They’ll figure this out. They’re not the fractious Pittsburgh Steelers, and Grady Jarrett isn’t Le’Veon Bell. Say what you will about the Atlanta Falcons of Arthur M. Blank, but they’re pretty good at making their players happy. When they decide they absolutely need somebody, they make it work.
The Falcons need Jarrett, who’s at worst their second-best defender. Four years in, they’re still not sure what to make of Vic Beasley, the more heralded Clemson D-lineman they drafted in 2015. They’ve known from the start what they had in Jarrett — a middle-of-the-line anchor who wasn’t dependent on sack totals, though he does get sacks, to excel. If they didn’t consider him crucial to their future, they wouldn’t have slapped him with the franchise tag. They did it because not to have done it would have been tantamount to losing him, which cannot happen.
Thomas Dimitroff is good with words. (This isn’t meant as a backhanded compliment; he’s always precise-bordering-on-crystalline in his public statements.) Here’s what he said after tagging Jarrett on Monday: “Getting a deal done with Grady is our priority. Applying the franchise tag to him does not change that in any way. Our aim is for Grady to be an integral part of our plan for many years to come and this allows us to extend our negotiating window.”
There’s no wiggle room in that. They did this to keep a player they know they must keep. The only issue now — and this is, we concede, not a trifling issue — is how much Jarrett will get. He’d like Aaron Donald money, but he’s not quite Aaron Donald, who’s making $22.5 million per annum. At worst, Jarrett will make $15.029 million, the tag amount, next season. To placate him, the Falcons will surely have to give him more than that and lock him down for four or so years, which won’t help with the salary cap, but that’s the way it goes.
This is what happens when you assemble a bunch of players you like, which happened with the Falcons. You want to keep the band together, even if means splurging a bit. The Falcons made Devonta Freeman the NFL’s highest-paid back, which they probably shouldn’t have done, but they were coming off a Super Bowl — Freeman himself was coming off the missed block that undid the Super Bowl – and they wanted the Brotherhood intact. Owing largely to injury, Freeman hasn’t done much the past two seasons, and if the club had it do again they’d have held the line on him and saved their splurges to re-up Tevin Coleman, who’s surely about to leave as a free agent. This time in French: C’est la vie.
Last spring, Julio Jones hit the Falcons with an unexpected little snit. Lots of receivers worse than him were suddenly being paid more, so he deleted the Falcons’ logos from his Instagram – the universal 21st Century symbol for, “I’m ticked” — and skipped the who-cares minicamp. This became a Media Tempest that might actually have spiraled into a Team Issue, but Blank and Dimitroff didn’t allow that. The team redid Jones’ contract slightly for last season with the promise of future renegotiation, and the great receiver showed up on Day 1 of training camp.
Again, the Falcons could have done the line-in-the-sand thing and said to Jones, “You signed this; that’s all you’re getting.” But sometimes a happy player – the player in question is invariably a foundational player — is worth lopping a couple of million off your unused cap money. You’re running a football team, not a bank. Go ask the Steelers how much of a distraction the no-show Bell proved to be last season. Then ask them about Antonio Brown, the receiver with the forever-ruffled feathers.
I have no great confidence in the Falcons’ coaching, but I have much faith in their capacity — Dan Quinn figures here, too – to manage their roster. Having Jarrett under contract beyond 2019 is a bigger deal than anyone the Falcons mightn’t be able to sign in free agency because they’re all but capped out. NFL free agency, we say again, is overblown. You’re not getting LeBron or KD. You’re getting someone somebody else deemed expendable.
In this sport, the difference-makers are the guys you draft and the ones you then choose to keep. Julio Jones fits that profile. Grady Jarrett does, too. For all the hand-wringing being done by Falcons fans today, this really isn’t cause for anxiety. The team will do as it needs to do, at least where it pertains to putting the right players on the field. Beyond that, I remain a skeptic, but maybe that’s just me.
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