FLOWERY BRANCH — The NFL’s free agency frenzy is set to start without the Falcons as major players.
League teams officially can start contacting players’ agents on Monday as part of the legal tampering period before the start of the new league year at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
The Falcons will focus on re-signing their own players and then do some value shopping after all of the blockbuster deals are done.
Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot said there would not be a bunch of deals early on to tweet about on social media. However, running back Cordarrelle Patterson, the team’s top free agent, took all his Falcons gear off his social media on Sunday.
The Falcons went underneath the $208.2 million salary cap when wide receiver Calvin Ridley was suspended indefinitely for gambling on NFL games. The Falcons are $4,170,606 under the salary cap, according to NFLPA documents. Including the $12 million created by quarterback Matt Ryan’s latest restructure, the Falcons are $16 million under the cap.
The Falcons’ top free agents are Patterson, wide receiver Russell Gage, linebacker Foye Oluokun, kicker Younghoe Koo, punter Thomas Morstead and Pro Bowl long snapper Josh Harris.
Patterson didn’t receive the kind of offers he wanted at the outset of free agency last offseason. About a month in free agency he signed a one-year, $3 million deal with the Falcons. Patterson, who will turn 31 on Thursday, is looking for a hefty raise.
Outside linebacker Dante Fowler, offensive tackle-guard Matt Gono and linebacker Duke Ejiofor, who was signed to a reserve/futures contract on Jan. 13, were released. Also, tight end Hayden Hurst, who played the past two seasons with the team, didn’t have his fifth-year option picked up last season and will not return.
The other free agents set to hit the open market are guard Josh Andrews, linebacker Daren Bates, wide receiver Christian Blake, defensive tackle Jonathan Bullard, linebacker Brandon Copeland, guard Colby Gossett, tight end Jaeden Graham, safety Duron Harmon, free safety Erik Harris, quarterback A.J. McCarron, defensive end Steven Means, cornerback Fabian Moreau, cornerback Isaiah Oliver, quarterback Josh Rosen, wide receiver Tajae Sharpe, tackle Jason Spriggs and wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus.
Of the second group of free agents, Means, Harmon, Harris, Copeland and Oliver were key members of the defense last season. They accounted for 65 starts and played 4,004 defensive snaps.
Harmon played 1,072 (92%) defensive snaps at strong safety over 17 starts, and Moreau played 1,037 (95%) over 16 starts at right cornerback.
Oliver was playing well as the nickel back over the first four games before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Harris started 12 games and played 703 snaps. Means started 14 games and played 692 defensive snaps.
Bates was solid on special teams over seven games. Bullard played in nine games and made four starts. He played 224 defensive snaps.
Offensively, the Falcons have mostly reserves as free agents. Sharpe and Zaccheaus were the only major contributors.
Sharpe played in 15 games and made seven starts. He caught 25 of 37 targets for 230 yards and no touchdowns. Zaccheaus played in all 17 games and made eight starts. He caught 31 of 53 targets for 406 yards and three touchdowns.
McCarron suffered a season-ending knee injury in an exhibition game against Miami. Rosen was added to take his place.
Andrews, Gossett and Spriggs were backup offensive linemen. Spriggs played in 15 games and made one start. Gossett played in 14 games and made one start. Andrews was winning the left guard competition until he broke his hand late in training camp. He played in only two games last season.
Graham suffered a season-ending knee injury early in training camp and missed last season. He played in 32 games in 2019 and 2020.
Ryan signed a five-year extension on May 7, 2018, with a cash value of $169.2 million. The Falcons have restructured the contract five times since, according to NFLPA documents.
On March 11, 2019, the Falcons converted $8.75 million of his 2019 base to a signing bonus for salary cap purposes.
On Dec. 27, 2019, the Falcons converted a partial 2020 base to an option bonus for cap purposes; escalators already achieved at the time of renegotiation were added to comply with the 30% rule.
On March 21, 2020, the Falcons converted a partial 2020 base salary to a signing bonus for salary cap purposes. His salary cap number was decreased by $6 million.
On March 15, 2021, the Falcons converted a partial 2021 base to a fully guaranteed 2021 roster bonus and another amount was treated as a signing bonus (OATSB) for salary cap purposes. An additional $15.5 million was guaranteed from the $100 million from a prior contract.
The latest renegotiation, which decreased his salary cap number by $12 million, has not been filed with the NFLPA yet.
The Falcons can create more space by lowering the salary cap numbers of left tackle Jake Matthews, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and linebacker Deion Jones.
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