The Falcons traded a fifth round pick for Jeff Okudah earlier this week, adding a young and intriguing likely starter to their cornerback group. While it’s a flier on a player whose contract is up at the end of the season, the Falcons do have a looming decision to make well before Okudah ever hits the field for them.
I’m referring to the fifth year option that’s looming for Okudah. The third overall pick in a 2020 NFL Draft that also featured A.J. Terrell, he can be kept around for $11.5 million if the Falcons want to pick up his option. That’s in addition to Terrell’s option, which will almost surely be picked up and represents about $12.3 million in 2024 cap space. In total, the Falcons would be carrying close to $24 million between their two starters if they picked up both options.
Will they do so for Okudah? The short, easy answer is no.
Why? Think of Kaleb McGary. A first round pick in 2019, McGary had an uneven career heading into his fourth season, and the Falcons elected not to pick up his option. He then had a career year in 2022, grading out as a stellar run blocker, and the Falcons rewarded him with a long-term deal.
Similarly, Okudah has a very uneven career to this point. Injury has been a major factor for him, and Matt Patricia’s putrid defense didn’t do him any favors in his rookie season, either. It was only in the 2022 season that Okudah started putting it together, allowing just 57% of the 77 passes thrown his way to be completed for 681 yards and a touchdown after allowing over 75% of passes to be completed for 703 yards and 3 touchdowns on 57 targets over the prior two seasons. Atlanta will want to see whether last year was a sign of things to come for a young cornerback or a fluke year before they sink a substantial portion of their 2024 cap space into him, which means declining the option is likely a formality at this point.
The good news for Atlanta is Spotrac projects them to have over $70 million in cap space in 2024, which is projected to be the 10th-highest total in the NFL. That means they can carry A.J. Terrell’s big fifth year option hit and easily bring back Okudah if he shines, which is the route I fully expect them to take. The hope will be that Okudah is impressive as part of a re-tooled young Falcons secondary and sticks around for the long haul, and then the Falcons can reward him with a long-term deal rather than taking the chance with the fifth year option in the here and now.