Earlier today, as my esteemed colleague Matthew Chambers wrote, the Falcons locked up Ricardo Allen with a three year, $19.5 million extension. The surprise was not that this deal got done so much as the fact that it’s done this early and this painlessly, especially because Allen has been playing for peanuts for years now.
The annual average of $6.5 million puts Allen around 15th in the NFL for safety salaries, right in line with Glover Quin and Barry Church, and in the top ten for free safeties. It’s not at all an unreasonable bit of money, in other words, given the Falcons have been singing Allen’s praises for a while now and he’s still just 26 years old. Neither the length of the contract nor the money comes as a huge surprise.
Now that he’s locked up, you may be wondering what this signing means for the Falcons and for Allen himself.
What it means for the Falcons
Their dynamic safety duo is now locked up through 2020, assuming the Falcons choose to activate Keanu Neal’s fifth-year contract provision. Allen is the less flashy of the two players by a wide margin, as Neal delivers highlight reel hits on a regular basis, but Marquand Manuel has made it clear just how vital Allen is to the defense.
I’ve heard plenty of fans and some analysts express some befuddlement about that, given that Allen has been showing up on the stat sheet less and less as his career goes on. What the Falcons have done over time is ease Allen into a role both he and the team are comfortable with, whether you want to call it the closer, the last line of defense, the safety net, or just the free safety.
Well executed power play from the Eagles. So much daylight for Ajayi with Johnson coming around. Ricardo Allen ends up playing the hero role. pic.twitter.com/thykTKfyBf— Allen Strk (@Allen_Strk) January 17, 2018
Allen can still show flashes of being a genuine ballhawk, but he excels by being well-rounded. In the clip above, you can see Allen diagnosing the play effectively, getting himself into a position to make a play, and helping out with an extremely physical running back. Time and time again, Allen shows the savviness necessary to get involved in a play, and the Falcons know they can count on him to make a sound tackle, make a play on the ball, whether or not everything in front of him fails. He’s an underrated athlete, too, which means he can close on the play and make killer plays like the next two.
The Ricardo Allen doesn't make enough plays crowd has to be quiet this week. Fills in for Poole in the slot, reads Fitzpatrick's eyes, and breaks up a certain touchdown to Evans. Outstanding play. pic.twitter.com/q6CLuNHKUv— Allen Strk (@Allen_Strk) November 30, 2017
Ricardo Allen instantly diagnoses the screen. Gets himself in excellent position and spins past Joe Berger. When you have a high football IQ, good things eventually happen. pic.twitter.com/ycgxdohW2x— Allen Strk (@Allen_Strk) December 7, 2017
While it’s not a bargain signing, it’s probably fair market value for what Allen offers Atlanta. I suspect the Falcons felt Allen could get more on the open market, and that a weirdly moribund 2018 safety market is going to heat up at some point and start pulling the position’s salaries higher anyways. The team could have let Allen test the market and turned to 2017 fifth-rounder Damontae Kazee in 2019 if they couldn’t re-sign him, but as promising as Kazee looks, Atlanta didn’t feel comfortable doing that.
I think that speaks volumes, and it gives the Falcons a war chest at the safety position that few other teams can boast. Kazee is an excellent special teamer and physical, aggressive third safety option, while Ron Parker will be a real asset if he’s healthy and can rebound from a down 2017. Allen and Neal will be one of the better safety duos in football for the next three-plus seasons, assuming good health, and as a former safety himself, Marquand Manuel values that a great deal.
With an improving front seven, the Falcons have set themselves up to be dominant on defense for the next few years. They weren’t about to futz around with a lesser light, or even the prospect of a lesser light, at a position that has bailed them out again and again when things go awry up front.
What it means for Allen
Validation, first and foremost. Allen was drafted in the fifth round by Mike Smith and Thomas Dimitroff as a cornerback out of Purdue, and the team made the baffling decision to cut him and try to sneak him onto the practice squad in 2014 despite a very productive college career and his real upside. It worked, but that had to wound Allen’s pride, and it was such a puzzling move that I speculated at the time that the Falcons made a mistake drafting a player they had no intention of giving a serious chance to.
It might have ended there if the Falcons hadn’t fired Smith and hired Dan Quinn, who wound up taking a shine to Allen and moving him to safety. The move immediately paid dividends as Allen started 14 games in 2015 and has been a full-time player at free safety ever since, and this contract finally gives Allen his due after years of playing on ERFA and RFA tenders that paid him far below market value for an above average starting free safety.
He’s also getting recognition from the team for what he does outside of throwing his body at running backs. Allen’s become one of the leaders of the defense and a man counted upon to survey what’s in front of him and make crucial calls, and he’s regularly talked up as a veteran leader in the locker room. You don’t get additional millions for that, but the contract extension is still recognition for that.
Allen has some real job security now and can stop looking over his shoulder at the likes of Kazee, if he ever did in the first place. The structure of the contract will help tell us how long the Falcons expect him to be their starting free safety, but Rico’s being paid (somewhere near) what he’s worth now, he’s absolutely locked in as the starter at his position for 2018 and beyond, and the Falcons have shown how much they value him. I have to hope that feels pretty good for #37.
What are your thoughts regarding the extension?