Estimated 2015 Cap Space: $21.9 million ($140M cap limit)
Players Under Contract: 53
Pro Bowlers: 2
Unrestricted Free Agents: 19(4 with 50%+ playtime)
Draft Selection: 8
Salary Cap Breakdown
Free Agents to Re-sign
There is no need for the Falcons to look for another kicker regardless of Matt Bryant’s age. Bryant is still effective and can still drive the football in the dome. With all the holes they may have to fill worrying about kicker is not one of them. He should sign for around $3 million…I believe the Falcons should consider bringing back Corey Peters in 2015. Peters is talented and played well when given the opportunity as he worked his way back from injury. He can provide some interior pass rush which the Falcons lack. The difficult part in keeping him is that the Falcons signed outrageous deals with Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai and there is no reason for him to earn a penny less, which might make a tough negotiation…I don’t know if there is any potential in Antone Smith being more than a handful of snaps a game player, but he has the capability to make huge plays and considering he should cost little I can’t see the harm in not bringing him back…Dwight Lowery can be retained as a lower cost option to provide a veteran presence in the secondary.
Free Agents to Let Walk
The Osi Umenyiora marriage has been a rocky one and I can’t see any possible reason to continue that relationship unless an old Giants coach becomes a coach in Atlanta. He can find a job as a situational pass rusher in a better situation than this one….I can see making a case to keep Sean Weatherspoon on a one year contract, but at the same time he is always hurt and I’m usually in favor of turning the page on such players…I can’t see making a case for keeping Kroy Biermann. Too often he is a liability and moving on gives the team a chance to focus on improvement through better players not by hoping an old one somehow improves…The Falcons learned what many others have about Gabe Carimi and its time to wave good bye to the offensive lineman.
Contracts to Modify
There is probably little need for Atlanta to wait on re-signing Julio Jones, unless they just want to see how the wide receiver market shakes out this season. Jones will make $10.176 million and the Falcons can improve their cap position and future contract flexibility by doing a deal with him sooner rather than later…The Falcons have made a number of bad contract decisions in recent years, none of which were probably worse than the decision to extend Sam Baker. Baker has a $7.3 million cap charge but will cost the Falcons $1.9 million more than that if released. Baker’s market value is close to nothing so I think it makes more sense to redo his deal close to the minimum with some incentives than cut him or carry the cap hit until June 1.
Players to Consider Releasing
Steven Jackson is set to earn $3.75 million in 2015 and while I think there can be a place for him next season, it probably makes more sense to cycle that money into more pressing needs and give more carries to the younger guys. Jackson has underperformed expectations for two years….Joe Hawley carries a $4 million cap charge and the team can save $3 million with his release.
The Falcons spent more than any other team in the NFL in 2014 following a number of extensions and free agent signings, yet they still ended up with a losing record and out of the playoffs. Atlanta reminds me a great deal of the San Diego Chargers of the mid to late 2000’s. They built this terrific team where it seemed everything clicked and that they were the next great dynasty. But they could never advance enough in the playoffs and soon the GM who could do no wrong could do no right and the Chargers became an eternal 7 to 9 win team. That is where the Falcons are now and a big reason why we saw Atlanta shake up the front office and staff to help shift responsibilities around.
In recent years the Falcons have assembled a collection of players, most on player friendly contracts, that don’t seem to necessarily mesh well on the field. But they are stuck with most of the players and it brings up an interesting question as to where to go with the team next season. Matt Ryan is in the prime of his career but it seems clear that he is not the level of player that can carry a team on his back through a rough patch. That’s ok as there are only a handful of players that can do that, but it put’s Atlanta in the spot where they have to consider free agency again.
With just mid tier cap space they will likely need to craft more player friendly deals if they really want to go after any of the biggest free agents. That can lead to more problems if the results are similar to what they have now. I’d almost think that their best option in 2015 is to target question mark free agents where you might be able to land the player on a one year moderate cost contract that you can use to hold down the fort while you develop young players from within. Of course all those players come with major risk and if you are not keeping a Weatherspoon then why consider a Brian Orakpo?
Regardless of what defense they run next season they desperately need pass rushers on the defensive line and/or linebacker. The current group of players they have are all better suited to a 34 and using them in that manner might be the easiest way to get better production on the defense. I would imagine they will need to target both the draft and free agency to turn around the front 7. They also need help in the secondary, so it’s a big task to fix this group.
On offense they need to find help on the line and for the short term need an upgrade at tight end to help Ryan. Ryan is so used to playing with a quality player at that position that it really hurt him to not have anyone of note there. Getting a Julius Thomas would be a mistake but a Charles Clay would be a lower cost decent fill in with some nice upside. The team also is going to need a younger wide receiver to eventually pair with Jones, but I don’t think that can come in the draft this season. They should be able to get by with their players next season and wait until the following year.
Not getting the division title was probably a good thing for Atlanta. It gave them a much higher draft pick and allowed them to easily let go of a coach whose bad decision making went back to the good years. They play in what is a cupcake division and have a solid enough QB so the jump back to a winning team might not be that big but they have to do a far better job in free agency, the draft, and veteran contract decisions than what they have done the last few years.