Falcons’ Terry Fontenot now flush with salary-cap cash

LAS VEGAS — Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot was elated that the NFL’s salary cap increased by $16.6 million to $224.8 million for the coming league year.

The Falcons, after living in salary-cap hell with a record amount of dead space this league year, will have more than $56 million to spend in free agency.

“It’s the same process,” Fontenot said. “You never want to adjust the process at any point. You adjust it and yet, whether you have a lot of cap space or not a lot of cap space, it’s no different than if you didn’t have a draft pick in the first round. You’re still going to go through all of those players. The process hasn’t changed at that point, but we are continuing to look.”

The Falcons have a long list of free agents, which include right tackle Kaleb McGary, outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter, inside linebacker Rashaan Evans, cornerback Isaiah Oliver and wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus.

The Falcons are evaluating which of their potential free agents they want to retain before the league’s new year starts in March.

The Falcons, after moving on from the Matt Ryan era, played this season with an NFL-record $88 million in dead salary-cap space. At quarterback, they have Desmond Ridder on his rookie contract. Marcus Mariota is under contract, and they have Logan Woodside.

“It’s like any other position,” Fontenot said. “You want to bring in good players, and you want to develop the people in your building and add competition.”

The Falcons likely will move on from Mariota and add about $12 million in salary-cap space.

“We have two quarterbacks on the roster,” Fontenot said. “We’re excited about where we are, but yet, we are going to add players. You have teams that put a lot of cap space at that position and some teams that don’t. But I will say that we always want to keep adding to the (group).”

Ridder, who was a third-round pick last season, went 2-2 as a starter over the final four games after he replaced Mariota as the starter.

“Desmond did a really good job,” Fontenot said. “Over that four-game stretch, Desmond did some really good things. We keep talking about Desmond’s mindset and the way he carries himself and the way he works.”

The Falcons believe Ridder will continue to improve.

“So, we know that he’s going to look at the good things he did and look at the things he needs to improve on,” Fontenot said. “He’s going to have a great offseason and be ready to roll.”

Fontenot has been on hand to watch the Falcons’ coaching staff work and scout the players at the East-West Shrine Bowl.

“It’s been great,” Fontenot said. “We’re really appreciative of the league giving us this opportunity. It’s really twofold, the opportunity to do some different things with the staff. Some people have different roles and have opportunities to grow and develop. We also have access to these players.”

The Falcons have the East team, while the Patriots are coaching the West team.

“There are a lot of good football players out here, and for us to get a different level of access than the other 30 teams are getting, talking about us and New England, it’s been great,” Fontenot said. “About 50% of these players in this game, historically, are going to end up in the league at some point. About 25% of (the players in) this game actually get drafted. So, to be able to spend all of this time with them is invaluable.”

Falcons special-teams coordinator Marquice Williams is serving as the head coach. Tight ends coach Justin Peelle is working as the offensive coordinator.

“It’s good because some things he’s not used to doing,” Fontenot said of Williams. “He’s going to see things from a different vantage point, it’s going to make him a better special-teams coordinator. Justin Peelle (has the) chance to call the offense, coordinate the offense. When he goes back in his (meeting) room, it’s going to make him a better tight end coach. They are preparing for that next step, but it’s also going to help them be better in their specific roles.”

The Falcons also are getting additional information on the players.

“The coaches are actually with the players in the meetings,” Fontenot said. “You’re teaching them, and you’re seeing how they take notes. You’re seeing how they learn. You’re seeing if they can take that to the field and make adjustments.”

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