Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff likes to keep about $2 million in cap space for emergencies that may pop up over the course of the season. So, that will leave the team with roughly $5 million to possibly add a couple of mid-level free agents, but not enough room to chase a big-ticket free agent like Jadeveon Clowney, unless he takes a major discount.
The Falcons are set to enter the 2020 season with six players that will have salary-cap numbers of $10 million or more.
Wide receiver Julio Jones heads the list at $20.4 million. Quarterback Matt Ryan ($18.9 million), defensive tackle Grady Jarrett ($12.3 million), left tackle Jake Matthews ($10.7 million), center Alex Mack ($10.5 million) and linebacker Deion Jones ($10.3 million) are the other $10 million men.
The Falcons also have $13 million in dead cap space, with running back Devonta Freeman ($6 million), offensive tackle Ryan Schraeder ($2.5 million), offensive tackle Ty Sambrailo ($2 million) and wide receiver Mohamed Sanu ($1.4 million) making up the bulk of the money.
The Falcons have not signed any of the six rookie draft picks. Last year, the Falcons had all of the rookies deals completed by May 16.
The last to sign, first-round pick Chris Lindstrom, who was the 14th player taken, received a fully guaranteed, four-year, $14.7 million deal, with the team holding an option for a fifth year. He received an $8.7 million signing bonus.
The 2011 collective bargaining agreement set up a value for every pick in the draft from No. 1 to the final overall selection. First-round picks typically receive four-year contracts that include a fifth-year team option.
Cornerback A.J. Terrell, who was taken with the 16th overall pick, is projected to sign a four-year contract worth $14.3 million with a $7.9 million signing bonus, by salary website Spotrac. Terrell's deal likely will be fully guaranteed.
Defensive end Brian Burns, who was selected 16th overall by Carolina last season, signed a four-year, $13.5 million fully guaranteed contract last season. He received a $7.8 million signing bonus.
Terrell's cap number is projected to be $2.6 million and make the top 51. Also, second-round pick Marlon Davidson ($1.2 million) and third-round pick Matt Hennessy ($860,000) also will make the top 51, while fourth-round picks Mykal Walker ($790,000) and Jaylin Hawkins (760,000) and seventh-round pick Sterling Hofrichter ($630,000) will not make that group.
Another reason why the Falcons have not signed their rookies is because they are not monitoring and filming their player’s workouts, as some teams are. Those teams that are filming signed some of their rookies for liability reasons under the respective worker’s compensation state statutes.
There also were insurance issues to consider. The players working out on their own will have to assume liability for any injuries.
The Falcons currently are at the 90-man roster limit and don’t have room for any free agents.
“We’ve said all along that we’re in a good place,” Falcons president Rich McKay said. “We understand where we are. We have flexibility.”
The Falcons felt they spent their money wisely during the first wave of free agency.
“I don’t know what the expectations were, I know our own internal expectations were that we were going to potentially grab two to three people that were going to help us,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “They were going to be projected as potential starters for us.”
Dimitroff ranked all of the free agents, and coach Dan Quinn checked off the list. Nick Polk, the team’s salary-cap executive, did the rest.
“We had to be creative with it financially,” Dimitroff said. The Falcons believe their financial numbers are “proprietary information” and don’t allow Polk to speak to the media.
The Falcons’ three projected starters are running back Todd Gurley, defensive end Dante Fowler and tight end Hayden Hurst. They acquired Gurley and Fowler in free agency and traded for Hurst.
The Falcons knew that former tight end Austin Hooper had increased his market value and could get more money on the open market. The Falcons didn’t make an offer because they didn’t have any money.
Hurst will play this season on a rookie contract with a $1.4 million cap number. Hooper’s number is $18.5 million for Cleveland this season.
“We are really fortunate to have an opportunity for him to come in here,” Dimitroff said of Hurst.
Fowler essentially replaced Vic Beasley, and Gurley will take over for Freeman. Terrell is slated for Trufant’s old left cornerback spot.
But this year there is a larger pool of late free-agency candidates, in part because teams haven’t been able to administer physicals.
The Falcons are young at cornerback and could add some help in the late free-agent market. Cornerbacks Logan Ryan, Darqueze Dennard and Trumaine Johnson are all free agents.
Ryan, 29, has played with the Patriots and Titans.
Dennard, 28, of Twiggs County, was a first-round draft pick (24th overall) of the Bengals in 2014. The Falcons currently have 17 first-round draft picks on the roster.
Dennard has played in 77 NFL games and made 24 starts.
Also, cornerback Trumaine Johnson, who underperformed after signing a lucrative five-year, $72 million with the Jets, is available. He’s a big corner at 6-foot-2 and 213 pounds.
Other notable free agents who could be in the Falcons’ price range include linebacker Clay Matthews, defensive tackle Mike Daniels, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and tight end Delanie Walker.
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