After another disappointing season in 2020, what is the salary cap situation for the Atlanta Falcons entering the 2021 NFL season? Let’s take a look at the Falcons’ salary cap situation, as well as which players they could release, restructure, or extend to create additional salary cap space in 2021.
The Falcons project to be around $16 million over the salary cap in 2021
As of March 5, the 2021 NFL salary cap projects to be around $185 million. The Falcons will carry over $1.8 million in cap space to the 2021 season. Therefore, the Falcons’ current salary cap projects to be $186.8 million.
As it stands, the Falcons have around $191.1 million in commitments to their top 51 highest-paid players, with an additional $11.5 million in dead money. As such, the Falcons are currently around $15.9 million over the salary cap heading into 2021.
To view the most up-to-date numbers for the Atlanta Falcons’ salary cap space, check out our team by team 2021 salary cap space article, which is updated daily.
Atlanta has limited options for releasing players
The Atlanta Falcons are in a tricky position to open up salary cap space in 2021. The majority of players they could release for salary cap relief would also leave a large amount of dead money. These players include key contributors such as Jake Matthews, Grady Jarrett, and Dante Fowler Jr.
Releasing James Carpenter could be an option for the Falcons
No player on the Falcons’ roster can clear as much salary cap space in 2021 when released relative to their dead money as Carpenter. Carpenter is due to count $6.4 million against the Falcons’ cap space in 2021. Releasing him could save $4.0 million while leaving $2.4 million in dead money. The issue for the Falcons is that he performed reasonably well in 2020.
Per Sports Info Solutions, Carpenter allowed just 2 sacks last season. The 40 blown blocks in the last two seasons could be a concern, but relative to other offensive linemen, Carpenter is a high-quality option at guard.
Could Isaiah Oliver be on his way out of Atlanta?
Former second-round selection Isaiah Oliver is entering the final year of his rookie deal. He will count $2.5 million against the salary cap. The Falcons could save $2.2 million if they decide to release him. In 2020, Oliver allowed a 70 percent completion rate and 7 touchdowns on 90 targets.
Additionally, he also missed more than 10 percent of his attempted tackles in the past two seasons. It would not be a surprise to see Oliver on his way out of Atlanta this offseason.
The Falcons have players they can extend or restructure to create cap space in 2021
To save significant cap space, the Falcons will likely need to restructure some of their big-money deals. Wide receivers Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage, along with linebacker Foyesade Oluokun, are all extension candidates. Yet, the Falcons could save just $3 million combined by restructuring all of their deals.
The Matt Ryan conundrum rolls on for the Falcons
Ryan’s salary cap hit for the Falcons will balloon to $40.9 million in 2021. The issue for the Falcons? Ryan is set to count $41.7 million and $36.6 million in 2022 and 2023, respectively. Therefore, restructuring his contract in 2021 would make for a bigger headache further down the line.
The Falcons could realistically save $14.6 million in 2021 if they do a conventional restructure. They could save more if they add void years to the deal. The Falcons’ issue is that releasing Ryan next offseason will already leave $26.5 million in dead money. If they push a further $14 million into the remainder of the deal, that number jumps to over $40 million.
Therefore, even if they draft a QB in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Falcons would likely still have Ryan on their roster through the 2022 NFL season.
Julio Jones’ contract is also presenting a headache for the Atlanta Falcons
Julio Jones enters the 2021 season with a salary cap number of $23.1 million for the Falcons. All of his salary is fully guaranteed this season. However, the Falcons could convert around $14 million to a signing bonus and push $9.5 million into the next two seasons.
With Jones expecting to count $19.3 million against the cap in 2022 and 2023, that is actually a relatively feasible idea. Adding void years to the deal could further reduce his salary cap number for the Falcons in 2021.
The issue is that Jones is coming off a season where he struggled with injury. If he struggles in 2021, it would cost the Falcons $15.5 million in dead money to release Jones in 2022 — that would jump to around $25 million if they do a conventional restructure.
Grady Jarrett, Jake Matthews, Dante Fowler Jr., and Deion Jones are all restructure candidates
Jarrett ($20.8 million cap hit for the Falcons in 2021), Matthews ($20.2 million), Fowler ($18.5 million), and Jones ($12.6 million) combine for a total salary cap number of around $72.5 million in 2021. Across the four of them, the Falcons could save around $26 million through restructures. However, this would likely mean the Falcons are committed to keeping all four through at least the 2022 season.
Restructures for Matthews and Jones make the most sense in terms of long-term planning. Consequently, Jarrett and Fowler both expect to hit free agency in 2023. Therefore, the Falcons may be willing to absorb the short-term salary cap pain in 2022.
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