Prior to trading Julio Jones, the Falcons had only $358,694 of cap space, according to NFLPA data. Terry Fontenot was clearly doing everything in his power to sign the 2021 draft class without adjusting any more contracts, including restructures and extensions. He inherited a salary cap mess, which largely necessitated the trade being after June 1st because it allowed $15.5 million of the receiver’s $23.3 million dead-money charge to be deferred until 2022 rather than absorbed entirely this year.
A pre-June 1st trade would have left the Falcons with a $23.25 million dead cap. This is because the NFL allows teams to spread their dead cap hit over two seasons (the current and next one) instead of absorbing it all at once. This leaves just $7.75 million in dead money on the Falcons’ salary cap in 2021, but the issue remains that Atlanta has to account for $15.5 million in dead money in 2022.
SportsTalkATL’s Jake Gordon has already constructed a free agent big board of those who can still help this team and are available. He mentions Justin Houston as his top guy, “Even at 32, the Statesboro native and All-Pro put up eight sacks for the Colts in 2020. On top of being a decent scheme fit and veteran with high character, he just makes way too much sense for a Falcons defense that could badly use eight sacks from a single edge rusher.” The list goes on with Malik Hooker, Brian Poole, Melvin Ingram, Jurrell Casey, Geno Atkins, etc.
Any of the aforementioned free agents would immediately make the Falcons a better football team, but Terry Fontenot may elect to roll over the cap savings rendered from the Julio Jones trade. A $15.5 million dead cap hit in 2022 is the only evidence I need to make my point. The NFL and the NFLPA have already agreed to a salary cap ceiling of $208.2 million for the 2022 season. If it gets there, that would be a 14 percent increase over the 2021 cap of $182.5 million.
Jones’s dead cap hit is joined by Matt Ryan‘s $48.662 million cap hit, which accounts for 23.37% of the team’s salary cap. According to Spotrac, the Falcons are estimated to have $15.6 million in cap space for 2022, with 48 active players under contract. To be more flexible in competing for future years, it would behoove Fontenot to roll over the savings from this blockbuster trade. This would allow more breathing room when negotiating deals for Calvin Ridley and Grady Jarrett while giving Fontenot a chance to make more free-agent acquisitions without restructuring every significant contract to do so.