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Falcons’ Dan Quinn on balancing act of paying veterans and building through the draft

The Falcons faced some tough personnel decisions this offseason and will continue to build through the NFL Draft.

NFL: Combine Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The quality of the Falcons’ drafts in recent years has been great for the long-term prospects of the team. But with so many guys cycling toward the end of their rookie contracts, it puts the Falcons in a tight spot financially, and it led to some tough decisions.

Dan Quinn addressed this at the league’s spring meetings last month.

“It’s a hard thing sometimes for the fan base to understand. ‘Why don’t you re-sign everybody?’ I would totally love that. You do have to be strategic,” Quinn said.

Teams don’t have a choice, as the salary cap is what it is. The cap is set at $188.2 million for this season, and the Falcons currently sit with just over $4.5 million to spend per Spotrac, factoring in projected salaries for draft picks. This is part of the reason we saw players like Robert Alford, Brooks Reed, and Tevin Coleman leave the Falcons this offseason. Quinn noted Coleman in particular as one the team didn’t necessarily want to move on from, but they just couldn’t afford to keep him.

“There are a number of guys who really during their time here did an excellent job. (Coleman) is one of those,” Quinn said. “You’ll always be connected to those players forever. You have a lot of respect for the job they did and helping you win. You always pull for them and feeling a good way.”

The team’s focus on the draft should help them balance the need to stay under the cap and have the flexibility to sign some key free agents in the future.

“Also, we like developing players through the draft,” Quinn said. “That’s an important piece, and you would see why we would be so excited when you have nine picks for someone like ourselves who loves developing players. It’s a good thing.”

But the key is helping young players develop quickly enough to contribute. They’ve had luck with players like Keanu Neal, Deion Jones, De’Vondre Campbell, Grady Jarrett, and others who were able to hit the ground running post-draft. Now with most of those guys inching toward the ends of their rookie deals, and Jarrett currently set to play under the franchise tag at a $15.2 million price point this season, the pressure will be on for this group of rookies to step up.

“When you add some high-priced players, which we do, there has to be some balance with the rookies coming in and let’s make sure each of them have a really specific role on the team,” Quinn said. “We’re going to count on some of these guys as first-year players, second-year players, to have leading roles on the team. That’s kind of the fun part of putting it all together.”

There’s a lot that remains to be seen about what the team is able to negotiate with those players inching toward a big payday. The focus for Atlanta will continue to be on drafting young, cheap players who can contribute to the Falcons’ success, which should help the team balance things financially.