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Falcons must clear about $20 million in cap space by March 17

That is not much time to get under the still-to-be-confirmed 2021 cap.

In this photo illustration, hands are seen counting US 100... Photo Illustration by Valera Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Despite all evidence to the contrary, around this time last year fans were told from Atlanta’s then-general manager Thomas Dimitroff that the team was not in “cap hell.” Similar to the start of a bad magic show, fans were instructed to suspend their belief while the front office spoke of “creative” ways to still sign players.

Those creative ways, obviously, do not create spending room out of nowhere. The Falcons entered 2020 free agency with limited resources, just about enough to add a few cheaper but quality players and help stabilize a cap that has gone unchecked.

Instead, the Falcons got “creative” and signed Dante Fowler to a $45 million deal. How? By creatively pushing the cap hits into later years when other contracts, like Matt Ryan’s and Grady Jarrett’s, balloon. The Falcons cut expensive veteran Desmond Trufant, but had to split up those cap hits across 2020 and 2021 to get under the cap. So the Falcons have $5.8 million of their 2021 cap space dedicated to a player who last took a snap in Atlanta in 2019.

New general manager already made some moves, notably cutting Ricardo Allen and Allen Bailey for a little more wiggle room. Of course, the Falcons would not be in cap hell if two cuts get them back into the green. According to the latest from Over the Cap, the Falcons still need an additional $19.56 million in cap space just to get under the cap. The Falcons will need around $6 million to $7 million to sign their rookie class, something similar to sign at least 7 more players just to fill out the roster, and some emergency spending cash to deal with injuries.

Cap. Hell.

The Falcons have until March 17th at 4 pm to find that $19.56 million, at which point they need to start looking for more money to pay for free agents and the draft class. That means we will need to see some bigger moves coming up soon. Thee problem, as we have discussed over the last few years, is the Falcons’ spending is nearly entirely at the top. Rated by cap hit, there are currently only eight players on their second deals before we start getting to players on rookie deals. That means if the Falcons want to clear meaningful cap space, they are working with only eight players.

Those players are Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Jake Matthews, Deion Jones, Grady Jarrett, Dante Fowler, James Carpenter, and Tyeler Davison. It would be tough to get rid of any of the first five. However, the Falcons could get close to under the cap by restructuring Matthews, Deion Jones, and Jarrett. The biggest problem with restructuring is it then commits the Falcons to these players and their contracts even more down the line. For instance, if the Falcons want Penei Sewell to replace Matthews, that will be tough as the restructure means walking away from the deal is even harder to do.

The Falcons still need more to get under the cap, and they need even more to fill out the remainder of the roster.

That likely means Fowler and Carpenter will likely be gone, potentially as post-June 1st cuts to again push these bad contracts down the road. The Falcons will be stuck being creative to work with the last regime’s creativity. It means they will be skimming the bottom of the free agency bucket or signing most disastrous Fowler-like deals.

It is not clear yet what Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith have up their sleeves. But if they plan to pull off a magic trick they have only a few days left to do it.