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Atlanta has a lot of work to do, even after parting ways with the “obvious” candidates

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San Diego Chargers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

It’s time for part four! We know who the free agents are supposed to be, though many will be extended before March 18. We know who is supposed to be in the draft, but your mock drafts are terribly inaccurate. Fewer people are projecting which players are going to be cap casualties. To do this as precise as possible, it takes time and I think you have to go on a team-by-team basis. Today’s team is also in potential salary cap purgatory.

Read: The Vikings might need to trade Kirk Cousins

Read: The Steelers could struggle to keep the band together

Read: The Jaguars have the most cuts to make

The Atlanta Falcons

Effective 2020 Cap Space: $5.2 million

Most Savings: Alex Mack, $8 million

If passing the ball a lot is all that matters, then why are the Falcons so consistently underwhelming? Even on offense. Though Dan Quinn’s team has finished top 10 in total yards in each of his five seasons at the helm, only the 2016 team was a threat to win the Super Bowl and even they are probably overrated by history as those Falcons only finished 11-5. Not 13-3, as I kind of assumed.

Is it because total yards is a crap stat? Yes. But is Atlanta a scary team even with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Austin Hooper, and a solid offensive line?

I don’t think so, Tim (Dwight).

The Falcons threw the ball 684 times last season, most in the NFL, but their efficiency was terrible as they ranked 12th in passing DVOA. They were also 23rd in rushing DVOA and 20th overall on defense. Did they just pass the ball a lot because they were losing? Not exactly, as the Falcons went 6-2 in the second half of the season and still threw the second-most passes in the league over that period of time.

The passing wasn’t even that impressive (62.2%, 12 TD, 6 INT, 87.1 rating) but Quinn’s defense tightened up, especially against the pass. Atlanta was one of the best second half teams and that saved Quinn’s job for another year but 7-9 won’t get him to 2021; the Falcons must get back to the playoffs and must be a real threat to win it all and to atone for 2016’s meltdown.

They have to come back as a stronger team but they don’t even have enough cap room at the moment to sign even one of their outgoing free agents. Not only that, they’ve got just $17.3 million in cap space for 2021 and $49 million for 2022. They need to save money in the short and long terms. Where will it come from?

Alex Mack, C, $10.5 million cap, $8 million saved if cut

Mack’s signing in 2016 to a five-year, $45 million deal was arguably Atlanta’s best move to get them to the Super Bowl that season. Though he’s 34, he appears to remain one of the league’s best centers and replacing him would be improbable. The team selected guard Chris Lindstrom 14th overall last year and there was some inquiry into whether they’d be trying him out at center but nothing has indicated that’s the actual plan.

Mack did convert some of his salary in 2017 to a signing bonus that alleviated some cap room and maybe that’s something he’s open to again.

Odds of departure: I give it like a 3/10. Mack is 34 but he’s still apparently good and who are they getting to replace him if not taking the risk of moving your 14th overall pick from the spot he’s used to over to one he’s not?
Would he help the Chargers: At the moment, center does not appear to be a need.

Devonta Freeman, RB, $9.5 million cap hit, $3.5 million saved

The age of the $9.5 million running back. Ha. What a country! Oh wait, the age of the $9.5 million running back was...10 years ago? And we’re still in it? Because RB salaries are like the one position in the NFL that has not gone up over the last decade? And Reggie Bush made $63 million over his career? Emmitt Smith signed a $40 million deal in 1997? And Freeman is one of the few who actually somehow managed to pull it off in the modern day? And that’s about to end?

You don’t say!

Odds of departure: 99%? Freeman rushed for 68 yards in 2018 and returned to put up 656, 3.6 YPC, and 5.9 yards per target in 2019. He’s actually only 28 and he will be playing somewhere next season but the only way that somewhere is if he agrees for his cap hit to go dirty south. They will be taking on $6 million in dead money this year and $3 million in 2021. Even in 2017 when they gave him the deal, what were you thinking?
Would he help the Chargers: After Melvin Gordon leaves, Freeman could potentially sign for a vet minimum, I guess.

Ricardo Allen, S, $7.3 million cap hit, $3.1 million saved

I hate to be that guy who throws shade on a player simply because I’m ignorant and maybe Allen is a solid safety, but he’s been starting since 2015 and I am just surprised that I still don’t really know anything about him. I am PUBLICLY announcing my ignorance of Allen but I have little evidence in front of me at present to make me feel concerned that I’ll get backlash if I suggest cutting him.

Allen appears to be in a tough situation of only being expendable if the team is strapped for room. They’re strapped for room.

Odds of departure: He had two picks last season. One came off of Kyle Allen and the other came off of Jameis Winston. There’s a non-zero chance that at least one person reading Bolts from the Blue today intercepted either Allen or Winston. I think Ricardo might be depart-o.
Would he help the Chargers: It’s not completely out of the question, but he wouldn’t move the needle of excitement at first.

Allen Bailey, DE, $6 million cap hit, $4.5 million saved

It can really be stunning to see what some players make. The 31-year-old Bailey came to Atlanta after eight seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs. He had 19.5 sacks with the Chiefs and he ended last season with one sack. Nobody thought he was a pass rusher, but that was still probably underwhelming.

Odds of departure: It’s not odd at all, Bailey will be released.
Would he help the Chargers: Nah.

Ty Sambrailo, OT, $5.75 million cap hit, $3.75 million saved

A good running back makes $5.5 million per year in many cases (Mark Ingram, for example.) However, that cap hit is also reserved for backup swing tackles. That’s how uneven the value is for backs compared to other positions and we have to reset our expectations.

Sambrailo was a second round pick of the Broncos in 2015, never caught on as a starter, went to Atlanta three years ago, and still hasn’t. He’s bad, so maybe it’s unfair to refer to him as a “swing tackle” of note. Maybe more of a tight end ...

Odds of departure: Given their cap restraints, Sambrailo may have to be somebody else’s overpaid problem.
Would he help the Chargers: I mean, players sometimes do get better late in their careers. At a low cost, he might be okay, but you’d have to be able to release him at final cuts with nothing left on the books.

James Carpenter, G, $5.2 million cap hit, $1.5 million saved if traded

Jamon Brown, G, $6.5 million cap hit, $2.9 million saved if traded

The Falcons have two starting guards that are bad and no money saved if they simply release Carpenter or Brown. However, they’d save a tiny bit if they managed to find a trade partner for either. A team acquiring Brown would pay him about $4.5 million, while Carpenter comes in at $3.75 million. Honestly, there might be teams out there willing to eat that for offensive line help, which is so rare to find. Brown isn’t that old and Carpenter isn’t...well, Brown isn’t that old.

I can’t imagine Atlanta landing anything of value, but the idea is that they’ve got Lindstrom ready to start at one of the guard positions while fellow 2019 first rounder Kaleb McGary starts to build his career at right tackle.

Odds of departure: There’s a chance both get cut, even if the Falcons don’t find a trade partner. They could also find trade partners because $3-5 million isn’t insane for an experienced guard. My guess is that Carpenter is a tiny bit easier to trade because he’s been considered good before. Brown is the priority to trade, however, as Carpenter isn’t too old to be starting for them at left guard again.
Would either help the Chargers: LA does need guards, but they won’t be making any trades. Should Carpenter be cut, what if he was right back to starting next to old Seattle teammate Russell Okung? What if?! (It would not be good.)

Desmond Trufant, CB, $15.1 million cap hit, $5 million saved

Other than Mack, Trufant is the only “marquee” player that Atlanta could save considerable money on. Will they part ways with either? Trufant missed seven games in 2016 and seven again in 2019. He also had four interceptions last season, a career-high, but advanced metrics appear to be pretty low on his overall performance.

Odds of departure: Medium. The only plausible reason to cut Trufant is that you’ve got confidence in Kendall Sheffield or Damontae Kazee to start and be adequate at cornerback. They’d have $10 million in dead money and they wouldn’t be using the money saved on a free agent who is comparable. A comparable free agent would cost $10 million. Even attempting to draft his replacement ... that’s not a guy who you want to rely on for his rookie season.
He’s overpaid, sure, but the $5 million you’re saving is maybe not good enough to make up the difference unless you find a trade partner and are getting something in return.
Would he help the Chargers: Yes! Trufant changing locations and going to play for Gus Bradley (Bradley was the Seahawks defensive coordinator before Dan Quinn was the Seahawks defensive coordinator) might spark some life in him and LA needs a quality player next to Casey Hayward. They even just need to find a potential future after Hayward. That’s not Trufant but the point is that new players are needed at that position.

Keanu Neal, S, $6.4 million cap hit, $6.4 million saved if released or traded

This really sucks. Neal is one of my favorite defensive players in the league but he’s missed 28(!) games over the last two seasons. He was a Pro Bowl player in 2017, recording 116 tackles, an interception, three forced fumbles, and four tackles for a loss. He’s similar to Kam Chancellor in some ways. He turns 25 in July.

A team would be lucky to have a healthy Neal, just as a team would be lucky to have a healthy Bob Sanders. Few remember the two games that Sanders played for the Chargers.

Odds of departure: The Falcons really want to see if Neal can return and play at his same level after picking up his fifth-year option last year. But by not cutting him, they risk not being able to use that $6.4 million on a player with a better guarantee of being healthy. That player could be Dante Fowler, Jr. That player could be Austin Hooper. After they make some other cuts maybe Neal isn’t pushing them against the cap but given how difficult it has been for him to see the field, we can’t say it’s impossible that he gets cut. I don’t think it happens but if it does, Neal will be one of the more popular signings of free agency. And you’d still have to proceed with caution.
Would he help the Chargers: Neal and Derwin James? Sure. Sign me the fuck up.

Luke Stocker, TE, $3.3 million cap hit, $2.6 million saved

Odds of departure: Let’s do it.
Would he help the Chargers: No offense, but no offense.

Not Bold Moves: Release Stocker, Bailey, Sambrailo

Cap Room: $16.1 million

Some will say it’s bold but not really: Release Freeman

Cap Room: $19.6 million

Next: Release Allen

Cap Room: $22.7 million

Now: Trade Jamon Brown

Cap Room: $25.6 million

Keep him: Re-sign Austin Hooper to four-year, $36 million deal

This is more than what Darren Waller and Tyler Higbee got recently. Hooper is a two-time Pro Bowl tight end now but he’s not lighting it up quite like Travis Kelce. He could maybe get more but I think this is quite fair and his first year cap hit should come in around $7.5 million or so. Let’s say $7.6 for round numbers on the cap room.

Cap Room: $18 million

The concerns Atlanta would still have:

Remaining outgoing free agents include Vic Beasley, Adrian Clayborn, Younghoe Koo, De’Vondre Campbell, Jack Crawford, Kenjon Barner, Justin Hardy, Kemal Ishmael, Tyeler Davison, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Ryan Allen, Ra’Shede Hageman, and more.

Not all of these players are good but some of them are okay and all of them would need to be replaced. Replacing players costs money and I don’t see Atlanta having a large amount of rookie deal resources ready to go in their place. The Falcons need to sign rookies and have money for the practice squad and injured reserve...$18 million is not going to cut it.

Mack could move some money. Julio Jones or Matt Ryan, maybe they could move some money. But that only creates problems for Atlanta down the line and as I already say, they also have problems down the line. I wonder if this then creates a desperate situation, including either:

Cutting/Trading Keanu Neal.

Cutting/Trading Desmond Trufant.

The one that gives them more money is Neal, but he’s younger and more exciting. Trufant is more reliable, but he saves you less and he could even be on the down side of his up-and-down career. I think that both of these players might be on the trade block right now though.

If I were Tom Telesco, I’d be on the phone for both Trufant and Neal. If Tom Telesco were Tom Telesco, he probably would tell his assistant to hold his phone calls for the day. Then his assistant would say, “We haven’t had a phone in this office for seven years!” referring to the moment he was hired and told the Chargers front office to cut any phone lines that might lead to a trade.

I would want to trade for Neal and if I had $10 million to spare, seeing Trufant’s cap hits that average about $11 million over three seasons, I’d be interested in that too. They could also cut or trade Mack, which would not help LA probably, but I think Matt Ryan’s protection is too important.

Chargers Interest:

Neal or Trufant could be great additions. The rest are more like camp bodies.