Atlanta’s going to make cuts. You know that, I know that, and Thomas Dimitroff certainly knows that. He and Rich McKay have insisted early and will insist often that the Falcons won’t find themselves short on cap space, but yesterday he was also quite candid about where that money is going to come from.
The Falcons aren’t in cap hell after restructuring Grady Jarrett and Matt Ryan’s deals to free up some space, but they still barely have enough cap space to pay their entire rookie class, much less free agents. That cash will have to come from veterans with sizeable contracts, for better or for worse.
Thomas Dimitroff says he believes that when the #Falcons make some of the difficult roster decisions in the coming weeks they can free up cap space without "leaving the team devoid of talent."— William McFadden (@willmcfadden) December 30, 2019
Jason Butt at The Athletic wrote up what lies ahead for Atlanta, and I thought it was a thoughtful look at what’s at stake here. The Falcons can either let priority free agents let Austin Hooper and De’Vondre Campbell walk, cut ties with veterans like Alex Mack and Devonta Freeman, or some combination of the two. Any way you slice it, they’re going to lose players they’ve relied upon for years.
In some cases, that’s quite doable. Freeman is still a well-rounded, useful back, but the Falcons have shown a good eye for the position in recent years and can probably draft his replacement and/or build a solid committee if they move on. Matt Gono can probably fill in for Ty Sambrailo or James Carpenter if those two are cut, Kurt Benkert and Danny Etling could duke it out if the living legend Matt Schaub hangs ‘em up, and while the Falcons don’t have anyone as good as Desmond Trufant behind him, Kendall Sheffield and Isaiah Oliver showed enough promise to think they could replace him if all goes very, very well.
Other cuts may be necessary to free up room but come with more readily apparent costs. There’s no one on the roster or in the locker room ready to replace Ricardo Allen, for example, and there’s no center-in-waiting if the Falcons move on from Alex Mack. If the team has some priority free agents in mind or really want to pony up for Hooper and Campbell, they may have to saw to the bone to do so. As poor as the last two years have been, I’m not sure the best path forward is cutting ties with players who can still help.
Butt’s shortlist from the article linked above is helpful here, but does not include Mack, whose release would free up $8 million. In all, the Falcons would save over $30 million by cutting ties with everyone here, but the returns diminish as you go down the list.
Keanu Neal, which would save $6.466 million
Desmond Trufant, which would save $4.95 million
Allen Bailey, which would save $4.5 million
Ty Sambrailo, which would save $3.75 million
Devonta Freeman, which would save $3.5 million
Ricardo Allen, which would save $3.125 million
Luke Stocker, which would save $2.6 million
Matt Schaub, which would save $2 million
Takk McKinley, which would save $1.2 million
We don’t know yet, but it’s pretty clear the front office is already thinking that through. I do believe the Falcons can field a competitive roster next year—my concern is still more with the coaching staff than anything else—but it’ll be a delicate balancing act to infuse the team with talent at positions of need and still hold on to the veterans who could and should be part of the next winning Falcons team.