The Falcons spent their week making significant cuts to the roster, though there were but three. In the process, they cleared out a four-year rotational defensive end at the thinnest position on the roster, a six-year player and five-year starter at cornerback, and the best and most beloved kicker in Falcons history. The savings were nothing to sneeze at—close to $15 million, by my math—but they removed quality players and teammates from a roster that’s clearly re-tooling.
The Falcons are looking simultaneously to their present and their future with these moves. They need the money to lock up Grady Jarrett and take care of Julio Jones and add quality players to a roster that stagnated in 2018, especially along the trenches. They also need to take the leap into giving draft picks like Isaiah Oliver and contingency plans like Giorgio Tavecchio a shot to prove themselves, even if Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff prove to be teetering on the edge of getting fired this year. Bad teams prioritize looking like they’re committed to winning now more than actually doing it, and by cleaning out the coaching staff and cutting ties with Brooks Reed, Robert Alford, and Matt Bryant, the Falcons are trying to actually get better in the ways that count.
That’s not to say this has all been brilliantly handled or will prove to be wonderfully prescient, as the Falcons hired (and lost) their game and clock management coach and risked their kicking game going considerably south when they lost the still-great Bryant. But the Falcons will remain relevant in 2019 and beyond, if they manage to do so, by making tough decisions, acquiring new talent, and keeping their most critical players around. That’s what they’re attempting to do now.
With that in mind, here’s what you should expect to see happen in the weeks ahead before free agency opens.
New contracts for Grady Jarrett, Julio Jones, and potentially Matt Bosher
Jarrett is the centerpiece of the offseason in so many ways. He’s headed for a huge new deal that he deserves after turning in one of the best seasons of any defensive tackle in 2018, and he’s young enough to be a foundational piece for the defense going forward. You can bet at least some of the money the Falcons freed up is going to go to Jarrett, and they’re going to want to get a deal done before free agency opens. Expect an extension in the next two weeks, or the franchise tag if the Falcons can’t get it done.
Julio’s getting a new deal, too, as the Falcons have promised. They have an opportunity to give Julio a lot more cash and bring his average in line with the very top receivers in the sports, but with intelligent structuring they can actually free up some cash for 2019 or 2020 to help them sign and re-sign key players. It can be a win-win deal, if the Falcons play it right.
Finally, there’s Bosher. It’s the final year of his deal and his $2.5 million salary is not at all guaranteed, but he’s coming off a fine year and is another fan favorite for his occasional bone-jarring special teams tackles. The Falcons could elect to use one of their late round choices on his replacement and cut him, but I expect they’ll see about re-visiting his deal first.
Re-structure or cut for Vic Beasley
Jeff Schultz at The Athletic has been adamant the Falcons won’t actually pay Vic Beasley $12.8 million to play for them this year. Thomas Dimitroff and the Falcons insist they want to keep Beasley around. Something will have to give.
Bluntly, while I never begrudge a player their money, Beasley hasn’t played well enough for the Falcons to feel comfortable with him chewing up that much cap space. After his 2016 breakout season, Beasley turned in a solid-but-unspectacular 2017 and a downright bad 2018, grading out as one of the worst defensive ends in the league and putting together a lowlight reel of plays where he was simply spun out of making a difference. The Falcons point to Beasley’s youth, evident speed, and that 2016 season as reasons to keep him, while fans point to his potential cost and lack of production in the other three years of his career as reasons to be rid of him.
I expect the Falcons to offer Beasley a 3-4 contract heavy on incentives that give him some security, a reasonable amount of guaranteed money, and the chance to make a big-time pass rusher’s salary if he hit certain milestones. If Beasley reasons (probably correctly) that he can make more on the open market and refuses to sign, the Falcons will have to choose between keeping him at $12.8 million and cutting ties to free up nearly $13 million in cap space they could use elsewhere. I imagine they’ll choose the latter option.
Shakeups along the offensive line
Dan Quinn painted the Falcons into a corner with his remarks about the team looking at every position along the offensive line except left tackle and center. No one would be thrilled if the team simply brought back Andy Levitre and Brandon Fusco and added more competition for them and Ryan Schraeder at right tackle, but they risk a riot if they do that now.
I still think it’s possible the Falcons only truly turn over one position, but I’m not certain which it will be. They can save quite a bit of cash by cutting Schraeder and designating him as a post-June 1 cut, but Schraeder’s bad year sort of came out of nowhere and there are no obvious replacements on the roster. They won’t save nearly as much by cutting Fusco, but that possibility can’t be ruled out given that the Falcons at least have a couple of passable options at the guard position if push comes to shove. Ideally, they’d be out finding a guard and tackle upgrade, but that may not happen in one offseason.
I do think what will ultimately happen is that the Falcons will draft or ink a left guard and simply add veteran competition for Schraeder/Sambrailo (who should be re-signed and could supplant Schraeder if he’s gone) and Fusco/Schweitzer. It’s not pretty, but it’s something, and you may see the first moves trickle in this week if the Falcons intend to part ways with one or two players.
After these, you’ll expect to see other re-signings (Sambrailo, improbably, ranks as a priority) and the team settling in for a brief burst of activity in free agency as they scramble to grab the handful of players they’ll want to add to the roster. That’ll give us some things to look forward to with a mix of apprehension and anticipation, and hopefully there won’t be many quiet weeks between now and early March.