In this series, we are going to hit on each team and give you a brief rundown of how they look going into free agency, what moves are at their disposal, and what you might expect from the team.  NFL free agency begins during the legal tampering period on Monday, March 14, 2022, and then players can officially sign on March 16th.  All salary numbers within the article are courtesy of

With this article, we are going to explore all potential options - some of which will obviously be more realistic than others. 

Looking to see how other NFL teams should be handling their offseason heading into free agency? Check out our NFL Team Hub for a complete team-by-team breakdown!




Projected Cap Space: $4,200,017



There’s no denying it - the Falcons are currently in a pretty rough spot. And that’s in large part due to the predicament with Calvin Ridley being suspended for the entire season for gambling.  If you look across the league, you have some teams who are longshots for the Super Bowl with a lot of salary cap and some teams that are competitors with very little cap, but there are few teams in the Falcons predicament where they are a bottom third team in terms of Super Bowl odds but also a bottom third team in cap space.

That said, there is always light at the end of the tunnel. And this particular tunnel has two paths you can go down.  The Falcons can free up as much cap as possible and go for the short-term rebound by adding as much immediate talent as possible.  Or they can go with the longer-term approach and “blow it up” to a certain degree.  We’ll look at all possible options for freeing up cap space or shipping off players if that’s what they do.  



Cap Maneuver Options


The most common way to generate money via restructuring is to convert base salary to a pro-rated bonus which can then be spread out over the remaining years of the contract.  You can also potentially incorporate an extension to spread that money out further.  How favorable that is for both the team and player comes down to the long-term outlook for the player.  In certain circumstances, you may even have the leverage to ask a player to take less money.  



Everything starts with Matt Ryan. A lot of folks believe that “blowing it up” means moving on from Matt Ryan but that’s not necessarily the case.  He’s still a good quarterback capable of playing at a high level.  He’s 36 but the modern NFL has shown us that’s not the end of the world - Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers have been piling up the MVPs and Super Bowl MVPs at and above 40. 

 We’ll discuss the idea of trading him in a bit but, if you keep him, there are multiple ways to free up space.  You could do a basic restructure to move the cap forward (and the cap is expected to spike in upcoming years with the TV deals).  That could save up to $11.3 million.  Or, if you truly believe the signal-caller can age gracefully, you could actually extend him. By extending his contract up towards his age 40 seasons, you could further generate the cap while paying him the same money by spreading his payout over further years.

You could even use “void years” as part of the deal. If the plan is to keep him but do a bridge year now, you might want to pay him now and not extend the cap to the future when you are trying to rebuild.




The Falcons restructured Jake Matthews last year to free up $8.6 million in space and they could do the same this year to save ~$5.7 million. They could also extend him and push that 2022 number up to $9 million. 




Grady Jarrett is one of the best defensive tackles in the league so, if you plan to keep things rolling, you want him around.  You can’t extend him because he’s in the last year of his deal but you could extend him as we talked about above with the other guys. An extension could generate upwards of $12.3 million in 2022 by leaning into prorated bonuses.



This is a touchy one because he didn’t quite play up to his contract and is now due a lot of money. It always feels wasteful to move on from a guy who you have a lot of dead cap tied to. There is nothing worse than having a ton of money on the books in 2023 for a guy who isn’t on the field.  

That said, he’s essentially the only other major source of short-term money if they need it.  They can free up $6.586 million with a restructure. Ideally, he’d take less money but there isn’t much leverage for the Falcons as you can’t cut him to save cap - only trade. 




Most of these trade options come with the notion of “blowing it up”. When you look around the league and see Matt Stafford and Russell Wilson going for a king’s ransom and even Carson Wentz bringing back meaningful picks, it has to pique your interest. The rumors floating around are that other teams have called on Ryan but that the team isn’t really interested in moving him though so it seems they are committed to him finishing out his career there - as of now. A post-June 1 designated trade would see nearly $24 million in cap savings but would have $40 million in dead cap so you’d have to really commit to the long-term rebuild.  



No one likes to see a great player moved - especially one with great character. But sometimes you have to consider the cyclical nature of contracts and the cap. Consider this hypothetical: the Falcons plan to let their own free agents leave this year, collect comp picks, reset the cap, then go all-in in 2023. If they don’t plan to extend Jarrett but they do want to bring in other free agents next year, they would then have to let him walk in free agency without getting any comp pick back. Bill Belichick realized this exact conundrum which is why he traded Chandler Jones in the last year of his deal (and they won the Super Bowl that year). The highest compensatory pick you can get back is a third-round pick anyway so now is when you’d get peak value for him if that’s what you wanted to do. The team, the fans, and Grady himself would likely prefer an extension though.


As I mentioned above, the way his contract is set up makes it so there is no point in even threatening to cut Deion Jones (not that you would). Even with a post-June 1 designation, that would only generate $470K in cap space with nearly $25 million in dead cap.  A post-June1 designated trade, however, would save $14.6 million in cap with $10.6 million in dead cap.  That’s much more reasonable - especially as it can be spread over 2022 and 2023 so only five million per year. 

Calvin Ridley, Wide Receiver

This one has been beaten to death but, if he really is never going to play for the Falcons again, just get whatever you can. Might be more valuable to wait until closer to when he can actually play though.


Dante Fowler

Fowler was already cut by the Falcons as his cap hit was an absurd $29 million with only $4.7 mil in dead cap for 2022. Had to be done.




The Falcons built this team as if they would be contenders during these prime years of Calvin Ridley’s deal so they really don’t have many cut candidates that wouldn’t also have a painful amount of dead cap. Tyeler Davison is one of the few realistic options but he still only generates $3.7 million in cap with $1.2 million in dead cap in 2022.  




Mike Davis really didn’t play up to snuff - especially since a 30-year-old former wide receiver/kick returner essentially ran circles around him.  You could cut him to generate $2.5 million in cap space with only $750K in dead cap.



The last realistic option that would generate more than two million in cap, the corner could be cut with $2.5 million in savings and less than $200K in dead cap. 

Important Free Agents



Cordarelle Patterson far outperformed his contract and was downright electric this year. If you are making a push to compete right away, it would obviously be fantastic to have him back.  And since he’ll be 31 this year, he’s not going to necessarily command a monster contract - could be in the six million per year range. But the Falcons don’t even have that space as of this moment so, if they are going to a long-term plan, you have to just let him go.



In another world, this decision is a no-brainer. Sure he has his flaws but he’s 26 years old and fits a key role within the 3-4 “multiple” defense that you want to play. So typically you’d have no qualms about giving him the three or four-year deal he likely deserves but he’s going to need to get paid here and the contract could be upwards of $10 million a year. One or more of those restructures above would need to happen to make it work.  I think they should find a way.



If you can get him back on a reasonably team-friendly deal then you do it. He knows the scheme, he’s comfortable with the quarterback, and he’s not likely to really break the bank. Plus he just turned 26 so he’s got plenty of productive years left. If you plan to do a complete reset, however, maybe you let him walk as he should generate a compensatory pick signing elsewhere.


Honorable Mention Free Agents: 




Positions of Need in Free Agency/Draft


Wide Reciever 

 This one is bordering on too obvious but has to be discussed. Since Ridley is out, you have two wide receivers under contract: Frank Darby and Austin Trammell. Yikes. Kyle Pitts obviously can play some of his snaps at WR but at the very least you need two other wideouts. This position will really tell us what direction the team is going. If they sign journeymen wideouts to cheap one-year deals like the Lions did last year, it’s clear they are going with a bridge year. If they bring back Gage then sign a solid split end/flanker to play outside, they can still compete right now. Since they have pretty much nothing, everyone with a reasonable price tag is on the table. When the Dolphins did their rebuild in 2019, they didn’t bring in wide receivers until 2021 so a deep reset where you move Matt Ryan might not see big moves at the position right away. 

Interior Offensive Line

 Per Pro Football Focus’s Anthony Treash, the team’s guards and centers combined to rank 29th out of 32 in terms of interior offensive line groups in pass blocking. With the lack of mobility for Matt Ryan, that’s simply unacceptable if the team is going to compete. They really don’t have the money to bring in a Ryan Jensen or a Brandon Scherff but there are plenty of gues who would be better pass blocking options like Andrew Norwell at guard or Bradley Bozeman at center. Interior defensive linemen are also a lot easier to find later in the draft than tackles.


You hit on AJ Terrell which is fantastic. Even if Erik Harris and Durron Harmon leave, you can lean into Richie Grant and Jaylinn Hawkins at safety.  But Fabian Moreau and Isaiah Oliver are free agents and neither is likely the answer at full-time cornerback. As fun as it would be to have a crazy cornerback tandem like Terrell and JC Jackson or Stephon Gilmore, the reality is that they likely can’t afford that.  But some talented guys for a cheaper price are out there like Darius Williams or Steven Nelson.   

Honorable Mention: 

  • Defensive Line
  • Special Teams


Looking to see how other NFL teams should be handling their offseason heading into free agency? Check out our NFL Team Hub for a complete team-by-team breakdown!



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