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Notes on a (hypothetical) A.J. Terrell extension

A.J. Terrell is playing on his fifth-year option in 2024. Would the Falcons be ready -- and willing -- to keep him in Atlanta longer? 

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions regarding players and/or potential future players in the article below are those of the editorial staff and are not of the Atlanta Falcons' football personnel unless noted in a direct quote.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- One of the more common moves made around the league involves a contract extension while a player is currently under their fifth-year option. A recent Falcons' example? Chris Lindstrom.

After being drafted by the Falcons with the No. 14 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, the Falcons picked up Lindstrom's fifth-year option afforded to first-round draft picks. That happened in 2022. By March 2023, the Falcons were solidifying a significant extension with Lindstrom, making him the highest paid guard in the league at the time. Atlanta will keep Lindstrom on the roster through the 2028 season under this extension.

Now in 2024, the Falcons have the opportunity to do something similar with cornerback A.J. Terrell. The 2024 season will see Terrell play under his fifth-year option, which was extended to him back at the end of April 2023.

Per league rules, players do not have to wait until after their fifth year to sign an extension with the team they're currently on. An extension can be dealt before their fourth or fifth season. For Terrell, that means an extension could come as early as this offseason.

For reference, the Falcons currently have $6.3 million in cap space, according to on March 27. They are projected to need about $12.2 million to sign the incoming draft class, per OTC’s rookie pool. Under his fifth-year option, Terrell is set to make $12.34 million in 2024, which is his guaranteed salary under the option.

So, what does all of this mean? Well, it means the Falcons will likely have to do some cap maneuvering at some point. A candidate to help could be Terrell, who – again – can be extended at any time, essentially allowing the Falcons to have more years to move money around for him.

If there's anyone who likely deserves an extension to stay in Atlanta longterm, it's Terrell. The Atlanta native has been extremely consistent at a position fraught with inconsistencies because of the sheer nature of it. Terrell has been one of the best young corners in the league since joining in 2020, when the Falcons used a No. 16 overall pick on him. Since then, Terrell has been an increasingly important figure in the Falcons secondary. His coverage numbers and overall consistency in play speak for themselves. Terrell is the exact archetype of what the Falcons covet longterm. The issue, though? He'll probably be expensive.

Atlanta Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell #24 prior to the Week 18 Game against the New Orleans Saints at Caesars Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana on Sunday, January 7, 2024. (Photo by Shanna Lockwood/Atlanta Falcons)

Cornerback is a premium position, and it's likely the last thing you want to do is let someone like Terrell hit the open free agency market. And truth be told? This coaching staff and front office appreciate what they have in Terrell. For as much turnover as the Falcons have seen in the secondary, particularly opposite Terrell, it has always been just that: opposite Terrell, never Terrell himself.

Terrell is a foundational piece of this Falcons defense. General manager Terry Fontenot sees that foundation.

"I remember the first day that (I) got here several years ago, (Terrell) was one of the first people I saw in the building," Fontenot said. "He was constantly in the building, and he's still like that."

Fontenot called Terrell a worker and consummate professional at one of the more difficult positions in the league.

"Everyone gets to do things going forward, and they know where they're going," Fontenot said. "(Corners are) moving backwards, and you don't know where they're going and yet you still have to have the mindset that he has. The way that he works, he's just constantly growing, and that's important."

In essence?

"I love everything about A.J.," Fontenot said.

Asked directly at the NFL's Annual League Meeting this week if a possible extension could be put in place for Terrell, Fontenot said he wanted to keep those conversations among the Falcons, Terrell and his agent, David Mulugheta of Athletes First, private.

He reiterated again, though, that he "loves A.J. and everything he's about."

Atlanta is home for Terrell. After home games at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, he has been known to make the short drive to his father's house for a home-cooked meal with his family, a majority of whom still live in the area. Like Grady Jarrett, the Falcons have marketed Terrell as a homegrown guy, having grown up just down the road from the stadium he now plays in on Sundays. There's a personal factor at play with this type of decision.

However, everyone knows: Money talks.

So, are the Falcons and Terrell talking? It wouldn't be a bad idea if so.

There are examples of how the cornerback market has been set in recent years. According to Front Office Sports, Green Bay's Jaire Alexander is the highest paid corner in the league, with Alexander and the Browns' Denzel Ward as the only corners making more than $20 million in average compensation annually. Marshon Lattimore (Saints), Marlon Humphrey (Ravens), Trevon Diggs (Dallas), L'Jarius Sneed (Titans) and Jaylon Johnson (Bears) all make in the $19 million range. While Jalen Ramsey, who was recently traded to the Dolphins in 2023, is on a three-year, $55 million deal with an average of $18.3 million annually.

Kendall Fuller, who was considered by many one of the best available cornerbacks on the open market this free agency, ultimately signed a two-year deal with the Dolphins valued at $15 million.

Is Terrell comparable to any of the names listed above? Some may think he's in the neighborhood, like Good Morning Football in September, Fox Sports in November and Pro Football Network in December.

The real question is: Do the Falcons think so? And if so, what will they do to keep Terrell around?

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