Terry Fontenot was one of the top general manager candidates ahead of the 2021 season thanks to the Saints’ success in finding great value and impact players in free agency. In perhaps a cruel twist of fate, Fontenot signed with a team with severely restricted cap space. The plan was not without success, with Fontenot finding successful yet inexpensive contributors like Cordarrelle Patterson and Cordarrelle Patterson.
For 2022, we may be looking at a whole new plan. The cap is no longer hindered from limited income during the 2020 COVID-19 season. Perhaps more importantly, the 2023 cap is expected to increase dramatically thanks to new television and streaming revenues, meaning multi-years deals can be structured to move cap hits into future years.
How the Falcons will clear up room, and for who, has remained an ongoing question. At least until Steve Wyche, the occasional Atlanta Falcons contributor and long-time Atlanta resident, set out Atlanta’s game plan for free agency. Wyche’s connections with the team gives him some of the most credibility of any NFL reporter.
There was a lot of news. More from the NFL Network spot.
Let’s talk about the highlights from Wyche’s report and how the Falcons plan to be “mid-market shoppers.”
Extensions for Jarrett, Matthews, and Ryan
Wyche has perhaps the first true information about the new brain trust’s thoughts on Grady Jarrett. Jarrett has been the team’s top defensive lineman nearly since he was drafted, it is still hard to know if he fits the scheme and the direction coaches want to go. The good news is they like Jarrett and want him back. Wyche says to expect a contract extension soon.
The Falcoholic’s Kevin Knight ran the numbers and thinks the Falcons can clear up to $12.3 million in 2022 with a Jarrett extension. That is obviously a sizable amount of additional spending.
Wyche says the Falcons are fans of Jake Matthews and “could” extend the veteran blocker. Matthews’ 2021 cap hit is nearly $24 million. Atlanta could clear about $9 million in cap space with an extension.
Most interesting is Matt Ryan, a popular extension candidate: Wyche says, repeatedly, the Falcons do not want to keep kicking Ryan’s cap hits into future years. Then, with that said, he explains that Fontenot sees an extension as an option if needed.
If true, it means two things: (1) an extension would be unlikely until other deals are done, and (2) the front office isn’t sold on Ryan in later years. Atlanta has no realistic replacement for Ryan at this time. If the front office does not touch his deal going into the draft, the plan may be to find a rookie who can replace Ryan sooner than later.
Calvin Ridley a trade candidate
Wyche believes that Ridley will “possibly, if not likely” will be traded. While fans have hoped things would change, we have heard nothing new regarding Ridley since he stepped away from football. The team has said it had not heard from Ridley since that time, making it difficult to gauge his future. Per Wyche, the team thinks a clean break may be best for both sides.
If traded (hopefully for some high draft picks), the Falcons would save an additional $11.1 million in cap space. That money would likely go to signing any wide receiver with a pulse as the team would be completely devoid of talent without Ridley.
Time to go shopping
While explaining that the Falcons would like to keep Cordarrelle Patterson, the reasoning is actually more interesting. Wyche states the Falcons like the success from Patterson and hope to recreate it: the Falcons buy low with the hope those players can rehab their value in Atlanta.
The Falcons need to offer more than just money. Even with restructures, it can’t possibly compete with other teams in a bidding war. The Falcons can offer an opportunity for players to compete for a starting spot and let them earn their next deals, whether in Atlanta or elsewhere.
With more cap space, the Falcons can roll the dice on more players with high upside. Think of players coming off of injury or getting stuck on a bad team or behind a surprise player. The more dice rolls, the more likely Fontenot can hit on free agents. Atlanta will be able to sign players sooner, and more often, than in 2021. Look for Fontenot to be creative in this upcoming free agency.