The Atlanta Falcons have made great strides since those mediocre to awful seasons in 2013 and 2014, basically rebuilding their entire foundation through incredibly savvy draft selections and free agent signings.
Between 2013 and 2018, the Falcons have added the following players via the draft: Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford, Jake Matthews, Devonta Freeman, Ricardo Allen, Vic Beasley, Tevin Coleman, Grady Jarrett, Keanu Neal, Deion Jones, De’Vondre Campbell, Austin Hooper and Takkarist McKinley. Ryan Schraeder and Brian Poole were also brought in as undrafted free agents.
In that same timeframe, the Falcons have added the likes of Alex Mack, Mohamed Sanu and Brandon Fusco through free agency while trading for Andy Levitre. Three of these players are the projected starters on the interior of the Offensive Line and Sanu is the team’s number two Wide Receiver.
Other than a few core pieces (namely Matt Ryan and Julio Jones), Atlanta’s current roster isn’t even recognizable to the one the team fielded in that 2013 season.
The $$$ ?
However, with excellent draft success comes sacrifice, as good players demand big money when their rookie contracts are up. General Manager Thomas Dimitroff, who’s been lauded for his savvy manipulation of the salary cap, has done an incredible job of locking most of these young star players into contract extensions. Even with the free agent signings, the Falcons have yet to lose a valued contributor to free agency as a result of not having enough money.
During the team’s stellar 2016 season, it came time to start paying the piper for Dimitroff and the front office. With Matt Ryan and Julio Jones already locked into contracts which made them among the five highest-paid players at their respective positions at the time of signing, the young stars from those aforementioned draft classes came for their due as well.
Dimitroff managed to sign Schraeder, who’s one of the best right tackles in the league, to a team friendly 5 year/$31.5 million ($12.5 million guaranteed) contract extension in November of the 2016 season. Just two weeks later, he agreed to terms with CB Robert Alford, whom many thought the team might lose in free agency at the end of his deal, on a 4 year/$38 million ($21 million guaranteed) contract. This also has turned into a bargain with how well Alford played last season.
Desmond Trufant was the big re-signing of the 2017 offseason, agreeing to terms on a 5 year/$68.75 million ($41.56 million guaranteed) contract which made him among the highest paid CBs in the game. Shortly after training camp that summer, Dimitroff came to terms with Devonta Freeman on a 5 year/$41.25 million ($22 million guaranteed) extension, making him among the highest paid RBs in the game.
This past offseason, there was an even bigger fish to fry, with Matt Ryan due for a monster contract extension which was agreed to in the first few days of May. That agreement was to the tune of 5 years for $150 million with a monstrous $100 million in guaranteed money. Both the expected base salary and the guaranteed money figures for Ryan’s contract were inflated after the 49ers re-signed Jimmy Garoppolo and the Vikings signed Kirk Cousins a few weeks earlier.
Then, Julio Jones unexpectedly unexpectedly held out of mandatory June minicamp after reportedly demanding an adjustment to his current longterm contract. Dimitroff and Dan Quinn managed to diffuse that situation by converting approximately $2 million of his 2019 base salary into a 2018 signing bonus.
Since the beginning of Training Camp, Dimitroff has agreed to terms with starting Left Tackle Jake Matthews on a 5 year/$75 million (guaranteed money unknown) extension, and has more recently come to terms with starting Free Safety Ricardo Allen on a 3 year/$19.5 million (guaranteed money unknown) extension. Plans to extend star Defensive Tackle Grady Jarrett are in the works.
Extensions for everyone?
To be able to extend all of your vital core pieces while at the same time using free agency and the trade market to rebuild your offensive line (something a team like the Seattle Seahawks never bothered to do and are now paying for it as a result) is impressive.
Dimitroff and the front office have achieved this through careful planning and looking at the big picture, while even working around some unexpected hurdles (Cousins’ massive guaranteed money bloating Ryan’s contract, the Giants driving up Jake Matthews’ market value by paying Nate Solder so much money and Julio Jones’ new contract demands) to still make it all work under the salary cap.
Next offseason, with the pending extensions of star players like Keanu Neal, Deion Jones and Vic Beasley looming, we should brace ourselves for the expectation of losing some contributors (namely guys like Tevin Coleman and De’Vondre Campbell). To have locked in so much of this good young core in today’s salary cap era, and without so much as a single training camp holdout since 2009, is still a testament to the machine-like efficiency which has been displayed by the Falcons’ front office. This team is in good hands.