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Bair Mail: On Jake Matthews, Lamar Jackson, tagging Kaleb McGary (or not) and finding Desmond Ridder a backup

We discuss all that and more in this Friday mailbag

This Friday Bair Mail is massive. More than 1,200 words before writing the intro. I, therefore, will refrain from adding much of one.


Let's just get to your questions, which deal with the offensive line and the Falcons quarterback situation.

Here we go:

David Hicks from Marshalltown, Iowa

As we know, the Falcons have considerable amount of cap space to really make some moves. It sort of feels like they could look for more savings with Mariota's situation and others. With Jake Matthew's being the highest paid player on the team (which is kind of surprising), do you believe Atlanta could do something with his contract to free up additional monies? Would they consider moving on from him in the next two years? While he does not hit FA until 2027, he is 31 and perhaps the team is already looking ahead to that?

Bair: I welcome a good Jake Matthews question, David. Thanks for it. The Falcons extended left tackle Jake Matthews when they were cutting or trading other high-priced players because they believe he'll maintain upper-tier play and production for a long time. Their faith has thus far been well placed. He has become an iron man, with an incredible run of consecutive starts while anchoring the Falcons line.

He has the team's highest cap number (right now, but something tells me that won't last) due to the structure of his contract extension. The Falcons didn't have much cap space in 2022, so they created some with his new deal and took advantage of the space they have in 2023. Therefore, a high 2023 cap number. As you'll see here, his cap number drops to a reasonable level for the rest of his deal. His 2024 salary will lock in soon, per OverTheCap, but I don't see much threat of a drop off in play. Heck, that might be a bargain if he improves. As it stands, in terms of left tackles, he comes at a fair price for what he brings both on and off the field.


Chris Anderson-Murphy from Cedar Falls, Iowa

With all this Lamar Jackson to Atlanta talk I'm just curious if you think his unworldly talent is worth the HUGE cap hit he would inevitably cost? And what does that mean for Ridder?

Bair: Before this answer drops, can we take a moment to acknowledge that an Atlanta Falcons mailbag received back-to-back questions from Iowa?!? That's right. Iowa. Is that a low-key Falcons hotbed? I hope it is. Ha. Even if it's not, thanks to David (a regular) and Chris (a new contributor) for writing in. Now on to this question.

The Lamar Jackson conundrum has been asked before but remains relevant due to him not agreeing on a new deal with Baltimore to this point. That has led to a polarizing Falcons topic: Go hard for an elite talent – assuming he's available; I don't think he ultimately will be, but I've been wrong before (just ask my wife) – and spend a ton to get him, or build up the entire team around Desmond Ridder or another quarterback.

Most fans prefer the second option. Despite Jackson being one of my top 3 favorite players to watch, I agree with the majority. I think building up the entire Falcons team, especially the defensive front and explosive offensive elements, is the way to go here. I empathize which those who say to go after Jackson – the guy's a magician -- but he has been hurt a bunch lately and should deservedly cost a massive sum. This is just me here, but I don't think getting Jackson is likely for the reasons mentioned above, and the fact I have trouble believing Baltimore lets him go. Time will tell on all those fronts.


Tarik N from Knoxville, Tenn.

I wanted to posit a few scenarios for the Falcons & Kaleb McGary. If the Falcons were to tag him the price would be $18.8M for the franchise tag or $16.6M for the transition tag.

Option 1: Use the franchise tag ($18.8M) which ultimately leads to a deal that doesn't overpay.

Option 2: Ideally, the Falcons use the non-exclusive tag, a team makes McGary an offer, the Falcons decline to match & receive two 1st-rd picks as compensation. Unfortunately, it's unrealistic to think a team would be willing to give up two 1sts for a Tackle with one positive year of production.

Option 3: McGary makes it to free agency, signs with another team & the Falcons get a 3rd rd comp pick (depending on formula). Realistically, which tag do you think the Falcons use? How do you see things playing out?

Bair: Good question, as always, Tarik. You always come prepared. I appreciate that.

To tag or not to tag? Interesting question.

I think a few things. I personally don't believe you'd see another team pony up two first-rounders for Kaleb McGary at this stage. I also think applying the franchise tag would create an environment where McGary might take a huge raise and bet on himself again with another big year and cash in in 2024, when he'll be even more expensive.

Regarding comp picks, I don't think the formula will work out for the Falcons in 2023. It's about free agents lost vs. free agents gained, comparing the quality from each category. I believe the Falcons will make a solid splash (or splashes) in free agency, enough to negate a higher comp pick in the overall formula from what is lost. My point: I don't think there's a guaranteed return that'd raise an eyebrow and make you feel better about losing a quality tackle who knows the system.

I wouldn't mind the transition tag, which doesn't provide compensation but gives the Falcons a right to match another pact. A team will certainly sign McGary to an offer sheet – though it could include terms the Falcons wouldn't like – but they'd had the right to keep McGary if he hits the open market.

Overall, I think the Falcons could let McGary find his value on the open market and decide if he fits in their plans. Unless, of course, the Falcons don't extend him within the next few weeks, which is the ideal scenario.


Stanley Hardaway from Atlanta, Ga.

If Marcus Mariota leaves, who do you think they would try to replace him with, another veteran like who?

Bair: Thanks for the forward-thinking question, Stanley. I believe it's fair to expect Marcus Mariota's release. It comes with $12 million in cap savings, which could help several positions including quarterback.

If we're looking for a veteran backup to support Desmond Ridder and possibly start if things go awry for the young signal caller, there are a few intriguing options in that category.

Teddy Bridgewater is an interesting possibility, someone with some mobility who has experience as a starter and a locked-in No. 2. He could assist in the quarterback room and is used to being called to action in a moment's notice. Those are all pluses while the Falcons continue to develop Ridder as a primary option.

Taylor Heinicke has similar traits, has starter's experience, is from here – Go Collins Hill High!! – and has gumption teammates seem to like. He'll compete like heck for the starting gig but would seem to fall in line if he didn't get it.

Here's a third suggestion many will think is insane. Here it goes. Don't @ me, bro. Ha. Baker Mayfield. He definitely wants to get another chance to start. And he was the No. 1 pick for a reason. He's mobile, can throw and has had some big moments. How would he handle being No. 2? I have no idea, but I'd consider the idea at the very least.

Call for questions

We're skipping Monday's mailbag, but let's load it up right here for Wednesday when Ashton takes the reins again then and Friday.

Join us as we take a look back at our favorite photos of our rookies from the 2022 Atlanta Falcons season.

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