Atlanta Falcons Blog

Atlanta Falcons blog by D. Orlando Ledbetter, the pro football and Atlanta Falcons reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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COVER 9@9: Will Julio Jones be the first $200 million man? 

 

Good morning! Welcome to the Cover 9@9 blog. It’s our weekly dive into nine issues at 9 a.m. Wednesday. Everything you need to to know about the Atlanta Falcons.

1. $200 million man: With the proliferation of spending on contracts over the offseason for the top offensive and defensive players, exactly what will an extension for Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones look like after this season?

Will Jones be the first player to crack the $200 million mark? 

Green Bay signed quarterback Aaron Rodgers to a four-year, $134 million deal, which made him the highest-paid player in league history.

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The Falcons signed quarterback Matt Ryan to a six-year, $150 million deal.

The Giants signed wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to a six-year, $95 million deal.

Defenders Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald also signed mega deals. Mack, after being traded by the Raiders for some unknown reason, received a six-year, $141 million deal from the Bears. Donald inked a six-year, $135 million deal from the Rams that included $87 million in guaranteed money.

   

On July 27, the Falcons adjusted Jones’ contract by converting partial 2018  and 2019 base salaries to signing bonuses for salary cap purposes, making at total of $4.4 million guaranteed  in addition to $47 million total guaranteed from the Aug. 31, 2015, contract, according to NFLPA documents. 

Jones likes Beckham’s new deal.

“What did he get?” said Jones, as if he had not heard the news.

A total of $95 million he was told.

“Good dang!” Jones yelled. “What? Good for him. Good for him, man. I’m very excited for him. He deserves it. He’s very deserving of it.”

The Falcons have agreed to look at a contract extension for Jones after this season. For now, that’s fine with Jones. 

“But for me, just go out there and play ball,” Jones said. “At the end of the day, put your numbers up and see what happens. Everything else will take care of itself.” 

Jones is in a select group of five wide receivers who have had four consecutive seasons of at least 80 catches and 1,000 yards. The group also includes Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald, Houston’s Andre Johnson, Indianapolis’Marvin Harrison and Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown. Harrison is a Pro Football Hall of Famer.

The great Jerry Rice, another Hall of Fame member, is the only player to achieve at least 80 catches and 1,000 yards for six consecutive seasons.

Jones doesn’t worry about his numbers. Just don’t asked him about his goals for touchdown receptions after only had three last season.

“My thing is, I go about my day at work,” Jones said. “I’m not going to tell you how to do your job. Nobody is going to tell me how to do my job. So, I’m going to go out there and put my best foot forward and give it my all. It doesn’t matter what it is. I’m not a stat person. I’m going to go out there and try to be the best teammate that I can be.”

For Jones or anybody else to reach the $200 million plateau, the agents need to take a few pages from the NBA’s book of percentages and guaranteed contracts. 

Super agent David Dunn, who negotiated Rodgers’ deal floated the non-traditional clauses of tying the contract to the salary cap percentage according to Rob Demovsky, who covers the Packers for ESPN.Com.  

In the future, that type of approach could boost contracts even higher. 

2. Jones vs. Eagles: Since 2012, Jones and the Falcons have faced the Eagles three times in the regular season, where Jones has averaged 133 yards receiving per game. Of the seven non-divisional teams Jones has faced three times, his yards per game against Philadelphia ranks the highest.

3. Starters ready: The Falcons starters barely played in the exhibition season.

“I think everybody is ready to go,” right tackle Ryan Schraeder said. “The starters got a few days off last week and got rested up. Guys are ready to go for the game.”

Schraeder believes the practices will have to team ready.

“We always go pretty hard at practice,” Schraeder said. “They do a good job of making practices like games with the intensity. As far as the (offensive) line they make the individual period tough after we go against the (first-team). We’re already tired and we have to push through that. I feel like for the last month that’s what we’ve done in practice.”

Schraeder also enjoyed the simulated Red-White scrimmage. 

“That’s what makes it fun, when you have those real situations, a game-like situation instead of just going through the practice, going through the team period and when you get to go out and play football that makes a big difference,” Schraeder said. 

4. Series record: This will be the Eagles and Falcons 31st regular-season meeting. The Eagles led the series, 16-13-1. 

5. Ridley’s NFL debut: Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley is looking forward to making his NFL debut against the Eagles. 

The Falcons are hoping that Ridley, who was selected in the first-round of the NFL draft (26th overall) will provide a big-play spark to the offense. He also may contribute as the kickoff returner. 

“I feel pretty good about my role,” Ridley said. “I’m just going to focus on what I need to do to help the team. I have to be able to make plays and take advantage of every opportunity.”

In the 15-10 loss to the Eagles in the divisional round of the playoffs last season, slot receiver Taylor Gabriel wasn’t a factor. He caught two passes on three targets for seven yards receiving.

The Falcons are hoping that Ridley will add more to the attack. 

After playing in college at Alabama, Ridley doesn’t plan to get caught up in the pre-game emotions. 

“I’m just trying to stay focused,” Ridley said. “Just be confident in myself. Just go out there and play winning football.”

Ridley feels he’s prepared for the game.

“The game  plan, I’m doing pretty good,” Ridley said. “I’m studying every night. I’m learning every thing so that I can continue to be in the game. Even if I don’t know something, I can ask Julio (Jones) or Mohamed (Sanu) and they’ll correct me. I’ll be fine.”

6. Burton promoted: With rookie cornerback Isaiah Oliver slowed by an ankle injury, the Falcons moved cornerback Deante Burton up to the active roster on Tuesday.

Burton was signed by the Falcons as a wide receiver in 2017, but has spent the last year making the conversion to the defensive side of the ball. 

“Just trusting that it was going to be a process, that they were going to be trials and tribulations,” Burton said about the toughest part of the move. “There were going to be good days and bad days with it. But these guys are all really good and they’re helpful.”

Burton was released and signed to the practice squad on Sunday. On Monday, he was told of the pending roster move. 

“It was definitely cool when (Falcons coach Dan Quinn) kind of let me know that I would be on the active roster and that he was going to keep me,” Burton said. “He talked to me yesterday a little bit, so I got a chance to call my mom and let her know, so that was nice.” 

Burton played Kansas State and played wide receiver during the 2017 exhibition season. The Falcons signed Burton to the practice squad after establishing their 53-man roster and moved him to cornerback.

Burton, a 6-foot-2, 205 pounder made 35 career starts at Kansas State, including his final 26 games. He caught 84 passes for 1,085 yards with five touchdowns in four seasons, and is the 29th player in school history to record 1,000 career receiving yards. 

He was a first-team Academic All-Big 12 selection in 2016 and a second-team pick in 2014. Burton was part of a Wildcat senior class that went 32-20 with two bowl victories in four years.

7. Injury report: Falcons long snapper Josh Harris returned to practice from a left hip injury on Tuesday. 

Harris was limited in practice and rotated with squad snapper Jeff Overbaugh.

Harris declined to speak to the media after practice and referred all questions to head coach Dan Quinn.

Harris has played in 103 consecutive games for the Falcons dating back to 2012 when the Carrollton native made the team as an undrafted player from Auburn.

“He’s certainly a model of consistency,” Quinn said after practice on Tuesday. “We limited him today and we are going to take it all the way up to the game to see what he looks like.”

If Harris can’t play, the Falcons will call up Overbaugh from the practice squad.

Overbaugh has played in three NFL games with the Vikings, including to playoff games last season. 

Guard Ben Garland (calf) and cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson (shoulder) did not practice.

Safety Ricardo Allen (thigh), wide receiver Marvin Hall (ankle), linebacker Deion Jones (hamstring) and linebacker Foye Oluokun (ankle) fully participated in practice. 

8. Run defense: NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth is excited about the Falcons’ defense, but has some concerns about the run defense with the lost of massive defensive tackle Dontari Poe.

“I still get a little nervous watching them stop the run,” Collinsworth said. “You know, I just — that’s one for me, this is a team that we know they can run the ball, and I think they’re just going to have to make sure they can stop the run.”

Collinsworth has deeply prepared for the game. He wants to see the Falcons get reserve defensive back Damontae Kazee on the field. 

“The one guy that I don’t know how they’re going to get (on) the field, and I know he’s had some penalties and all that stuff, but that Damontae Kazee, he’s a headache waiting to happen,” Collinsworth said. “That is a dynamic player, and we all know Keanu Neal and those guys back there, but if they start getting stuck on trying to stop the run, Kazee is a force. That dude is a hitter.”

9. Depth chart: The new starters on offense are right guard Brandon Fusco and fullback Ricky Ortiz. The new starters on defense are defensive end Takkarist McKinley and defensive tackle Terrell McClain, who is listed ahead of rookie Deadrin Senat. 

Also, wide receiver Justin Hardy is listed as the No. 1 kickoff and punt returner. 

Here’s the depth chart with the addition of Burton:

OFFENSE

WR 11 Julio Jones, 14 Justin Hardy, 17 Marvin Hall

LT 70 Jake Matthews, 74 Ty Sambrailo

LG 67 Andy Levitre, 63 Ben Garland

C 51 Alex Mack, 71 Wes Schweitzer

RG 65 Brandon Fusco, 71 Wes Schweitzer

RT 73 Ryan Schraeder, 77 Matt Gono

TE 81 Austin Hooper, 82 Logan Paulsen, 85 Eric Saubert

WR 12 Mohamed Sanu, 18 Calvin Ridley, 83 Russell Gage 

QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub

RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 26 Tevin Coleman, 25 Ito Smith

FB 30 Ricky Ortiz

DEFENSE

DE 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 90 Derrick Shelby 

DT 99 Terrell McClain, 94 Deadrin Senat, 92 Justin Zimmer 

DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 95 Jack Crawford

DE 98 Takk McKinley, 50 Brooks Reed

WLB 42 Duke Riley, 36 Kemal Ishmael

MLB 45 Deion Jones, 54 Foyesade Oluokun

SLB 59 De’Vondre Campbell, 52 Dewey Jarvis 

CB 23 Robert Alford, 20 Isaiah Oliver, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson 

*NB 34 Brian Poole, 27 Damontae Kazee 

CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 28 Justin Bethel, 38 Deante Burton 

S 37 Ricardo Allen, 27 Damontae Kazee 

S 22 Keanu Neal, 29 Jordan Richards 

SPECIALISTS

K 3 Matt Bryant

KO 5 Matt Bosher

P 5 Matt Bosher

KR 14 Justin Hardy, 18 Calvin Ridley 

PR 14 Justin Hardy, 17 Marvin Hall

LS 47 Josh Harris

H 5 Matt Bosher

*Nickel back was added to the official depth chart because the Falcons played nickel on 70 percent of their snaps last season.

About the Author

D. Orlando Ledbetter is the Atlanta Falcons beat writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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