Current Estimated 2016 Cap Space: $27.5 million
Expected 2016 Cap Space: $37.6 million
Estimated Rookie Cap: $4.419 million
Players Under Contract: 46
Pro Bowlers: 2
Unrestricted Free Agents: 12(1 with 50%+ playtime)
Draft Selection: 17
Salary Cap Breakdown
Free Agents to Re-sign
The Falcons don’t really have any premier free agents this year and there is no pressing need to retain anyone. The most likely player to return is Adrian Clayborn who should be willing to sign a similar deal to his current $3 million contract…Phillip Wheeler is a low cost option for a linebacker and in a weak free agent year is probably worth extending.
Free Agents to Let Walk
It is probably time for the Falcons to look to move on from Kroy Biermann rather than doing a one year deal…The team will need to improve on the offensive line which should make Chris Chester and Jake Long both expendable.
Contracts to Modify
Ryan Schraeder will be tagged, probably at the 2nd round level, but it is worth extending him outright. Right tackles are generally never considered for a franchise tag so extending is the better option. Ideally they should do it before this years free agency raises prices, but he may not be agreeable to that…If the team desperately needs cap space for something they could restructure either Julio Jones or Matt Ryan’s contract but that would seem to be a long shot.
Players to Consider Releasing
The Falcons have already begun the process of slicing the roster which has them second in the NFL with dead money and there are a few more players that will go…The team already informed Paul Soliai that he will not be back, saving the team $2.7 million. That was a bad signing from day 1 and they could no longer justify his contract…Roddy White has had a wonderful career in Atlanta but it is time for him to go, saving the team $2.3 million…Releasing Devin Hester, who was injured most of last year, would save $3 million.
With the 25th most True Cap Space – most of which the team can be expected to allocate to players currently under contract due to few expected meaningful contract terminations – and the 10th highest Commitment Index Score, the Falcons have less spending capacity than the majority of teams in the league. This position seems somewhat better, though, when one considers that these numbers are inclusive of long-term contracts for both the starting QB and the team’s best player. With an established QB in place the team might as well leverage up future salary commitments to improve the roster, but overall the Falcons are another average-ish team that lacks the assets necessary to form a clear path to becoming a consistently contending team, absent a degree of draft success or free agent spending efficiency that is certainly possible but not particularly likely.
By my count, Julio Jones is one of only 8 players in the entire league whose 2017 base salary will guarantee during the 2016 league year (Demaryius Thomas, Justin Houston, Gerald McCoy, Marcell Dareus, J.J. Watt, Dez Bryant and Ryan Tannehill are the others, with Mike Pouncy and Mike Iupati each earning $2 million partial guarantees). Such contract features, which I refer to as Accelerated Future Team Option Deadlines, have a powerful positive effect on expected earnings as calculated by Expected Contract Value. Notice that, with the exception of Iupati, none of these players were unrestricted free agents at the time of signing their respective contracts. Query as to why players with less negotiating leverage are able to secure such a contract feature, while unrestricted free agents almost never do (and very few unrestricted free agents secure three guaranteed seasons at the time of signing). Teams should hold firm and refuse to include Accelerated Future Team Option Deadlines in contract extensions, and instead go no further than Early Team Option Deadlines (i.e. 2017 salary guarantees at the beginning of the 2017 league year).
Expected Contract Outcomes – Expected Contract Value 2.0 utilizes an algorithm based on a player’s contract characteristics, age, position and 2015 performance to forecast probabilities as to the outcomes of contract termination decisions. The lower the Expected Outcome, the more likely the player’s contract will be terminated in 2016. A pay cut is treated as a termination. We have applied ECV 2.0 to all contracts scheduled to count $2 million or more against the 2016 salary cap with the exception of exercised 5th year rookie options. Expected Savings is the calculated by multiplying the probability a player will be released by the cap savings realized by the team upon such release.
|Player||Position||Expected Outcome||Expected Savings|
|Expected Change in Cap Room||+$13,392,917|
True Cap Space – Realizable Cap Space depicts the total amount of salary cap space potentially at the team’s disposal in 2016, and True Cap Space makes further adjustments to take into consideration amounts that are accounted for in practical terms. Most True Cap Space will be used on players currently under contract as a result of the team choosing to not release them.
|True Cap Space (2016)|
|Adjusted Salary Cap||$153,905,771|
|Prorated Signing Bonus Amounts||($41,489,918)|
|Realizable Cap Space||$112,415,853|
|Fully Guaranteed Salary||($16,807,465)|
|Minimum Salary Cap Holds||($22,050,000)|
|True Cap Space||$73,558,388|
Commitment Index – Commitment Index identifies the degree to which a team has “mortgaged its future” by measuring its net future salary cap commitments as a percentage of the average net future salary cap commitments of all teams. A Commitment Index Score of 100% is average, and a negative Commitment Index Score indicates that the team has more current salary cap space than future salary cap commitments. The Commitment Index Score of every team in the league changes to at least some degree with every transaction executed by any team in the league, so Commitment Index Score is measured as of a specific point in time (in this case, January 11, 2016).
|Commitment Index (2017+)|
|Prorated Signing Bonus Amounts||$44,334,314|
|Fully Guaranteed Salary||$6,824,756|
|Current Cap Space||($18,941,307)|
|Commitment Index Score||186%|
|League Rank (1st = Most Committed)||10th|
Atlanta has struggled since their peak period a few years back when they looked like they would be one of the yearly givens for the playoffs. The team has not had a good run in free agency and has been unable to replace the quality of layers through the draft either. Last season the team kind of pulled back on the free agent approach but with a better salary cap outlook this year one would think they go back to trying to find some talent to help for next season and provide Matt Ryan the support system he is going to need to be successful.
I would think that the priority of the offseason will focus on that front seven of the defense. Right now the team has no ability to pressure the quarterback which is a major problem. The expectation is Vic Beasley will continue to develop. Obviously the team is going to be linked to Bruce Irvin who has been rumored to be interested in leaving Seattle for Atlanta for some time. He is an interesting name because the potential is there and he would clearly fit a hybrid type role of being able to play linebacker and defensive end.
If available for the right price I’d consider Jason Pierre-Paul for a one year rental but if they need to go very cheap they should look for another situational rusher to pair with Tyson Jackson. Robert Ayers could fit that role as could Jason Jones. Using the draft for a linebacker would be the best possible place to find a pure linebacker this year as this free agent group is not strong.
The Falcons should heavily invest in upgrading the interior of their line this year. Though they likely won’t get into the bidding for an Osemele type, Alex Boone or Stefen Wisniewski would probably both improve the protection in front of Ryan. My assumption would be the Falcons will get one starter out of free agency and then try to find a second starter in the draft.
With Julio Jones established as one of the dominant wide receivers in the NFL this may be a good year for the Falcons to find a secondary player. The overall free agent class is weak for top line receivers but has a number of players who are decent number 2 like a Marvin Jones or Rueben Randle. For many teams around the NFL they will be taking a big risk on such players if they don’t have a top line receiver in place, but for the Falcons there won’t be those expectations which I think makes them a good signing. Percy Harvin could be an interesting name as a third receiver, but his injury history should not have them looking at him as a big contributor.
Atlanta is still probably two years away from really building a true competitor but it is vital that they get a support system in place around Ryan. The way the team has fallen in recent years and last season’s poor finish after a hot start has begun to put the spotlight on Ryan’s deficiencies as a quarterback. For some players like an Eli Manning or Joe Flacco they were always able to shrug that off and do well in spite of the criticism. Others like a Matt Schaub completely wilted under that scrutiny. I’m not sure what category Ryan fits in but the Falcons cant chance having him tank because the talent around him isn’t good enough. That would set the franchise back pretty far and a successful run this offseason should really reduce that risk.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.