Bryant’s body, the soon-to-be-43-year-old keeps punching his time card, keeps making his kicks, and keeps the Falcons in contention. Down the stretch in 2017, it’s fair to argue he was the most important offensive player on the team – perhaps the most important, period. Without Bryant, the Falcons don’t make the playoffs.
Now, it comes time for the Super Bowl-contending Falcons to pay up on their longtime kicker. Surely, this isn’t a hard decision, right?
Well, it hasn’t happened yet. There’s still time on the clock, but y’know, it’s ticking. We’ve heard contract negotiations have opened up, but not much since then. We’re still waiting.
The Dan Quinn era in roster building has been largely great, save for a few personnel hiccups. The team struggled to acclimate 2015 second round pick Jalen Collins past his off-field issues and saw fifth rounder Brian Hill released mid-season in 2017. They also let FB Patrick DiMarco go.
DiMarco, one of the unsung wonders of that prolific 2016 offense, didn’t want to take the Falcons’ original offer, and went off to Buffalo instead. The Falcons’ replacement, FB Derrick Coleman, was fine, but failed to really recapture the lightening that DiMarco brought to the position. It showed on offense all season – not because Coleman was bad, but because he wasn’t Pat-D. It was a whiff by the front office not to pay DiMarco what he was worth – Buffalo is certainly benefitting from his play.
It’s debatable what role a fullback will have in Atlanta’s future, but the kicking position? That one’s without question. It’s a vital part of the roster, and if you screw that up, you’re up a creek without a paddle, or you’re a touchdown-every-drive type of crew.
The Falcons are not that, and they need strong play from kicker to be the team they can be in 2018. That kicker should be Matt Bryant. This shouldn’t be a discussion we’re having. This deal should have already been done. There’s still time. The Falcons can’t screw this up. There are positions on the roster that deserve a look this spring. Kicker isn’t one of them. It might not be the world’s biggest Brinks truck, but someone should have it already on the way to Bryant’s place.
If the going rate for a veteran kicker is $3.5 million or so (what the Colts paid ageless wonder Adam Vinatieri), that’s an easy price for Atlanta to meet. Heck, make it $4 million just to show your love if you want. Any other offer is a fork in a light socket – dumb and dangerous.
The Falcons would be in no way, shape or form wise to moneyball kicker in 2018. It’d be very dumb. Jake Elliott, Philly’s wunderkind rookie kicker, is the exception to the rule. More often than not, young kickers struggle before finding their groove. Teams trying to win their conference can’t afford to dilly dally around on a baby chick trying to find its footing on special teams. You need an ace who can win you games. You need a sure shot. You need a kicker like Bryant.
Alas, the Falcons have let guys go in the past due to age, and it’s come back to bite them in the tailfeather. Sometimes, it’s not the worst decision, but sometimes, it’s a very bad one. Letting Bryant go would qualify as a very bad one.
Particularly if the offense still struggles to cash in the touchdowns this fall, the team will need Bryant to play clean up. Three points aren’t seven points, but they’re better than zero points. If the Falcons have less-than-reliable kicking in December, we’re talking about a higher draft pick come April.
It’s an easy decision for Atlanta – pay Bryant for another year or two to do his thing. You’ve got a window. Don’t make it harder to finally get a Lombardi by shoving a kicker transition in the middle of it.
The real crummy thing would be to let Bryant get down to Tampa Bay (where Atlanta got him from) and kick for the Bucs once more. They’re in the market for a kicker and would no doubt love to watch Atlanta barf on themselves by letting their reliable leg get down to Tampa and kick all over his old team twice a year. That’s a nightmare scenario that is completely avoidable if Atlanta just pays Bryant what he’s worth and lets him hold down the spot just a little bit longer.
Bryant’s, by all signs, indicated that he wants to stay. His health is always a minor concern at this point, but even after suffering a foot injury in week nine, he was as spry as a spring chicken heading down the back half of the schedule. He’s consistent and doesn’t look to drop off anytime soon.
Do the Falcons really want to let him go?
All of this could be rendered moot if a deal is announced sometime soon. Very rarely does a columnist want to see his work disappear into the news cycle, but this time around, the writer’s good with it.
This is the easy call that doesn’t need to go wrong – pay Bryant, get him under contract, get him back in a Falcons uniform. Remember DiMarco, and don’t whiff.
The last thing you want is X Rookie missing the game-winning field goal in the 2019 NFC Championship to keep Atlanta from hosting a home Super Bowl, all while Bryant is chilling on the couch after going 8-8 with the Bucs.
The Falcons have created some avoidable problems for themselves over the years. Don’t let this be one of them, Birds.
It’s all-but-guaranteed to be a kick in the head if you do.