Let’s start off with the obvious statement that we don’t want the Falcons to fail in their quest to extend Grady Jarrett. He’s a key piece of the defense now and in the future, and a failure to come to an agreement means a whole host of headaches after the upcoming 2019 season. The ideal outcome is a new deal between now and Monday’s
What I do think is important is that we all understand what those headaches might be. The Falcons have until 4 p.m. on Monday, July 15 to actually come to an agreement with Jarrett, or he’ll be playing out the season on his franchise tag. That won’t mean a ton for this year—Jarrett should be a wrecking ball as per usual, and he’ll be one of the team’s most effective defensive linemen so long as he’s healthy—but it has real implications for next spring and well beyond.
So here’s what’s ahead if the Falcons don’t get a deal done.
- They can’t negotiate a new deal until 2020. Nothing stops the Falcons from trying to get their long-term deal done ahead of Jarrett hitting free agency in 2020. It just creates more consequences and more pressure if they don’t.
For the duration of training camp, the preseason, and the season to come, the Falcons will not be able to negotiate with Jarrett. That means if he has an absolute blockbuster season—a genuine possibility—his value could actually rise considerably heading into 2020, even if he’s a year older. That would leave the Falcons scrambling ahead of the early March beginning of the new league year to try to get Jarrett under contract before he hits the open market and almost certainly winds up getting massive offers. It’s a tight, tight window, and if Jarrett’s coming off another great year it’s not going to be any easier to navigate it.
- They may need to use the franchise tag again. If all else fails, the Falcons may have to use the tag again, an unpalatable option for a team set to have a raft of important free agent decisions to make. Because the second consecutive year of the franchise tag comes in at 120% of the first year tag value, Jarrett’s tag would come in north of $18 million in 2020.
That’s not going to be an easy cap fit. The tag already may have limited the team a bit in free agency this year—though they did a fine job of working around it—but $18 million in a pressure-packed year isn’t going to be something the team can tapdance around quite so cleanly. The one quirk here is that 2020 is the final year of the CBA, so teams should be able to designate both a franchise and transition player, which might allow them to take care of a couple of players on a short-term basis. If the choice is between losing Jarrett and using the franchise tag and having to work around that again, I still suspect the Falcons will choose the latter.
- They could lose him. I’m not going to freak out about this just yet—we haven’t even made it to the deadline yet, after all—but it’s a legitimate if remote potential consequence of this stretching into next offseason.
That’s not at all a function of Jarrett’s value to the team, which is likely to stay stable or even increase heading into next year. It’s just a possibility because the Falcons couldn’t get a deal done this year, the financial stakes are likely to be even higher next year, and the Falcons are going to have to get deals done with the likes of Deion Jones, Austin Hooper, De’Vondre Campbell, and veterans with expiring deals like Jack Crawford, Tyeler Davison, and so on. They can carve out the money for that, but it won’t be pretty for the rest of the roster, and they’ll need to make tough decisions. Arthur Blank has indicated that he expects Jarrett to be in Atlanta, which is the kind of owner vote of confidence you need to get these things done, but Jarrett has agency and leverage aplenty here.
It would be extremely painful to lose Jarrett—the Falcons don’t have anyone as good as Jarrett waiting in the wings, and they’re unlikely to find anyone—but they could invest in the position via the draft and pair a rookie with a deep rotation that could once again include the likes of Crawford, Deadrin Senat, Tyeler Davison, and perhaps Ra’Shede Hageman. That’d be an unpalatable step backwards for Dan Quinn and his defensive vision, no doubt, but hand waving away the possibility isn’t...well, a possibility.
Ideally, a deal gets done before or on Monday, we all cheer, and Jarrett is a Falcon for at least the next several seasons. If that deal doesn’t get done, though, it’s going to be a nervous spring for Falcons fans and the Falcons front office.