Fontenot, Smith discuss the state of the Falcons

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot and coach Arthur Smith discuss the state of the team heading into the new league business year, which starts March 17.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

O’Neal, Mack and Kazee could become unrestricted free agents

Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot and coach Arthur Smith have some major decisions to make that could send the franchise on a different course.

The Falcons are $20.2 million over the projected salary cap of $180 million, have key veterans headed for free agency and must make decisions on fifth-year options for two key starters.

Falcons safety Keanu Neal, center Alex Mack and free safety Damontae Kazee, who is coming off an torn Achilles, are set to become free agents March 17 if the Falcons do not re-sign them.

Also, wide receiver Calvin Ridley and tight end Hayden Hurst are up for their fifth-year option, and there are the pressing matters of re-negotiating contracts and extending other deals to create salary-cap room.

Fontenot acknowledged the state of the team.

“We are having all those discussions about all of those players,” Fontenot said.

Normally at the NFL scouting combine, most of those decisions have been made. This is the week the combine was set to be held, and Fontenot and Smith were holding their virtual combine presser.

The new front office clearly is still working through those matters with the league’s new year approaching March 17.

Fontenot hired his main salary person, Chris Olsen from the Texans. He hired vice president of pro personnel from Washington in Kyle Smith and Dwaune Jones, formerly of the Ravens, was added as the assistant director of college scouting.

Anthony Robinson, the director of college scouting, interviewed for the general manager position and was retained from the former regime.

“It’s really been about dropping all of our egos and really blending philosophies,” said Fontenot, who came from the Saints. “We have people from a lot of different places. We are working hard to adapt and adjust in some different areas.”

The new team and decision-making processes are coming together.

“Regardless of how we have been doing things, it’s about doing it the right way moving forward,” Fontenot said.

The pro scouts are getting ready for free agency. The period to place the franchise or transition tags on players opened Tuesday. The Falcons don’t have any obvious candidates.

The college scouting staff is working with the coaching staff to come up with a clear vision of the type of players they need from the draft, which is set for April 29-May 1.

“We just wrapped up the February college meetings,” Fontenot said. “The entire staff was in town and that went really well. The scouts are working really heard. Kyle Smith ran those meetings. They were really productive.”

The Falcons are getting ready for virtual meetings over the college’s Pro Days, which will be held around the country in March. Georgia Tech’s is set for March 16 and Georgia’s for March 17.

The Falcons hold the fourth pick in the draft.

“It’s a prime spot to be in, being in that No. 4 spot,” Fontenot said. “There are so many different scenarios. There are going to be some really good players there at four. We can move up. We can move down and acquire a lot of picks.

“There are a lot of different scenarios to really go through. It’s a prime spot to be in. It’s not somewhere we want to be in very often with this team. We are going to take advantage of that and be open to all possibilities.”

Smith has finished his roster evaluations and is focusing on how the team will reconstruct the roster. The Falcons currently have 39 players under contract, the lowest of all 32 NFL teams.

They recently released veteran safety Ricardo Allen and defensive Allen Bailey and are looking at all positions.

“Ricardo Allen was a heck of player here,” Smith said. “The circumstances of having to release him … we have all of the respect in the world for Rico.”

The Falcons have one safety on the roster, and nickel back Isaiah Oliver may moved to safety.

“We are going to have to adapt,” Smith said. “Isaiah is a guy that’s played inside, we feel good about him. But with a lot of our guys, we’re going to value versatility, but we are still in the early stages with how we are going to build this roster for 2021.”

Smith is excited about guard Chris Lindstrom and the wide receivers.

“We feel good about some of the guys that have been here, that we have,” Smith said. “There is a good young lineman up front that we are excited to work with. We are excited to work with some of the receivers on the outside as well. We are going to look to add at all times of the season.”

The Falcons will also benefit from the fourth spot on the waiver wire as other teams cut players.

“You never know when you can pick up players,” Smith said. “Last year in Tennessee, we picked up Geoff Swaim, a tight end, in the middle of August, and he ended up being a big contributor down the stretch for us as we made that playoff run.

“We are going to always … it’s a constant evolution there. We feel good about some of the pieces that we have coming back. But we are always (going to) continue to add value and depth.”

Falcons’ 2021 draft position: Here are the pick’s in D. Led’s Mock Draft 1.0: Top five picks

1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence (QB, Clemson)

2. New York Jets: Ja’Marr Chase, (WR, LSU)

3. Dolphins: Penei Sewell (OT, Oregon)

4. Atlanta Falcons: Justin Fields (QB, Ohio State)

5. Cincinnati Bengals: Devonta Smith (WR, Alabama)

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