When the Falcons declined Takk McKinley’s $10.3 million fifth-year option, he received the message loud and clear.
“It was a wake-up call,” McKinley said on Saturday. “It was more motivation. It made me hungry. I’m not saying that I wasn’t hungry in the past, but it just … I just have to go prove it.”
McKinley, a defensive end, was selected with the 26th overall pick of the 2017 NFL draft. He had shoulder issues that have persisted in the NFL and has not turned into the pass rusher that the team envisioned.
“It’s one of those things,” McKinley said. “One day, I’m going to stop playing football. Who knows when that is going to be and I’d hate for it be one or two years from now.”
McKinley worked out hard over the offseason. He dropped his weight from 270 to 238 or 239 pounds.
“I can’t talk to TD (general manager Thomas Dimitroff) and beg him, accept my fifth-year option,” McKinley said. “I can’t do that. That’s up to them, you feel me? Whatever I showed in the four years, or the three years, they decided to decline my option, which is cool. I still have another year here to prove myself.”
The Falcons elected to move on from defensive end Vic Beasley after they picked up his $12.8 million fifth-year option last season. They signed defensive end Dante Flower to replace Beasley and are hoping a more focused and mature McKinley can have a breakout season.
“From a rehab standpoint, he really looks rock solid,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “He’s dropped weight. He’s strong. I think the speed part, that was one of things that he and I discussed during the offseason. So, he’s lighter than he has been, totally by design to make sure, one of the very best parts of his game is his speed and his get-off.”
McKinley had his third shoulder surgery over the past four seasons. He worked to rehabilitate the shoulder in Laguna Hills, Calif.
“The first day of contact, he wanted to see and trust it,” Quinn said. “That was a big step for him. Hey, I put the work in on the rehab part of it on my shoulder, I can trust this. So, each time that we are getting the padded work, the more trust to that it goes. I’m encouraged by where he’s at.”
Quinn has noticed a new sense of urgency.
“He’s motivated,” Quinn said. “That was a big part of the space he and I had privately in the spring to make sure that we get his best and he’d get that from us in return, too.”
The decision to decline the option was tough for the team.
“We’d rather be up front with the guys and tell them where we are at,” Quinn said.
McKinley said he worked Monday’s through Saturdays, starting at 7 a.m. He had to rehab the shoulder and lose weight.
“I did have control on what I could have did the first three years,” McKinley said. “They made their decision. Yes, they lit a fire in me and that’s cool. It just got me in the best shape of my life. It got me doing things to help my game get better. Hopefully, it will all work out for me this season.”
McKinley also had to change his diet.
“Obviously, with more money you get to go out to these fancy restaurants, better food, whatever, whatever,” McKinley said. “Diet was a huge part. I’ve been using this meal plan they call nutrition solution. To this day, I’m still using it. This offseason to maintain that weight. So yeah, there’s no reason to work out if you’re still eating McDonalds and Popeyes. ... Diet has been huge for me and I’m sticking to it.”
When McKinley was drafted he gave an emotional speech about wanting to make his grandmother, who raised him, proud. Toting an oversized picture of her when he went on stage to greet commissioner Roger Goodell, he promised that getting drafted was just the start of big things.
He got six sacks as a rookie and then seven his second season. He dipped to 3.5 sacks last season.
“Obviously, I wish my first three seasons could be 10-plus sacks, but it (didn’t) happen that way,” McKinley said. “Life is a roller coaster. ... It’s been very interesting for me, my NFL career, but that doesn’t mean I’m about to give up.
“I still believe in myself. My coaches believe in me. My teammates believe in me. My family believes in me and I believe in myself. At the end of the day, I know what I can do.”
McKinley said his personality hasn’t changed.
“At the end of the day, I am who I am,” McKinley said. “I’m not out at the clubs partying. I’m not out at the strip clubs. I’m not doing dumb stuff.
“I come to work every day. I train. I work. I go home and watch film. Play Call of Duty. Play 2K. Wake up. Do it again. I am who I am, you know what I’m saying? I’m not out there doing as you want to say doing stupid stuff, you feel me?”
McKinley believes he just has to finish off his sacks. He thought he could have had six sacks last season against Philadelphia’s Jason Peters, but he didn’t finish off his rushes.
“I probably left a lot of sacks out there last year,” McKinley said. “This year, I not trying to do the same thing, you feel me?”
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