'There are still challenges here': Breaking down the Falcons salary cap heading into 2022 offseason

The salary cap increased significantly in 2022, but that doesn't mean the Falcons are out of the salary cap woods yet. 

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Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan #2 leads a huddle before the game against the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia on Sunday, January 9, 2022. (Photo by Kyle Hess/Atlanta Falcons)

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- In December, the NFL informed teams that the salary cap would be increasing by a significant margin from where it was in 2021.

The 2022 salary cap will rise to $208.2 million, an approximate $25.7 million increase from the $182.5 million in 2021. Last year's lowered cap number was a byproduct of the COVID-19 pandemic, with teams playing in front of nearly-empty stadiums throughout the 2020 season. For a team like the Falcons, this was a fairly detrimental hit, especially with a new general manager and head coach coming in to deal with it.

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At the time of Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith's hire, both said they understood the situation they were inheriting regarding the lowered salary cap. It was going to be a challenge, no doubt. But after restructuring a few contracts and trading Julio Jones to Tennessee, the Falcons found enough money to sign their 2021 draft class and a number of mid-level veteran free agents on cap-friendly one-year deals.

With the salary cap rising this offseason, the Falcons are in a better position regarding the cap, but they're not out of the woods yet. There are still challenges ahead, challenges Fontenot said the organization may have to continue to face in years to come. He went on to admit that one of the biggest challenges he, Smith and other decision-makers in the building had to attack last year had to do with the complications of a lowered salary cap.

"This offseason the cap did increase and yet there still are challenges here for the next couple of years," Fontenot said.

The Falcons will have to continue to be creative in the ways they make their offseason decisions. And as it was when they took over a year ago, it seems Fontenot and Smith are keeping everything on the table in regards to how they fill the 2022 team. Every one - and their contract - is fair game.

"We have to look at every contract, every player whether they are under contract or not," Fontenot said. "We have to make the best decision for this team moving forward."

With 31 players under contract, Spotrac projects the Falcons Top 51 cap space to be around $12 million with a dead cap of $15.6 million. For more context, the Falcons will have 23 unrestricted free agents in 2022. Some of the names to remember amongst this group are Foye Oluokun, Russell Gage and Cordarrelle Patterson, who's projected market value has increased to $9.1 million this offseason per Spotrac (or a two-year deal worth $18 million).

And - at the time of this publication - the Falcons will have an extra second round draft pick from the Titans that came from the Jones trade.

There will be many more opportunities to dissect the salary cap further this offseason, particularly around the start of free agency. But with the offseason now officially upon us, just wanted to give you a short primer of the situation the Falcons are looking at going into the coming months. It goes without saying that there are a number of decisions ahead.

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