Terry Fontenot’s staff tasked to add players, trim over $20 million

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

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New Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot discusses the team’s scouting process and who’s helping evaluate players entering the 2021 NFL Draft.

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

With a salary cap of at least $180 million, the Falcons have been working expeditiously to figure out how their roster will be under the cap for the 2021 season. In the early going of the new regime, that has been a focus for the front-office staff that general manager Terry Fontenot has assembled.

Among the new additions assisting Fontenot in this department is Chris Olsen, the senior director of football administration who previously worked for the Houston Texans.

Olsen has teamed with manager of football administration Kirsten Grohs, retained from the previous regime, to crunch the numbers to make the team’s cap crisis work. Fontenot has noticed their office lights staying on from the moment he arrives and until he leaves each day, giving him hope that these two will put the Falcons in a good financial place moving forward.

As for Olsen, Fontenot quipped that his physical appearance is proof that he’s putting in the time to ensure the Falcons improve their cap health.

“The funny thing is that the first day he got here he was all cleanly shaven. He was all put together,” Fontenot said. “Every day that I see him, his beard gets a little longer.”

The late nights at the beginning of the offseason certainly are warranted.

The Falcons have only 39 players under contract who account for a total cap figure of $202.5 million. Of that number, six players — quarterback Matt Ryan ($40.9 million), receiver Julio Jones ($23.1 million), defensive tackle Grady Jarrett ($20.8 million), left tackle Jake Matthews ($20.2 million), defensive end Dante Fowler ($18.5 million) and linebacker Deion Jones ($12.6 million) — make up more than $136 million of it. If the salary cap doesn’t rise, the Falcons have to eventually add 14 players while simultaneously reducing the figure possibly by $20.2 million.

With the salary cap not expected to reach $185 million, the Falcons can only hope to get between $2 million to $3 million extra in relief.

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

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Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot address the team's cap situation entering the 2021 NFL season.

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

The biggest challenge Fontenot all but acknowledged is that the Falcons won’t be able to spend big — or much at all — in free agency. Once the Falcons make decisions on the cap casualties under contract, much of the free-agent shopping will be done in the bargain bin. Fontenot cited numerous times that the long-term health of the franchise is dependent on not overspending on certain players in free agency.

“(Olsen and Grohs) are working hard because there are so many variables with everything,” Fontenot said. “There are a lot of decisions we have to make and everything affects everything. We challenged them that we have to think about the big picture. It’s not just about getting underneath the cap. We have to make sure we are making big-picture decisions. That’s going to be a challenge because it’s going to be on us. We have to find value. ... We have to make sure that we find value in all areas of player procurement. They’re not all going to be high draft picks, they’re not all going to be high-paid free agents. We have to find value in all areas.”

In addition to Olsen and Grohs, Fontenot commended Kyle Smith, the senior vice president of player personnel who was previously with the Washington Football Team, for leading the college scouting meetings that have taken place so far.

“All he’s done since he’s been here, he hasn’t done anything else but run the meetings and evaluate players,” Fontenot said. “That’s all he does. He’s obsessed with the process, he’s obsessed with ball, and I’m excited about having him. (Director of college scouting) Anthony Robinson, who actually interviewed for this general manager position, and he was very deserving of getting an interview because he’s special. He’s a star in this building.”

Fontenot also noted that Dwaune Jones, the assistant director of college scouting, has played an important role in this process thus far.

It remains to be seen just how the Falcons will approach free agency and the draft. The challenges are obvious with the numbers the Falcons are working against.

Fontenot knows he can’t do it alone and will certainly hope that the assembled staff, including the new faces combined with those retained, will aid the franchise find solid footing, both in terms of team performance and financial well-being.

“I think the most important thing when you’re in the GM seat is hiring and empowering the right people because ... for example, when we’re in two weeks of college meetings, I got pulled out of meetings a lot,” Fontenot said. “I wasn’t in those meetings as often as I like to be in those meetings. So you have to make sure you have people in place that you really trust.”