Atlanta Falcons President and CEO Rich McKay gives running back Devonta Freeman a pat on the back during team practice on Thursday, May 23, 2019, in Flowery Branch.
Photo: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Falcons ready for start of free agency 

Upon the passage of the new collective bargaining agreement Sunday, the Falcons are ready to strike Monday when the league goes ahead with the start of free agency with the start of legal tampering period.

The league is set to open its new business year Wednesday.

“In free agency it will be different than what we’ve had before, certainly,” Falcons president Rich McKay said. “But we’ve got to remember, I make this point, all contracts that you’re going to negotiate in free agency are done by phone anyhow.”

With the COVID-19 outbreak, the Falcons pulled scouts and coaches off the road and closed their facilities through March 27. The team staff is working remotely.

The franchise would not have the benefit of visiting with any potential free agents.  

“Traditionally, that player would visit and that player’s visit, is in some instances a recruitment and in most cases it was for taking the physical,” McKay said. “In this case, you’ll have to figure out how that’s going to work, if at all.”

The Falcons may end up writing contracts with a contingency clause based upon the player passing the physical at a later date. 

“You’d still be able to negotiate,” McKay said. “You’d still be able to do contracts. We’ve done that numerous times before. It may become a little more of the rule this time around.”

While waiting for the CBA vote, the Falcons’ offseason was in a holding pattern.

Now, the team can start making moves around the 30% increase rule, use post June 1 cuts — where they can designate players and move a portion of the player’s dead money charge to the following season — and the assessment of “not likely to be earned” incentives.

The Falcons now know what’s available for 2020, can finalize their budgets, execute their plans for keeping their own players and signing new ones. 

The Falcons have just under $4 million of salary cap space, but with the new moves, salary cap casualties and possible restructures, the Falcons contend they can create enough space to address the roster. 

“We’ve said all along and what we’ve tried to do, we’ve met so many times, I’m sure Thomas, (director of football operations) Nick (Polk) and (manager of football operations) Kirsten (Grohs), everybody that prepares those numbers are probably tired of meeting,” Falcons president Rich McKay said on Friday. “We’ve said all along that we’re in good place. We understand where we are.”

The Falcons like their personnel and are not projected to be a major player in free agency. 

“We have flexibility,” McKay said. “We can get to the roster that (coach) Dan (Quinn) and Thomas want to get to, with the salary cap that we have. We are very ,comfortable with that.” 

The Falcons have said they do not plan to re-sign defensive end/linebacker Vic Beasley and will focus on improving their pass rush this offseason. 

After being selected with the eighth overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft, Beasley played more than 3,000 snaps for the Falcons over five seasons and had 37.5 sacks and 11 forced fumbles. 

A possible replacement is former Rams standout Dante Fowler, who according to draft analyst Tony Pauline of the Pro Football Network, wants to play for the Falcons.

Fowler, who was drafted No. 3 overall in the same draft as Beasley, was traded by the Jaguars to the Rams. 

He was recruited to Florida by Quinn. 

Fowler is projected to be worth a four-year, $59.2 million deal or an average of $14.8 million per year, according to salary cap website spotac.com

The Falcons are prepared to let tight end Austin Hooper, a two-time Pro Bowl alternate, and linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, the team’s leading tackler over the past two seasons, test their market value. The Falcons hope to re-sign both players. 

On Saturday, the Falcons re-signed fullback Keith Smith, who made $805,000 last season, to a three-year deal.  Last season, Smith played in 16 games and five starts. He led the team with eight special-teams tackles and two special-teams forced fumbles. 

Defensive end Steven Means, who missed last season with an Achilles injury, agreed to terms on a one-year, $820,000 contract last Monday. Means played in eight games in 2018 and made four starts.

While the offseason signings are set to pick up, the Falcons have already made some decisions.

Here’s a look at where things stand with the potential unrestricted and restricted free agents:

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS 

OFFENSE 

Kenjon Barner, running back
Matt Schaub, quarterback – Club picked up his option, according to his agent.
Justin Hardy, wide receiver
Austin Hooper, tight end – Will be allowed to hit the market 
Matt Simms, quarterback 
Keith Smith, fullback – Was re-signed to a three-year deal on Saturday, March 14. 
Wes Schweitzer, offensive guard/center – Will be allowed to hit the market

DEFENSE

Vic Beasley, defensive end/linebacker – Will not be re-signed 
De'Vondre Campbell, linebacker – Will be allowed to hit the market 
Adrian Clayborn, defensive end 
Jack Crawford, defensive tackle
Johnathan Cyprien, safety
Tyeler Davison, defensive tackle -  Agreed to three-year deal
Ra’Shede Hageman, defensive tackle – Waived by the team on Jan. 13
Kemal Ishmael, safety/linebacker – Will not be re-signed by Falcons 
Steven Means, defensive end -- Re-signed to a one-year contract on March 9.
Sharrod Neasman, safety 
Jamar Taylor, cornerback 
John Wetzel, offensive lineman – Vested veteran contract terminated and then re-signed.
J.J. Wilcox, safety 
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, cornerback

SPECIAL TEAMS 

Matt Bosher, punter 
Ryan Allen, punter – Signed to a one-year contract extension for $945,000 on Feb. 18
Sam Irwin-Hill, punter – Signed to a one-year contract worth $510,000

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS 

OFFENSE

Brian Hill, running back

DEFENSE

Michael Bennett, defensive tackle

SPECIAL TEAMS 

Younghoe Koo, placekicker – Signed a one-year contract extension for $660,000 on Feb. 18. 

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