The 2022 offseason is here, and one of the most important topics to cover is the Atlanta Falcons’ salary cap situation. Last season’s struggles to get under the cap were well documented, and resulted in a talent-poor roster in Atlanta. A year later, the team still has work to do with regards to their free agent spending.
You’ve probably heard a lot of numbers thrown around over the course of the offseason. In this article, I’ll go over Atlanta’s current cap situation (as of February 14, 2022) and planned necessary expenditures. Then I’ll look at the ways the Falcons can create cap space through a variety of means including veteran cuts and trades. Finally, I’ll bring you a grand total for what Atlanta could feasibly be working with this offseason. Buckle up.
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If you prefer a written format, you can find the article below.
Falcons current cap space (Top-51): -$5.9M
The Falcons are currently $5.9M over the cap—though it is important to note that they are at 52 players on the roster and thus are already qualifying for the top-51 rule. For those that aren’t aware, the top-51 rule kicks in as soon as the new league year starts and goes until final cuts. Essentially, only the top-51 most expensive contracts count against the salary cap—which allows teams to field an entire 90-man training camp roster without blowing up the cap.
It may seem like it’s not great that Atlanta is already negative on the cap going into the season. That’s true, but as you’ll see in my calculations below, there are plenty of avenues to create space. Getting under the cap in time for the start of the new league year—which is required—will be quite easy and relatively painless. It’s creating cap space for free agent signings and re-signings, along with freeing up money for the draft class, that will take a little more finesse.
Speaking of the draft class, it’s currently expected to cost $5.9M to sign. That is including the top-51 rule. It does not include the additional cost that would be added from, say, an additional first-round pick from a potential Calvin Ridley trade. But this is the best guess at the moment.
Now that we know the current cap situation, let’s take a look at Atlanta’s various options for creating salary cap space for 2022.
One of the saddest parts of the business is saying goodbye to veteran players for salary cap reasons, but the Falcons find themselves facing another round of tough decisions in 2022. Three contracts in particular stand out as “no-brainer” moves in terms of cap savings versus dead money:
DT Tyeler Davison
Cap savings: $3.7M
Dead cap: $1.2M
Tyeler Davison has always been a solid run-stuffer and actually had some pretty good years under Dan Quinn and Raheem Morris, but he was clearly struggling in Dean Pees more traditional 3-4 looks. His play fell off, as did his snap count, as the season wore on—and the savings is really hard to pass up.
RB Mike Davis
Cap savings: $2.5M
Dead cap: $750K
Mike Davis honestly didn’t have as bad a year as many thought, but he’s a running back making over $3M on a roster that simply can’t afford it. It’s possible he sticks around if the Falcons can’t re-sign Cordarrelle Patterson, but it’s doubtful.
CB Kendall Sheffield
Cap savings: $2.5M
Dead cap: $189K
The most no-brainer move of all, Kendall Sheffield barely saw the field in 2021 and is making way too much money for a backup and special teams player.
TOTAL CAP SAVED FROM VETERAN CUTS: $8.7M
Trades are notoriously hard to predict in the NFL, but there seem to be two clear candidates this offseason and both could net the Falcons significant cap savings.
WR Calvin Ridley
Cap savings: $11.1M
Dead cap: None
The writing appears to be on the wall for Calvin Ridley, and it’s starting to feel like a trade is inevitable. I hope Ridley and the team find a mutually-beneficial arrangement that nets the Falcons a first-rounder and Ridley an opportunity to succeed elsewhere. It also provides a lot of cap relief for Atlanta.
LB Deion Jones
Cap savings: $9.3M
Dead cap: $10.7M
This one feels almost as inevitable. Deion Jones struggled mightily in the new defensive scheme, and there were times where the effort seemed to be lacking. Jones has a massive cap hit due to numerous restructures, but the good news is the team trading for him is only on the hook for $9.6M in base salary. If the Falcons can find a way to move him before the fifth day of the league year, it’s possible they could save another $4.5M in roster bonus (which would get sent to the new team). But this is unconfirmed and would probably be difficult, so we’ll just go with the standard numbers.
There’s also the slight possibility of other players being traded, though I don’t think either is particularly likely. Two names in particular stand out: Matt Ryan and Grady Jarrett. I’ll list the savings and dead cap here for your reference, but we won’t use these in our calculations (you’ll see why in a moment).
Cap savings: $8.1M
Dead cap: $40.5M
Cap savings: $16.5M
Dead cap: $7.3M
TOTAL CAP SAVED FROM TRADES: $20.4M
Instead of trading Ryan or Jarrett, I think it’s more likely we’ll see them extended and/or restructured. With Ryan, you could do either—but as this is the final year of Jarrett’s contract, he cannot be restructured. I’m thinking the Falcons will do a “void-year restructure” on Ryan and give Jarrett and lucrative extension to spread out the cap hits on both contracts.
QB Matt Ryan
Cap savings: Up to $11.3M
Cap savings: Up to $18.1M
With Ryan, it all depends on how long they want to commit to him. If the Falcons want the flexibility to be able to move on from Ryan in 2023, they’ll do a void-year restructure. I think this is most likely, but we’ll see. If the team wants to commit to Ryan past 2023, they can save more money by extending him. Most likely, it would be a two-year extension through 2025.
DT Grady Jarrett
Cap savings: Up to $12.3M
There’s been buzz surrounding a potential Grady Jarrett trade, but I wouldn’t do it. You need to start somewhere on the defensive line, and moving Jarrett leaves you with nothing but second-year players. I’d give Jarrett a four-year extension, locking him up long-term and moving more of his cap hit into the middle years of the contract.
TOTAL CAP SAVINGS FROM RESTRUCTURES/EXTENSIONS: $23.6M
TOTAL CAP SAVINGS FROM ALL MOVES: $52.7M
TOTAL EFFECTIVE CAP SPACE: $40.9M
Total effective cap space includes paying off the -$5.9M existing cap deficit and the $5.9M cost to sign the draft class.
There you have it, folks. The Falcons can create up to $40.9M in effective cap space by making the moves above and maximizing the savings. There are, of course, other avenues for additional savings—like restructuring Jake Matthews’ contract—but I think Fontenot will try to avoid doing more than necessary. 2021 showcased an effort by the front office to clean up past cap mistakes, and I doubt they’ll go back to “win now” mode just a year later.
$40.9M is nothing to shake a stick at, but it’s also not a massive amount of room—particularly when you consider the cost to re-sign priority free agents. Stay tuned for our next article, where we discuss those priority re-signings and figure out how much it’s likely to cost to keep players like Cordarrelle Patterson and Foyesade Oluokun.