With the trade deadline looming, and the recent firing of their head coach and general manager, what steps should the Atlanta Falcons be taking to move the franchise forward in the post-Dan Quinn/Thomas Dimitroff era?
Restructure Matt Ryan and Julio Jones
It isn’t financially viable for the Falcons to trade the franchise’s top two assets and two players most franchises around the league would happily snap up. For instance, if Ryan was traded by the team the Falcons would be hit with just under $18 million dead money on the cap this year alone.
The fact that Ryan and Jones are likely to remain on the roster will make this a more appealing job to many than some of the other potential openings around the league. But the two stars’ contracts mean they aren’t going anywhere any time soon.
The other reason a restructure is necessary, is to create extra cap space for Atlanta’s incoming general manager and head coach to work with. Currently, the franchise has just under $2 million in cap space available this year, with only the 49ers having less cap room out of the remaining teams in the league. That lack of wiggle room is only likely to get more restrictive next year.
Explore the trade market for Keanu Neal and Alex Mack
I’ve already analysed the potential for trading Mack in a separate article. Finding a trade partner would save the Falcons $8 million in cap space, whilst just adding $2.5 million in dead money. In his 12th season, the former Cleveland Brown is unlikely to be around for the mini-rebuild the Dirty Birds need.
When looking at other potential ‘trade assets’ on the Falcons roster, there’s little to be had. Overall this is a pretty young roster, without lots of veterans on high priced contracts. Those veterans who are on expensive deals, are simply not tradeable without the team creating further financial restrictions for itself down the road.
One potential candidate though is safety Keanu Neal. In reality, the team would probably prefer to keep the fifth year player and former first round pick, hence why they exercised his fifth year option earlier in 2020. Trading Neal though could save the franchise over $6 million in cap space. Whilst that may be a bitter pill to swallow for Falcons’ fans, its become clear the team has to improve the defense after dedicating plenty of its resources to the offense in previous seasons. If the team needs to shed some young talent, its best to do it at the safety position rather than in the front seven.
Accumulate draft picks ready for a first round trade up in 2021
Matt Ryan is still a top tier quarterback. He can still lead this franchise deep into the postseason with the requisite talent around him (including coaching staff). But he’s in his 13th season and has been the focal point of the team’s offense for a lot of years.
Atlanta still has a window of opportunity even with a mini rebuild, if they retain franchise cornerstones like Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Grady Jarrett and Jake Matthews. Getting an instant impact quarterback in the draft, particularly if the team ends up drafting early in the first round this year, is vital to maximise the talent still on the roster.
Currently, the Falcons have the 3rd overall pick. By the offseason, I would expect them to move further away from that as they have a much higher level of talent than teams like the Giants, Jets and Jaguars. But making even low level trades now could provide more capital for the team to manoeuvre into position to take the 2nd best QB available (if Trevor Lawrence declares for the draft).