Keeping Vic Beasley on cap-bulging deal makes little sense for Falcons

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5 things to know about Falcons pass rusher Vic Beasley

The Falcons are bringing back edge rusher Vic Beasley in 2019, which is defensible. They will pay $12.8 million to keep him, which is less so. Beasley been a disappointing player over four seasons with the Falcons and his $12.8 million cap salary is incompatible with their strategy so far.

The Falcons created salary-cap space earlier this month by waiving kicker Matt Bryant, cornerback Robert Alford and defensive end Brooks Reed. Alford and Reed were expendable, but releasing Bryant signaled that the Falcons were in cap-cutting mode. He’s productive, his 2019 option was just $2.45 million and they saved only $2.8 million in cap space by letting him go.

It’ strange that, after clearing about $15 million in cap space with those moves, the Falcons plan to retain Beasley with a cap-bulging contract. He’s not expendable, but Beasley’s 2019 base salary is projected to be the highest on the team. Factor in prorated bonus money, and Beasley’s cap hit is fourth-highest behind Matt Ryan, Desmond Trufant and Julio Jones.

As of now, Beasley’s 2019 cap figure ranks 18th-highest among NFL edge rushers, according to Spotrac. Great defensive ends should be expected to absorb that much cap space and more. Beasley is not a great defensive end. He had one very good season in 2016, followed by two subpar campaigns.

Beasley simply hasn’t lived up to his billing as the No. 8 overall draft pick in 2015. That left the Falcons with three choices: rescind the $12.8 million option and allow Beasley to become a free agent, negotiate an extension or pay him the option. They picked the worst of the three.

I thought Beasley would be a productive pass rusher again in 2018. I figured it would be the year that he finally refined his counter moves and stopped relying so much on his speed. It didn't happen.

I was wrong about Beasley. Falcons coach Dan Quinn seems reluctant to admit the same about the first player drafted in his tenure. That’s a bit surprising because, judging by their lukewarm public comments on Beasley following the season, it seemed as if Quinn and GM Thomas Dimitroff were ready to move on from him.

I thought it was possible that was just a negotiating ploy. You don’t want to heap too much praise on a guy you are looking to sign to an extension on the cheap. But now the Falcons plan to pay $12.8 million to a pass rusher that even their team-building duo views with skepticism.

At this point, Beasley is just a rotational pass rusher. Falcons AJC beat writer D. Orlando Ledbetter reports that Quinn said at the scouting combine Wednesday that he plans to work closely with Beasley in an effort to improve his consistency.

Maybe Quinn can get more out of him, but the Falcons already have deployed Beasley in several different ways. Nothing has clicked. If Beasley has another flat season in 2019, the Falcons will have paid a lot of money for a so-so player with a bloated cap figure.

Signing Beasley to a deal that is more cap-friendly wouldn’t be easy. From the Beasley camp’s perspective, any deal must include at least $12.8 million guaranteed. That’s just for openers. Beasley’s reps also would try to get whatever think they he could earn on the free-agent market.

That might be more than you think. Edge rusher is a premium position. No doubt some team out there figures their coaching staff can be the one to finally get the most out of Beasley’s talent. The market is hard to predict, but per projections by Optimum Scouting, the top free-agent edge rushers can expect deals that will pay $13 million to $19 million annually (with Kansas City’s Dee Ford sticking out as a potential bargain).

If that’s how it shakes out, then second-tier edge rushers such as Beasley might be found on the market for less than what the Falcons are set to pay him. Perhaps the Falcons project the market for edge rushers to be hotter than expected. Then the risk is that they’d have to over-pay, but isn’t that what they are doing with Beasley? Better to over-pay for a productive player.

If Beasley signed elsewhere, that would leave the Falcons looking for another edge rusher. They’d have to do that while also taking care of contracts for key players. Now they have to do it while carrying Beasley’s cap-unfriendly contract.

The Falcons' top priority is signing standout defensive tackle Grady Jarrett to an extension. If a deal with Jarrett can't be reached by the Tuesday deadline, Quinn said the Falcons might use the franchise tag on him. That would mean a cap salary of about $14 million for Jarrett in 2019.

The Falcons should take that hit to keep a player like Jarrett off the market. He’s a game-wrecker with the potential to be even better. It makes much less sense for the Falcons to take a big cap hit for Beasley.