Atlanta Falcons Dodge a Bullet
NFL holdouts and contract disputes before training camps are not an uncommon ordeal. Most of the player holdouts deal with either financial structure or a personal matter with the team. Some are rash and have negative consequences while others are simply retouched. Luckily for the Atlanta Falcons, the holdout involving star wide receiver Julio Jones required a simple restructure. On July 26th, he got $1 million from his 2018-2019 base salary and $2 million from his 2019-2020 base salary and transferred that into an immediate bonus. The transfer of $3 million from his base salary did not affect the Atlanta Falcons cap space. Julio Jones is currently under a 5-year contract worth $71.256 million until 2021.
With the restructured base salary, Julio Jones will earn $9 million with a boost of his bonus of $4.4 million. Although Jones did hold out from team workouts and mandatory mini-camp, he did not threaten his position with the team. Despite the holdout and the rumors from the media saying “Jones wanted to leave,” Julio was fully committed to the Falcons. On July 16th, Jones joined several of his offensive teammates, including quarterback Matt Ryan, for non-team organized workouts in California. He appeared in good faith and showed the organization that he did not want to depart. Jones practiced patience allowing the Falcons to consider best options for both sides.
In the end, Jones was presented with an immediate bonus, and the Falcons did not have to go into their salary cap. Through Jones’ actions, a positive chain of events took place that benefited the team’s salary cap. The Falcons needed to secure their youthful key contributors. Left Tackle Jake Matthews, Defensive Tackle Grady Jarrett, and S Ricardo Allen were players that needed contract extensions before they became free agents next season.
As soon as the Falcons restructured Julio’s contract, they quickly resigned Jake Matthews to a 5-year, $75 million deal. Matthews is not only a youthful lineman; he protects Matt Ryan’s blindside. Matthews has started in all 63 games in his career since he was selected with the 6th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
S Ricardo Allen was entering the final year of his rookie contract. Allen has been a late bloomer he made his first regular-season start last season. He has improved in a defensive backs unit that has underperformed for a couple of seasons. The Falcons put a 2nd round tender on Allen this offseason to encourage him to agree to a contract extension before he became a free agent in 2019. Allen and the Falcons agreed to a 1-year, $2.91 million contract with a 2nd round tender. On Monday, August 6th, the Falcons worked a contract extension in the form of a 3-year, $19.5 million deal. Atlanta has confirmed that Allen will be a big part of their foreseeable future. They listed Allen as a starter on August 7th in their official depth chart, which was a day after resigning him.
Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett should be next the big and highly-athletic defensive tackle has been a consistent starter since they selected him in the 5th round (137th pick) of the 2015 NFL Draft. Despite his 6’0 frame, Jarrett clogs up holes in the line of scrimmage and creates pressure on opposing quarterbacks with his quickness. In Super Bowl LI against the New England Patriots, Jarrett tied a record for most sacks accounting for 3. Jarrett is in the final year of his 4-year contract worth $2.527 million where he will earn $1.9 million this season. The Falcons need the reliability and consistency of his presence in the interior of the defensive line. It should be a priority to re-sign him to a larger contract if not he will be an unrestricted free agent after this season.
With Julio Jones back and participating in mini-camp, this will be the first full look of the high-powered Falcons offense. Jones has already been getting multiple reps in the red zone which was a weakness in his production last season.
In 2016, when they went to Super Bowl LI, the Falcons offense was ranked 1st in the league in points per game with 33.8. Last season, the Falcons were ranked 15th in points per game with 22.1. It was a disappointing transition for offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian who took over a dominant offense that was well run by Kyle Shanahan (now the Head Coach of the San Francisco 49ers).
With a full offseason of strategic planning for Sarkisian, the Falcons should have a more progressive offense that rivals their output of 2016-2017. Another big factor is the addition of wide receiver Calvin Ridley a 1st rounder with the 26th pick overall. The Falcons selection of Ridley was a huge surprise, but it was an opportunity they could not pass up. The addition of Calvin Ridley will not be a negative factor for Julio Jones rather it will complement and bolster him into the stratosphere as a more elite receiver if such a thing is possible. Jones is perhaps the best deep threat in football and will surely have a better red zone performance. Ridley will be the second option.
Last season, veteran receiver Mohamed Sanu accounted for 703 receiving yards (2nd highest in his career) and 5 touchdowns from 67 receptions (highest in his career). Sanu has been a great addition to the Falcons passing game with his speed, hands, and ability to immediately turn his hips and get upfield after the catch. His skill set is best served as the inside receiver where he can catch the quick drop off from Matt Ryan. Ridley will more than likely take over the mid to long-distance routes where Sanu benefitted the past three seasons. Ridley’s addition is more of an opportunity for Sanu to excel more than demote him. Julio will remain the absolute threat from anywhere on the field.
Last season, Julio accounted for 1,444 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns on 88 receptions. With Jones having a more comfortable contract and another reliable receiver in Calvin Ridley, Jones should continue to dominate the league. A happy Julio Jones and a focused Atlanta Falcons organization makes for a dangerous team.
By Michael Hanich