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For the Falcons, it’s new deal by March 5 or franchise tag for Grady Jarrett

The Falcons aren’t going to lose Jarrett, but they’d likely prefer not to deploy the franchise tag.

Baltimore Ravens v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

As Matthew Chambers wrote earlier today, the Falcons are reportedly not that close to consummating a new deal for Grady Jarrett. That’s worrisome for many reasons, but especially so because the deadline to get that deal done is very much looming.

The new league year begins on midnight on Thursday, March 14. At that point, all expiring contracts expire, and Jarrett would be a full-fledged free agent at that point. Unfortunately, the Falcons don’t even have that much time, as the deadline to apply the franchise tag comes on Tuesday, March 5. Given his talent, age, and production in 2018, he’d be getting monster offers left and right, and the chances of the Falcons keeping him would be significantly decreased. That puts a lot of pressure on the Falcons to figure out a course of action in less than two full days, with the following options on the table.

Get a deal done

Jarrett isn’t getting Aaron Donald money at the end of the day, but there’s a legitimate chance the annual average value of his contract winds up being right up there (or even above) Fletcher Cox. That’s a huge chunk of change, but Jarrett is also one of the truly essential defenders the Falcons have today, so they’re going to have to pay it.

We can only speculate about what the hangup is here—it could be dollars, years, structure, or all three—but the Falcons are going to have to sweeten their deal in some fashion to get this thing done in very short order. Jarrett has all the leverage in the world, at least until the Falcons...

Apply the franchise tag

The Falcons have been loathe to do this. They last slapped the franchise tag on a player way back in the 2012 offseason, when they tried to keep Brent Grimes around. Grimes famously got hurt and missed essentially the entire year before walking to Tampa Bay in the following offseason, and the Falcons have been averse to repeating that scenario ever since.

With Jarrett, though, it may become the option of last resort. The Falcons could put the tag on Jarrett and guarantee him for about $15 million this year, which both buys them time to get back to the table and might give Jarrett and his representation more incentive to agree to a new deal that gets him more than that amount in 2019. It’s possible the Falcons get this thing done under the wire, but given the time left and the reported gulf, you have to consider the first use of a franchise tag in many moons a real possibility. Especially compared to the last, unlikely option.

Let Jarrett walk

A team like the Browns could absolutely bury Atlanta’s offer, fiscally, and would have to be considered a strong option to do so. If the Falcons catastrophically lost Jarrett, they’d likely need to invest an early round selection in defensive tackle and sign a mid-tier free agent just to have a prayer of having a solid DT rotation in 2019.

That would be such a poisonous outcome that I can’t imagine the Falcons seriously entertaining it, but the way this offseason has gone, I’m not clearing any options off the table just yet. We’ll hope the Falcons can get a long-term deal done here before next Thursday, or the nerves are going to jangle further.