The story of the offseason for the Atlanta Falcons has been about cap space; who to let go and who to sign.
While a vast majority of Atlanta Falcons fans want the team to resign tight end, Austin Hooper, the $6.11 million (via Spotrac) simply isn’t enough. That amount may not even be enough to sign all rookies drafted in this upcoming draft.
Keanu Neal has dealt with back to back season-ending injuries very early into both seasons. Neal tore his ACL Week 1 of 2018 and followed up with an Achilles tear in Week 3 of 2019. When healthy, Neal is a force on defense and can truly elevate the play of the Atlanta Falcons defense. However, his health is a major question mark going forward.
I don’t feel the Atlanta Falcons need to part ways with Neal just yet, his upside is well worth the risk as the defense has suffered from his absence in both 2018 and 2019.
On the other hand, Devonta Freeman has simply run stale in Atlanta. After the Atlanta Falcons gave Freeman a contract extension in 2016, Freeman has seen a drop in his performance and missed basically an entire season in 2018 due to an injury in Week 2.
Dropping Freeman seems like both the smart and safer move to make. There’s only so much you can blame on the offensive line and the team can really use the additional $3 million that he would free up. The Atlanta Falcons also have options going forward without Freeman.
Neal would be tough to cut though given his fifth year option is guaranteed with his injury. The only way the Falcons could cut him and save money is if he were healthy by the start of the new league year, which he won’t be.
Signing Hooper to a contract worth $11 million a year (this may be on the high end of reality) would leave about $5.07 million left for the remainder of free agency and rookie signings. With potentially seven rookies taken in the draft, $5.07 million will be tough to stretch.
It is likely that the undrafted rookies will fill out the roster below the top 51 paid players. Maybe even late-round draft picks will fall in this category and help alleviate space.
To help with this blowback, the Atlanta Falcons will need to release a few other players as well.
These additional guys will free up $12.08m on their own adding on to the initial $6.11 million before cuts. Theoretically, the Atlanta Falcons don’t need to release either Freeman or Neal, however letting go of one as well as the other four will allow for the team to sign Hooper, all rookies, and maybe a mid-tier free agent on the defensive side of the ball.
If the Atlanta Falcons truly wanted to make waves in the free agency market, parting ways with all five players will leave the team with $22.88 million in cap space. These players can be addressed via both the draft and mid-level free agent guys. Signing Hooper to a contract worth $11 million a year will leave the team with roughly $11 million to spare.
**All numbers are based on Spotracs own numbers and team management tools.**