Foye Oluokun is the headliner for Atlanta’s free agency class in 2022. The former sixth-round pick has turned into one of the team’s better defensive starters, with a knack for big turnovers and tackle numbers that are straight out of the 1990s. Fresh off a season where he led the league with 192 tackles, picked off three passes, and nabbed a pair of sacks, it was always clear Oluokun was going to get a nice contract.
How nice, though? We know the Falcons seemingly want Oluokun back but will have limited cap space without some significant roster moves, and per NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo, the 26-year-old linebacker is expected to command a deal that averages over $10 million annually.
From @gmfb: A look at five NFL free agents who are going to secure a bigger bag in the next week than many might expect.pic.twitter.com/EFc0g0v5ux— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) March 10, 2022
On one hand, good for Oluokun, who went from intriguing late round selection to quality NFL starters in the span of his rookie contract. He’s earned that big payday and I think it’s fair to suggest that he could be even better heading into his age 27 season. It’s no great surprise that teams will want to add a heady linebacker who has 10 combined turnovers in the past two seasons, and it’s a testament to his play and his agent’s marketing acumen that he could be in a position to land a mega deal.
On the other hand, this would seem to strain Atlanta’s ability to retain him, which would be a major bummer. Moving on from Deion Jones would effectively free up the space the team needs to bring Oluokun back if that’s how the team wants to proceed, but it does seem like that will be a binary choice between the two linebackers. If that’s the case, the Falcons either have to get Mykal Walker into the lineup as a starter or add another starting option via free agency or the draft. It seems unlikely they’ll be able to get somebody who is as good as Oluokun, at least right away, though upgrading on the 2021 version of Jones seems much easier.
To me, it seems like the move Atlanta should make. I’ve indicated that I think the Falcons might want to keep Jones around and see if he improves on his forgettable 2021, but if it’s a choice between a rising linebacker they gave the green dot to last year and a player whose best years might already be behind him, it’s a pretty simple choice. The Falcons don’t have any urgent priority re-signings beyond Oluokun, Russell Gage and Cordarrelle Patterson, and I think you can make a very persuasive argument that Oluokun is easily the most important player on that list. The Falcons could simply be outbid for his services, but they should be making a hell of an effort to bring him back, and making the moves necessary to give themselves a real shot to do so. They can, of course, try to structure the deal in such a way that Oluokun’s first year cap hit isn’t massive when they’re going to struggle to carve out significant space.
We’ll see if the Falcons can retain Oluokun—I’m still hopeful they can—but hopefully this will help us all get past any initial sticker shock when his contract is announced.