Falcons part ways with salary cap chief Nick Polk

Falcons promote Nick Polk to director of football operations.
Falcons promote Nick Polk to director of football operations.

Nick Polk, who’s been with the Falcons for 18 years most recently as director of football operations, has not been retained, the Falcons confirmed on Monday.

Polk spent five seasons as the Falcons’ director of football administration before being promoted to director of football operations. Polk worked closely with former general manager Thomas Dimitroff on contracts, negotiations and salary cap management. He also coordinated the team’s compliance with the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement and labor-related issues. His departure was first reported by profootballtalk.com.

Before joining the Falcons, Polk served as the director of football operations for NFL Europe for four years where he directed all of the league operations.

Polk was previously head football coach at his alma mater, Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania, for four years. He also coached at James Madison, Brown University, Delaware State University and Southern Connecticut State University.

Earlier this month, Polk was a candidate for general manager in Washington.

With Terry Fontenot as the new general manager the Falcons are moving in a new direction.

The Falcons are projected to be $33.2 million over the salary cap by spotrac.com and $36.1 million by overthecap.com. The Falcons were not able to re-sign productive starters in tight end Austin Hooper and linebacker DeVondre Campbell last season.

The Falcons will likely lose safety Keanu Neal to free agency this season while they must find some money to re-sign kicker Younghoe Koo. The Falcons will likely have several salary cap casualties, which could include free safety Ricardo Allen, defensive end Allen Bailey.

Only the Saints ($104.6 million) and Eagles ($51.4 million) have less estimated salary cap space than the Falcons.

Fontenot said the first order of business is the evaluate the roster when he was asked about the salary cap.

“From there, now we can assess where are our major areas of need, where do we have surplus,” Fontenot said. “We can really assess our roster and then we can develop our plan for the off-season from that point. That’s the most critical area.”

The Falcons will have until 4 p.m. March 17 to get under the cap. That’s the start of the new NFL business year. Currently the cap projects to be around $176 million.

For now, the Falcons’ top six salary-cap numbers for 2021 belong to quarterback Matt Ryan ($40.9 million), wide receiver Julio Jones ($23.05 million), defensive tackle Grady Jarrett ($20.8 million), left tackle Jake Matthews ($20.2 million) and defensive end Dante Fowler ($18.6 million) and middle linebacker Deion Jones ($12.6 million).

The Falcons could save $23.3 million by cutting their top five players with the most potential salary-cap savings in safety Ricardo Allen ($6.2 million), Jarrett ($5.3 million), left guard James Carpenter ($5.3 million), defensive end Allen Bailey ($4.5 million) and Fowler ($3.3 million). You can bump than number down to $18 million because they are not cutting Jarrett, who went to his second consecutive Pro Bowl and will be a key rebuilding block for the new regime.

So, that would still leave the Falcons a more manageable $15 million to 18 million over the cap. They could restructure some other deals and prorate some bonuses to squeeze under the cap. They’ll likely will have to play with a lot of low-salaried rookies, undrafted rookies and minimum-salaried veterans in 2021.

It’s not clear who will take over the salary cap duties, but the Falcons added Kyle Smith, formerly of the Washington Football Team, who was named the vice president of player personnel Friday. Smith was with Washington for the past 11 seasons. He was a college scout for most of that time before he was promoted to vice president of player personnel in January 2020.

For a season, Smith, the son of former Chargers general manager A.J. Smith, directed both the college and pro personnel departments.

“Kyle literally grew up in this business and is obsessed with, and passionate about, the process of building and managing competitive teams,” Fontenot said.“He is extremely smart, detailed and organized, and he couldn’t be more excited to become an Atlanta Falcon.”

Falcons’ 2021 draft position

1. Jacksonville Jaguars

2. New York Jets

3. Miami Dolphins (via Houston)

4. Falcons

5. Cincinnati Bengals

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