In case you missed it, the Falcons traded Deion Jones last night. That would’ve been an earth-shattering move a year ago and it’s still a big deal now, but I don’t think it took anyone by surprise here in October 2022.
Jones will land in Cleveland with a shot to start and revive a once-wildly successful career so long as he’s healthy, and the Falcons will be moving on from a player with a big contract that no longer figured into the team’s plans.
What does that all mean for Atlanta from a roster and cap perspective? Glad you asked.
Roster implications are limited
Because Jones was on injured reserve through the first five weeks of the season, the Falcons’ roster is not impacted at all. There is no free roster spot because Jones was not taking up one, and the team will continue to carry five inside linebackers on the active roster. That’s pretty much it here.
Mykal Walker is auditioning to be a long-term starter for Atlanta this season, essentially, while Rashaan Evans is likely hoping to turn a one-year pact into a long-term deal as well. One of the team’s two starting spots will go to Troy Andersen at some point, as the rookie is getting better each week, and veteran Nick Kwiatkoski and rookie undrafted free agent Nate Landman round out the group.
Jones was going to fit in there uneasily if he returned to the roster, given that Kwiatkoski is a player the Falcons appear to like and is still a weekly inactive, but we never saw how that would play out. In Cleveland, he’ll either be a reserve with a significant role or a starter right away, in all likelihood. In Atlanta, the Falcons are in the process of figuring out who fits into the inside linebacker group long-term.
Draft implications are small, as well
Atlanta received a 2024 sixth round pick in exchange for Deion Jones and a 2024 seventh round pick. This team has yet to use a seventh rounder and likely weren’t bemoaning that loss, but they have turned three sixth rounders into Frank Darby, Justin Shaffer, and John FitzPatrick in Terry Fontenot’s two seasons at the helm. The jury is out on all three at the moment, given their lack of playing time to this point, but we know the team will certainly put those sixth rounders to use.
That’s a small benefit, then, but one that will help the Falcons potentially get one more interesting reserve...in 2024. We’ll have to wait to see how that plays out.
Cap implications are more significant
The Falcons aren’t exactly rolling around in cap space the way they would have been if they traded Jones earlier this summer, after June 1 but before the restructure. They’re still freeing up some space long-term, even in the immediate dead money is awe-inspiring.
#Falcons will be up to around $77M in dead money once the trade of Deion Jones is official. That will be a new NFL record for total dead money in one year. On a percentage basis they will trail the 2013 #Raiders. Not sure a team will ever reach that mark.— Jason_OTC (@Jason_OTC) October 10, 2022
In essence, Tom Pelissero at NFL Network reports that Jones will carry a dead money charge of $12.14 million next year, while the Falcons free up a little over $8 million in cap space. That will add to their already significant war chest, and while I’m not an expert on voidable years by any means, I think they’re in the clear after 2023 for Jones’ contract. The upshot of all that dead money being absorbed this year is that the Falcons will go into 2023 with just over $12.4 million in dead money, as compared to the $77 million this year, and are expected to have tens of millions of dollars in cap space for the first time in recent memory.
The 2023 savings are the most significant piece of this for Atlanta, as it will help them go on a big free agent shopping spree if they’d like to do so, even if their savings aren’t massive at the end of the day.
When all was said and done, the Falcons didn’t pull off some great coup so much as they made a move the front office clearly felt was necessary. The multiple restructures to Jones’ deal wound up meaning that their savings weren’t as significant as they might have been otherwise, but they achieve some savings and don’t have to hang on to a contract for a player who was not part of their plans.
Atlanta’s sought to emulate the Buffalo Bills in their road back to contention, and nowhere have they done so in a more straightforward way than this great teardown of big contracts and willingness to eat huge dead money charges in order to achieve long-term flexibility. The Falcons did an admirable job this offseason of building a solid team despite their cap limitations—and the curveballs introduced by their unexpected pursuit of Deshaun Watson and the Matt Ryan trade—but they wanted to get to the point where they can be major spenders in 2023 and 2024 as they try to become one of the NFL’s better teams again. Terry Fontenot and company have held their noses over and over again to get that done, but Jones represents the last major contract the team wanted to be rid of.
The key now will be turning the cap space and their draft selection into pieces that will help this team have long-term success, something they did not believe was possible with Jones and his deal. In the meantime, nothing changes on the roster, where the team is hoping their young group of inside linebackers will grow into something special for a defense looking to achieve greatness sooner than later.