Year 1 of the Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot era went better than expected for the Atlanta Falcons. They maximized their talent and had enough winnable games on their schedule to remain relevant in the NFL standings and in the playoff hunt through Christmas. But are they really any closer to winning a championship? Our 2022 Atlanta Falcons offseason preview explores their many remaining team needs, details their limited salary cap space and pending free agents, and lists their 2022 NFL Draft picks.
Atlanta Falcons 2022 Offseason Preview
Matt Ryan was still Matt Ryan in 2021 — albeit an older and slightly less effective version than before. The problem is that at this stage of his career, he’s a B-minus player set to be paid like an A-plus quarterback in 2022. The Falcons needed 2021 cap space, so they created some last offseason by restructuring Ryan’s contract. That decision blew a hole in 2022’s budget. Ryan now has a staggering $48.7 million cap figure, making him the NFL’s most expensive player.
Needless to say, Ryan’s compensation is way out of whack with his value. Unfortunately, there’s little the Falcons can do about it without taking a significant hit. Cutting him before June 1 would free up just $8.1 million — and carry a $40 million dead cap figure. A post-June 1 cut would certainly free up space this coming year, but do the Falcons really want to start mucking up their 2023 books?
A trade isn’t a crazy thought since the team that acquires him would only be on the hook for $16.3 million. However, the Falcons would only free up about $8 million in space and wouldn’t have a starting quarterback.
Our advice to the Falcons? Ride out Ryan one more season, continue to build through the draft, get your books in order in 2022, and really attack free agency in 2023 (when the quarterback draft class is expected to be better). That would take vision and patience. We’ll see if the Falcons have either soon.
Falcons have $11.9 million in projected cap space
Source: Spotrac (as of Jan. 9)
Is this the offseason the Falcons finally get their house in order? Despite the cap jumping 14% from 2021 to 2022, Atlanta’s books are tight again this year. That, of course, is largely a reflection of Ryan’s contract, as mentioned earlier. But Atlanta also has nearly $16 million in dead cap, which is almost completely a result of the Julio Jones trade.
The only way the Falcons can get real relief without yet another round of future-robbing restructures is to cut or trade Grady Jarrett, who is entering the final year of his contract. Nonetheless, at 29, he’ll still be in the prime of his career. They can open up other small chunks of cap space, but only 8 players would open up more than $1 million.
Falcons’ pending free agents
Wide receiver/running back/Swiss Army knife/pending UFA Cordarrelle Patterson is in line for the biggest payday of his career. He signed a one-year, prove-it deal with the Falcons in 2021 — and prove it he did. Patterson turns 31 this offseason, so he won’t get a long-term deal. But he will certainly get a bump from the $3 million he earned in 2021. It’s unclear if Atlanta can afford to pay what he’ll command.
Beyond Patterson, the Falcons’ top free agents are receiver Russell Gage, EDGE Dante Fowler Jr., and tight end Hayden Hurst. There are a number of free agents on this roster, including three of their four leading outside pass rushers on their roster. This team needs a lot this offseason and with limited cap space it could be tough to fill those holes with much more than young players and veteran minimum options.
How do the Falcons’ free agents rank among the best available in 2022? Be sure out our list of top free agents available at each position to find out.
Falcons’ team needs
Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot tried to execute a rolling reset of the roster instead of a true tank job in 2021. That was largely because they couldn’t get out from underneath Ryan’s contract. Still, Fontenot intentionally worsened the team’s receiver position by trading Jones. When Calvin Ridley stepped away from football for mental health reasons, the Falcons were in a real bind.
Going forward, Atlanta first needs clarity on whether they can count on Ridley to play in 2022 and then address the position accordingly — especially considering Patterson’s pending free agency. Meanwhile, the Falcons’ terrible pass defense needs an overhaul. A long-term QB option is a need this offseason, but you would not blame them if they decided to push that decision another year when the draft class might have more top-tier talent.
Falcons’ top five needs in the 2022 NFL offseason
- Wide receiver
- Edge defender
Falcons’ 2022 NFL Draft picks
An unfortunate byproduct of the Falcons’ overachieving is their draft haul is not what it should be. Their DVOA suggests they should be selecting in the top five — and perhaps first overall. Instead, Atlanta remained in the playoff hunt through the holidays. That’s good for Arthur Smith, but not so great for Terry Fontenot.
If there is a silver lining, it’s this — there is no slam-dunk quarterback in this year’s draft, so it’s not like the Falcons cost themselves a shot at one. Atlanta’s second second-round pick is compensation from the Jones trade.
- Round 1 (Pick 8)
- Round 2 (Pick 11 & Pick 26 — from TEN)
- Round 3 (Pick 10)
- Round 4 (Pick 9)
- Round 5 (Pick 8)
- Round 6 (Pick 11 & 35*)
*Projected compensatory selection
To see how the Falcons’ 2022 NFL Draft picks currently stand in comparison to other teams check out the updated 2022 NFL draft order.