The Falcons have done good work in the trenches these last couple of years, and despite the many reasons for their success in 2016 and 2017, you could make a solid case that the lines have been the most vital units. The improved defensive front helped keep Atlanta in games, while the much improved offensive line enabled the huge success of 2016 and the modest success of 2017.
So it’s little surprise that when reviewing the biggest roster decisions this year, ESPN elected to focus on the lines. Please note the article is Insider:
Keeping the lines intact. While star receiver Julio Jones is apparently angling for a new contract, he has three years remaining on his deal. A more immediate task is to piece together extensions for two critical cogs: defensive line cornerstone Grady Jarrett and left tackle Jake Matthews, who each enter the final year of their rookie contracts. Jarrett is a force and Matthews plays an essential position -- neither new deal will come cheap. The Falcons are a draft-and-develop team at their core. Finding a way to lock up both of those players is a top to-do list item for GM Thomas Dimitroff.
This is a fair take, as the ongoing Julio Jones contract brouhaha and Ricardo Allen extension are probably the only other truly major contract decisions coming up. The Falcons view Matthews and Jarrett as core pieces, and there’s every indication their deals will get done between now and next March.
And let’s be blunt: Neither of these players are going anywhere. Matthews isn’t one of the five or so best left tackles in the NFL, and you can make a legitimate argument he’s not even in the top ten, if you were so inclined. Teams have had so much trouble finding quality bookends that the Falcons are still exceedingly unlikely to go back to the drawing board at the position, especially because Matthews is coming off a very good year and is still pretty young.
Jarrett is one of the better young defensive tackles in the NFL and plays a position where Deadrin Senat is the only other viable long-term option at the moment, so I’d expect his deal to be the most immediate priority. I still feel like he has untapped upside, and he’s already a terrific player.
It’s true that these extensions are going to start to add up in a hurry, but the Falcons are right to want to keep their lines in tip-top shape, and they know they have to spend to do so. Hopefully these deals get done in drama-free fashion.