Lee Smith is one of the all-time favorite athletes I've ever covered in 15 years writing about the NFL. He's also one of the best human beings I've come across in this business.
I just wanted to start this Bair Mail by saying congratulations on 11 great seasons to one of the real ones. I also encourage you to read about what Lee's doing next and watch the video he made about breaking the cycle. Super powerful stuff.
Now on to offseason matters at hand. We have tons to discuss in this Wednesday mailbag, including one of my favorite prospects from last year's draft class. Let's get right to it and dive into your questions:
Charlie C. from Boulder, Colo.
Scott, isn't the hope and trajectory for Richie grant about the same as it was for second year safety jaylinn Hawkins last season ? So, don't you think that Richie grant will get more playing time and snaps at safety as backup , in the similar manner in which Hawkins was used last year?
Bair: I'm sure the Falcons are hoping for even more, for Richie Grant to make a quantum leap in Year 2 and take hold of an every-down spot at starting safety. He can play nickel back as well, so we aren't even sure right now where he'll focus his efforts. That might depend on what the Falcons do at cornerback.
I would feel comfortable earmarking Hawkins for a starting spot, and Grants needing to prove a bit more before giving him any particular role. I have confidence that Grant will grow after his rookie year and have a greater scheme mastery than his first season. He's a hard worker with his priorities straight, so he'll get after it this offseason and come back ready to go. Take that to the bank.
Bryan Urrutia from Visalia, Calif.
Hi Scott, Congrats on a great first season reporting for us; onto the off-season! With Calvin Ridley most likely getting shopped this off-season, as well as Head Coach Arthur Smith's continued discretion on the matter (kudos, coach), an NFL analyst has already hinted at the possibility of a "robust market" — how robust is this market in your estimation and does a first round asking price for our departing Ridley make sense financially? Respectfully, Bryan
Bair: So, I just had to answer this question, Bryan. Wanna know why? I was born in Visalia! I still have tons of family there, and my dad lives off Walnut Ave.! How small a world is this?!?
Now on to your question on Calvin Ridley. I would pump the brakes bit on the receiver most likely getting shopped in the offseason. That's all speculation at this point, without any hard reporting to suggest that. Is it possible he's moved? Sure. Anything's possible.
With that out of the way, let’s engage this hypothetical. Could the Falcons get a first-round pick for Ridley? I wouldn't think so. That'd be steep for a one-year rental unless Ridley re-did his deal. That's not optimum because he's not coming off a crazy stats year. I think a second-round pick could be fair compensation considering his age and talent level. Would the Falcons take such a deal? I don't know. It will be interesting to see what happens with Ridley this offseason. We know that for sure.
Gunther Gattington from Monroe, Ga.
Hey Scott! I've thought about this one glooming problem the Falcons have and its the cap space. at the end of the day re-structuring contracts and what not is only sweeping the problem under the rug, realistically what's the most efficient way to help (at least) free up some cap space.
Bair: Good question, Gunther. The answer is not just cutting folks left and right, though there will be some cap casualties to create space. The most efficient way, however, would be to extend Grady Jarrett's contract. Do the Falcons want to do that? Can they find a way to create a fair deal that increases space without pushing a massive cap number into the future? That's the tough part, but it would be an efficient way to create more breathing room.
Take a look at some of our favorite images of Matt Ryan and the entire Atlanta Falcons squad from the 2021-22 season.
Kenneth Yates from Wynne, Ark.
Hey, I read these every day to figure out what other fans are wanting, and your point of view. With the Falcons moving on from Matt Ryan, do you think they should draft a QB, or should they leave the team in Josh Rosen's Hands.
Bair: Appreciate you checking out Bair Mail each time, Kenneth. There's plenty to discuss this offseason. A lot of it, as you bring up, will revolve around the quarterback. I believe the next Falcons franchise quarterback is still playing college football somewhere. Though they could also trade for a veteran that's more than a stopgap. I'm not so sure, they're earmarking Josh Rosen as the quarterback of the future. Never say never, but I don't think Rosen's just waiting in the wings. He’s a free agent again, and it's far, far from a lock he returns at all, especially with, to answer Matthew Merritt's question, me seeing Feleipe Franks as a third quarterback who can do some different things in the offense and special teams.
Jona Dittrich from Hidlesheim, Germany
Greetings from Germany. Is Derek Stingley worth taking at 8? I personally still think that he can be the best corner in the Draft if he gets back to form and I really think that giving AJ Terrell some help could push this defense to the next level.
Bair: I'm trying to reserve NFL Draft opinions until after the Senior Bowl, but this Derek Stingley topic is an interesting one. He's an amazing talent with some so-so work recently. But when he's good, he's so good. I would go for a player like that at No. 8, hoping you'd eventually have one of the NFL's best cornerback tandems with him and A.J. Terrell.
Cliff Ross from Atlanta
Bair, I'm thoroughly impressed with the job both Terry and Arthur Smith have done this year. First, fielding a team on a limited budget and Arthur's ability to squeeze all the talent out of this years team to win 7 games.
It's encouraging because once we get more talent and able financial flexibility over the next few years it will be very exciting to be a Falcon fan. My question is in the upcoming draft..it's no secret we need to upgrade the OLine and DLine…which one of the positions would you prefer the team address in the first round and how many picks of the 8 would you invest in that position? Thanks and I'll hang up and listen..oh wait wrong show..lol
Bair: Thanks for being a first-time caller, long-time listener, Cliff! Ha. Hope all is well. I like that you chose between two premium positions there, and I think the Falcons could well end up with either an offensive tackle, edge rusher or cornerback at No. 8 overall. It’ll largely depend on what position has a run on it before the Falcons select. It seems like a lot of edge rushers and tackles could go. All things being equal, I'm going with the pass rusher. And I see it's bold prediction time. Throughout the draft, I'll say the Falcons will add…two edge rushers, one offensive tackle and an interior defensive lineman.
Kevin F from Augusta, Ga.
Since the Falcons were eliminated, they have signed about 20 or more people to reserve or future contracts. Can you explain how that works and how does it affect the cap situation?
Bair: Good question, Kevin. Right now, it doesn't impact the salary cap at all. Offseason rosters balloon to 90, but the salary cap only accounts for the top 51. And…teams only have to be under the cap when those 51 start getting paid during the regular season. So, most of these reserve-future deals will be for the league minimum if those guys make the 53-man roster, so it's not an issue adding a bunch of competition. You will have to account for veteran signings and draft picks, which will either have substantial guaranteed money – to make sure you're right with the cap, but these reserve-future deals aren't a concern regarding the cap.
Call for questions
We've got one more Bair Mail on deck before the conference championship games, so let's fill up the mailbag right here to make it a good one.