The Falcons have several big decisions to make this offseason.
That includes re-signing their own free agents despite not having tons of salary cap space. They'll also need to import several players during another period of significant roster turnover.
We start this Friday afternoon Bair Mail by pondering priorities with the Falcons nearing unrestricted free agency. Which ones do they re-sign. I've got my thoughts on that, which you can read below.
We address several other topics in this mailbag, as we focus less and less on what happened and more on what comes next. Let's get right to your questions:
J.C. Daniel from Savannah, Ga.
I thought picking up Cordarrelle had incredible upside, but now you are the GM. Do you resign him? With his age, does a second and third year with 84 make us better than 7-10? Sometimes, feel good stories last only one year, and we got less production in the run game down the stretch. Is signing 54 the No. 1 free agent priority? We are worse off without 54 than 84.
Bair: We talk a ton about a new pact for Cordarrelle Patterson and, to J.C.'s point, not enough about getting a Foye Oluokun deal done.
If I'm prioritizing Falcons free agents, re-signing Oluokun's at the top. It's also possible he could have real value on the open market. Getting his deal done before free agency starts may be the way to go. Oluokun won't be cheap, nor should he be. But finding a pact could help both player and team for years to come. Off the top of my head, four years for $32 million, with $16 million guaranteed, with some of it (a roster bonus to start the third league year) on the back end to push the cap hit to a time when the Falcons have more space? Would that get it done? I don't know. Just a thought.
I think the Falcons could and should bring both guys back but, if I had to choose – as I do in this exercise -- I'd go with Oluokun.
David Hicks from Marshalltown, Iowa
As you indicated previously, Julio and Matt's contracts are likely the least team-friendly as it stands. What contracts are the most team-friendly looking into 2022 and beyond? Where are we getting the most "value" with current player contracts? Thanks again for these great Q and A's!
Bair: Anyone on a rookie deal should be considered team friendly, and that includes No. 4 overall pick Kyle Pitts. The Falcons got the most value from Foye Oluokun and Russell Gage, who produced well at great value. That's also why those guys are up for and deserve big raises.
Anyone working on a one-year deal is team friendly, because there's no future commitment. Teams love that. The problem with veterans on prove-it deals and young players on rookie contracts is that, if they do well enough, they deserve extensions. That's where the tough decisions come into play. That's where contract structure matters. The Falcons didn't do a good job with their last round of big extensions, which put them in trouble with the cap when combined with some mid-round draft misses.
Kerry Miller from Centerville, Ga.
Is there anything from stopping Atlanta for giving Ryan a new contract for next year that would lower his cap hit if he was agreeable to it Say they just drop a new contract for 2 years at $20 mil a year and add some incentives. It would free up cap space if this could be done. Is there rules against doing that in the NFL?
Bair: Nope. They could restructure again. But I wouldn't do that. The other option is to extend him, but then we're adding years on top of it and that's not ideal, either. Playing out the contract as is, as difficult as that might be for the team to swallow, might be the right move at this point. That's my two cents on the matter. If you're going to work out of an adverse cap situation, some times you have to make hard choices for long-term benefits.
Dylan Malone asked about Matt taking less. I wouldn't do that in my line of work. It'd be tough to ask that of someone else.
Bill Whitten from Killen, Ga.
Scott, I don't understand your thinking. What's the most valuable position on the field? Of course it's the quarterback, an old quarterback who can't scramble. And yet your picks at #8 is for a defensive player. Why not the best offensive lineman to give Matt time to throw the ball?
Bair: Always appreciate the discourse, Bill. I think the defensive side needs some significant help, especially off the edge. But it's a deeper draft at that position, and the Falcons could well take an offense tackle at No. 8 to protect Matt Ryan and the next quarterback. That would be a good use of the pick. I have every confidence that the Falcons will take the best player over honing on one position. That could well be a tackle, or an edge rusher or another position.
There are excellent tackles project to go high in this NFL Draft, including Alabama's Evan Neal, N.C. State's Iken Ekwonu and Mississippi State's Charles Cross. The Falcons may jump at the chance to get one of them.
Charlie C. from Boulder, Colo.
Scott, don't you think that Dave Ragone had a hand in bringing Cordarrelle Patterson to Atlanta from Chicago last off-season, so with our need for a wide receiver, and not sure if we can affordably sign him, but if we can, might Allen Robinson be a free agent target for Fontenot this off-season?
Bair: I think that one may be tough, Charlie. Spotrac market value estimates can be high, but they've suggested Allen Robinson is worth $64 million over four years. Even if the average isn't that high, even marginally less is still a tough ask for a team working out of cap troubles.
I would expect another round of mostly one-year deals, with the Falcons staying out of the wacky, way-too-expensive first wave of free agency that generally gets more teams in trouble than anything. The Falcons need receivers, but their priority should be re-signing Russell Gage, cementing what happens next with Calvin Ridley and adding some veteran and young depth over signing a big fish in free agency.
Call for questions
We've got another Bair Mail coming your way on Monday, so let's make sure the mailbag is full of questions for that installment. Submit your queries right here.