Falcons’ A.J. Terrell standing on his play, business will follow

FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell has gone about his business quietly this offseason, while he’s in line for a lucrative contract extension.

“I’m doing me,” Terrell told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday. “I’m going to let my agent handle that.”

The Falcons picked up Terrell’s $12.34 million fifth-year option for the coming season and could offer a long-term deal like they did Chris Lindstrom last year.

“Well, again, we’ll never get into those private conversations,” Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot said recently at the league meetings. “Those are things that we’ll talk specifically with him and his agent about at the appropriate time. (We’ll) make everyone aware of it. But again, love A.J. and everything he’s about.”

Terrell, who played at Westlake High and Clemson, can play next season under his rookie deal, but the team and Terrell will need to reach an agreement on an extension to keep him from potentially becoming a free agent next offseason.

Tennessee recently signed cornerback L’Jarius Sneed to a four-year, $76 million deal.

Terrell, a physical tackler who has matched up against the opposition’s top receiver at times, was second-team All-Pro in 2021. He has started all 61 games that he’s played in. He was drafted 16th overall in 2020.

Terrell, who returned to organized team activities Monday after an ankle injury, is preparing for the season along with the rest of the Falcons defensive backs.

“We all got together for a least a (workout) session,” Terrell said. “Just guys taking time out their day to come to get some extra work outside the work we put in here. Yeah, we got together a few times.”

Terrell hasn’t changed his offseason approach.

“For me, I just go into every offseason attacking the whole position,” Terrell said. “Not really focusing in on one thing, but everything. Everything can get touched up on.”

Terrell and safety Jessie Bates III have bonded after playing together last season.

“That’s the beauty of it, being able to build the chemistry,” Terrell said. “I think that’s where we are at. We are just laying the foundation. We know we have a new defensive scheme. We can use our eyes and be able to play with instincts and make plays on the ball.”

Terrell is fine with being in a leadership position on the defense.

“Natural, I feel like coming in, I always said, in order for me to be a leader, you’ve got to hold yourself accountable,” Terrell said. “That’s what I stood on since Day One when I got here. It’s a natural transition. After years, and as time goes on, it just magically happens and falls in your lap. That’s where it’s at right now.”

Terrell likes that the Falcons added quarterback Kirk Cousins and Michael Penix Jr. over the offseason.

“It’s going to be good, just to have both of the guys,” Terrell said. “It’s just a good thing for the offensive side of the ball. We’ve (made) additions on the offensive side of the ball. I know that we went hard last year adding on the defensive side. Just the overall, in general, the team itself is moving in the right direction.”

Terrell believes transition to Morris’ staff this offseason has been smooth.

“Right now, it’s always about us,” Terrell said. “About you just being able to hear the call, make calls pre-snap, be able to play the down through. Then post-snap getting the call and just keep doing that.”

He has not been able to assess if working against Cousins and Penix has helped the secondary.

“With me being on the island, I’m more so worried about the look, the splits and who I’m guarding,” Terrell said. “When I look on film, then I’ll see who the quarterback is. I’m not really pointing out who’s at quarterback.

With Terrell missing a portion of the offense, Clark Phillips and Mike Hughes have received a lot of time outside at cornerback.

“They are able to play nickel, play corner and play whatever the coach asks and compete at a high level,” Terrell said. “A lot of growth in both of them. ... That’s always the beauty of playing with a lot of (defensive backs) and being able to pick up on what they do, what their strengths are, then also help them on their weaknesses.”

Terrell was fine with the Falcons not drafting a secondary player.

“It’s confidence,” Terrell said. “I feel like the coaches and everybody, they like what we’ve got going on. It’s just our job to get the job done. Come out here and practice at a high level and just compete. Give the offense a look and make plays.”

The Falcons had hoped to pair Terrell with Jeff Okudah at corner, but he became a free agent and signed with the Texans.

Phillips, who was drafted in the fourth round out of Utah, came on strong down the stretch. He started the final five games. Quarterbacks had an 88.3 passer rating when throwing at Phillips.

The Falcons believe that Phillips has an huge upside.

“Right now, all you can evaluate is what can (a player) do out there from a movement (standpoint),” Falcons coach Raheem Morris said. “You can evaluate the communication. You can evaluate knowing what to do. You can evaluate not panicking when the ball is in the air, and you can evaluate playing the ball while not leaving your feet and losing control of your body. Really, it comes down to movement, body control, and non-panic issues.

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