Weekend Reflections: Tight salary cap makes future fuzzy for Falcons

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Falcons linebacker Deion Jones addresses the performance of the defense during Atlanta's 37-10 loss to Rams. (Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC)

What I think about some things I saw over the weekend. . .

There’s nothing left to say about the 2019 Falcons. They were bad to start the season and are no better now. The good thing is they have several top veterans under contract for 2020. That’s also the bad thing.

The Falcons (1-6) are facing a tight salary cap for 2020. That's not necessarily a problem for a contending team. It is potentially a big problem for the Falcons, who aren't in the running for the NFL's worst team only because the Dolphins are tanking. The core Falcons players will have to be a lot better in 2020 and the team may be forced to depart with some guys who can help.

The Falcons can get out from under the $13 million cap mistake they made by bringing back Vic Beasley. Those savings will be more than offset by increased cap figures for players they should keep. The Falcons have seven payers whose salaries are set to count about $122 million against the cap in 2020. Six of those players have cap figures that are set to increase significantly.

Quarterback Matt Ryan’s 2020 cap salary is to increase from $15.8 million to $33.5 million. Wide receiver Julio Jones goes from counting $10.4 million against the cap to $20.4 million. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett’s cap figure goes from $11 million to $16 million.

For linebacker Deion Jones, it’s $4.7 million to $10.3 million For safety Ricardo Allen the bump is $3.4 million to $7.4 million. Left tackle Jake Matthews’ cap salary is scheduled to increase from $7.6 million to $16 million.

None of those players can be cut without leaving a big amount of “dead” cap money. The Falcons don’t want to get rid of them, anyway. There’s not much salary-cap fat to cut elsewhere, either.

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Falcons owner Arthur Blank (left) confers with general manager Thomas Dimitroff in the final minutes of a 37-10 loss to the Los Angeles Rams Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The loss put Atlanta's record at 1-6 on the season.

Credit: Curtis Compton

Falcons owner Arthur Blank (left) confers with general manager Thomas Dimitroff in the final minutes of a 37-10 loss to the Los Angeles Rams Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The loss put Atlanta's record at 1-6 on the season.

Credit: Curtis Compton

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Falcons owner Arthur Blank (left) confers with general manager Thomas Dimitroff in the final minutes of a 37-10 loss to the Los Angeles Rams Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The loss put Atlanta's record at 1-6 on the season.

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

» PHOTOS: Injuries, disappointment in Falcons' loss to Rams

The Falcons could cut Alex Mack ($2.5 million in dead cap money) but they’d need another center to anchor their rebuilt offensive line. The Falcons could part with Mohamed Sanu ($1.4 million) and go with Calvin Ridley as the No. 2 receiver but there’s little depth behind him and Julio Jones. Offensive tackle Ty Sambrailo ($2 million) may be expendable but releasing him would hurt the offensive line depth the Falcons spent months boasting about. Releasing running back Devonta Freeman would mean a $6 million dead-money hit.

The Falcons can reduce the 2020 cap pain somewhat by designating some of those players as post-June 1 cuts. They could work out some contract extensions to reduce cap figures. But those moves just push some of the financial reckoning into the future. Salary-shedding trades are tricky to pull off because any dead cap money for the outgoing player’s contract comes due.

If the Falcons get rid of key veterans they still would need to replace them while carrying the dead cap weight. The Falcons may find a prospect with their top pick in the 2020 draft who can make an immediate impact. It’s dicey to expect that from players selected in the lower rounds.

The Falcons spent the past offseason making moves with the expectation they would be a good team for at least the next two seasons. That plan collapsed in less than half a season. The Falcons are a bad football team with a lot of expensive players under contract for 2020. That’s not good.

Jeremy Pruitt embarrassed himself 

Jeremy Pruitt makes about $4 million to coach Tennessee’s football team. Vols quarterback Jarrett Guarantano earns no salary. According to the NCAA’s sham model of sports, Gurantano is the amateur kid and Pruitt is the professional adult. Yet it was Pruitt who behaved like a petulant man-child when Guarantano made a bad play against Alabama.

Guarantano lost a fumble at the goal line and Alabama returned it 100 yards for a touchdown and 35-13 lead. Pruitt wasn't happy. The professional response would be to keep his cool, anyway. Instead, Pruitt berated Guarantano as he came off the field and tugged on the player's facemask.

Criticism of Pruitt's actions prompted the usual suspects to complain about those of us who believe coaches shouldn't treat their players like that. Former NFL offensive lineman Damien Woody responded to that retrograde thinking with a tweet: "(I)t's funny seeing (people) who disagreed w/ Pruitt's actions being called 'soft' & 'snowflakes'....everybody is a tough guy nowadays I see."

Keep in mind that the people who endorse Pruitt’s actions are living vicariously through players. For those fans, seeing authoritarian coaches scold players who make them mad is a salve. It temporarily soothers the sad part of their souls that binds their self-identity to the performance of their favorite football team. All perspective is lost, if they ever had it.

Pruitt and other college coaches (Jimbo Fisher is another recent offender) get away with being jerks because of the power imbalance between unpaid players and multimillionaire coaches. Imagine an NFL coach berating a player and putting their hands on them. That would be a bad move for the coach, who is less valuable than many of his unionized players.

Also consider what the public reaction would be if a college player grabbed his coach in anger. The coach wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) tolerate it, so why doesn’t it work the other way around? I doubt those people who think society is soft nowadays would offer praise for the player’s passion and competitiveness in the heat of the moment.

Alabama needs Tua Tagovailoa more than ever

Joseph Goodman of al.com described the "nervous grumbles" at Bryant-Denny Stadium as Alabama's offense sputtered vs. Tennessee with backup QB Mac Jones after an ankle injury forced Tua Tagovailoa to leave the game:

“A season flashed before everyone’s eyes like so many pulsing LED lights here at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

This is life without Tua?

This is what it feels like to be nervous at a football game?

This is what it’s like to not have the best football team in the country?”

Alabama coach Nick Saban said Tagovailoa suffered a high ankle sprain to his right foot. Tagovailoa had surgery Sunday morning and was ruled out for Saturday’s game against Arkansas. After that game the Crimson Tide have an open week before facing LSU in a contest that could decide the SEC West title.

Tagovailoa suffered a similar injury to his left ankle in last year’s SEC Championship game. Jalen Hurts replaced him and helped Alabama come back to beat Georgia. Hurts is at Oklahoma now. The Tide’s Plan “B” isn’t nearly as good this year.

The ACC Coastal is crazy 

Georgia Tech surprised me by following a dud performance at Duke with a tough victory at Miami. The 18-1/2-point betting line showed that I wasn't the only one to underestimate the Yellow Jackets (or overestimate Miami). But maybe I should have considered Tech in the context of the ACC's wild Coastal division.

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Georgia Tech football highlights of its 28-21 overtime win at Miami. (Video courtesy of ACC)

Joedy McCreary, an AP writer in North Carolina, noted the circular feasting of Coastal teams. Miami beat division leader Virginia (3-1 in the ACC) but lost to Tech (1-3) and Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech also beat North Carolina, which beat Tech, but the Hokies lost to Duke. Duke beat Tech but lost to Pitt, which also lost to Virginia.

The Coastal’s parity bodes well for the rebuilding efforts of Tech coach Geoff Collins. There’s an opening there. Duke has been consistently solid with coach David Cutcliffe and Virginia looks to be on the rise with Bronco Mendenhall. Pitt has had its moments with coach Pat Narduzzi but mostly treads water.

Tech's geographical advantage in recruiting is better than any division team outside of Miami. Now that Collins is taking advantage of that, the Yellow Jackets have a chance to become king of the Coastal.

My Weekend Predictions went 6-7

I went 5-5 picking college games against the spread. To avoid consecutive losing weeks I needed to be right on at least one of three NFL picks (two games had even lines). I flopped.

The Rams (-3) were an easy win. The 49ers (-9.5) bled the clock late and settled for a late field goal to win by nine. The Bears (-3) were awful against the Saints, who won their fifth straight game with No. 2 QB Teddy Bridgewater in place of Drew Brees.

I was right to take Kentucky and 25 points against UGA but I didn’t expect the Wildcats to cover the spread while getting shut out. I picked Tech’s opponent for the first time in a month so of course the Jackets won outright as a big underdog. I love getting points but lost for the third straight week picking against Georgia State as a ’dog.