Sitting at 0-5 and having just fired both their head coach and general manager, the Atlanta Falcons are clearly out of contention in the 2020 NFL season. It’s a sad state of affairs for a team that had reasonably high hopes coming into the year. However, unlike some other teams that are struggling early, the Falcons do have some intriguing veterans that contending teams might be interested in acquiring for the right price.
We’ve heard from both owner Arthur Blank and team president Rich McKay—who is essentially serving as GM until Dimitroff’s replacement is hired—that Atlanta isn’t planning on having a “fire sale”. Cornerstone players like QB Matt Ryan, WR Julio Jones, OT Jake Matthews, and DT Grady Jarrett are almost certainly safe for 2021. McKay made it clear that the Falcons want the new regime to decide how to handle these key players, which means that they won’t be going anywhere until the offseason at the earliest.
But the door is theoretically open for the team to consider trading contract-year veterans: players who are in the final year of their deals and who will be unlikely to return to Atlanta due to the expected salary cap constraints in 2021. There are several of these such players who could draw interest on the trade market, particularly closer to the deadline. From starters like C Alex Mack and RB Todd Gurley to depth players like RB Brian Hill and EDGE Charles Harris, there could be opportunities for the Falcons to make a deal.
The benefits of trading some of these players are multifaceted. For one, trading any of the above players would provide salary cap savings to the Falcons in 2020. That could be particularly important, as Atlanta is an estimated -$24M in space heading into 2021 if the cap falls to the “nightmare scenario” level of $175M. Stockpiling space this season to roll over into next year could give the team a much-needed buffer in addition to any savings from cuts, restructures, or extensions.
Second, securing additional draft assets—even if they’re just Day 3 picks—could help entice top HC and GM candidates. Players like Alex Mack and Todd Gurley, in particular, could fetch early Day 3 assets if they continue playing at a high level this season due to their affordable salaries. Adding several 4th-6th round picks could help the Falcons fill out their depth with cheaper rookie contracts, or could provide an opportunity to move back into Day 2 for a particular target.
Again, I wouldn’t expect Atlanta to make many “flashy” moves as the trade deadline approaches. Instead, the team is likely to take a more targeted approach by moving players who would be unlikely to return to the team in 2021. It could be a win-win for the Falcons and for the traded players: guys like Alex Mack and Todd Gurley probably wouldn’t mind being sent to a contender for a postseason run, and Atlanta would net a few picks and some desperately-needed cap relief.
Over the coming weeks, I’ll be taking a closer look at the players the Falcons could consider moving. In the meantime, what are your thoughts on trading away some of Atlanta’s contract-year veterans?