Matt Ryan and Grady Jarrett have been two of the Falcons’ brightest lights for a long time now, with Jarrett impressing from the moment he joined up in 2015 and Ryan holding down quarterback since 2008. I’m heading into the 2022 season expecting them both to be among the team’s best players again this year, but one or both may not be playing on their current contracts when the dust settles this offseason.
Atlanta has, once again, a bit of a cap space problem. They won’t be in a position to truly splurge in free agency until next year, but they can carve out some real space if they’re willing to make a bunch of moves both major and minor.
Deen Worley at Falcons Wire did a nice breakdown of all the ways the Falcons can save space in 2022, but the common thread running through all of the scenarios is that it’s going to be nigh impossible for the team to have a lot of money to play with unless they do something with at least one Jarrett’s or Ryan’s contracts. The only way to go around them entirely would be to trade Calvin Ridley (saving a little over $11 million), move on from Deion Jones ($14.7 million in a post-June 1 trade), and cutting Kendall Sheffield and Tyeler Davison (a combined $5.3 million), though it’s not clear whether that roughly $30 million will provide enough space for what the team wants to do this offseason.
If not, they’ll have to take a hard look at Ryan or Jarrett. Ryan’s contract can be extended for close to $20 million in savings, re-structured for $11 or so million and another big cap headache in the near future, or he could be cut or dealt for nearly $24 million in savings against another $24 million in dead cap. If you leave his deal alone—a possibility if Atlanta’s just going to white knuckle it and try to incrementally build the roster, leaving them to potentially more easily move on from Ryan in 2023—he’s just going to cost you close to $49 million against the cap. That limits this team’s wiggle room under the cap, obviously, but the team seems to be leaning toward rolling forward with Ryan for 2022 and may have a plan for working around that number. The awkward thing about keeping Ryan with that hit and coming up a bit limited on cap space is that you potentially limit your ability to improve the roster around him, and doing that is a must.
Jarrett doesn’t offer the same level of savings, but his contract is also going to be something to watch. One of the league’s best defensive tackles, Jarrett will be 30 this year and may or may not be in the team’s long-term plans, as painful as that is for me to consider. Cutting him outright or trading him saves you $16.5 million against $7.3 million in dead money either before or after June 1, meaning a move would clear up considerable space for the team to play with plus no dead money beyond 2022. An extension, meanwhile, could get this team up to $12 million in 2022 savings while locking Jarrett on to the roster for a few years as one of the centerpieces of a rebuilding defense.
With Jarrett potentially leaving town next year if his deal isn’t touched and Ryan still set to count $40 million next year (albeit with a less painful escape hatch for the last year of his contract), it would be stunning to me if the team didn’t address their contracts in some fashion. One of the big, uncomfortable questions of the offseason is whether the adjustments the Falcons seem likely to make will be aimed at keeping them around for a while longer or moving on.