INDIANAPOLIS -- Terry Fontenot was frank about the Falcons salary cap situation as he took to the podium for his 15-minute availability at the 2022 NFL Combine. Essentially? Don't expect the Falcons to make headlines on the first day of free agency because of the constraints they still feel like the cap has around the organization.
"Some teams feel like they are one player away and they're going to make a big splash in free agency and spend a lot of money. We're not at that point," Fontenot said. "We have to be patient. We have to be selective and we have to be cost effective. Where we are with our team we have to figure out ways - the right ways - to create cap space. We have to make sure we're patient and find value."
This strategy isn't unlike their previous offseason strategy. The Falcons may be $7.3 million over the salary cap in 2022 (per OverTheCap.com) compared to the $29 million they were over last year, but that doesn't mean the organization is in the position to grab expensive free agents off the market when the league year begins in two weeks. Fontenot blatantly said they are not likely to because they can't. Not yet, at least.
"We have to stay disciplined with that because we're not trying to sign one player," Fontenot explained. "We're trying to build a team. We have to make sure that we assess the value and stick to our parameters with every player."
The Falcons have to be disciplined in free agency again in 2022 as they were in 2021. And would you like to know the example they are actively trying to emulate as a staff in order to do so? None other than that of their own, Cordarrelle Patterson. For Fontenot, his scouts and Arthur Smith's coaching staff, they are wanting - no, needing - to follow the blueprint set by Patterson last offseason and then in the production of the season that followed.
Patterson wasn't a first wave free agency signing last year because the Falcons weren't looking to make waves in free agency at that time. They didn't have the cash to do so. It was a month into free agency before the Falcons signed Patterson.
Per Fontenot, Patterson wasn't getting the offers he wanted on the free agency market. Meanwhile, the Falcons had a contingency of coaches on staff (namely those who came from Chicago, offensive coordinator Dave Ragone as an example) who wanted to continue working with Patterson. Even though no one could have predicted what Patterson would become for the Falcons in 2021, the Falcons coaching staff had a vision in place. It was one they saw fit to execute when Patterson slipped through the cracks of free agency.
For a lot of free agency signings, it's the marriage of the right time coupled with the right place that makes a signing work best. But the Falcons believe the CP Effect is one that can be replicated.
"It says a lot about him and the success he had," Fontenot said of Patterson. "... It says a lot about our coaching staff, too, that they were able to find what he does well. Then, he had the most productive season of his career as an offensive player."
The Falcons want free agents on the open market to look at the example Patterson set. It's one that Fontenot believes depicts two things about the organization:
1) "It shows that we were able to find value," and 2) "It really shows the league that this is an attractive place to be."
The latter was a talking point Fontenot sprinkled in ever so slightly as he discussed Patterson and the Falcons' approach to free agency even surrounding by the glitz and glamor of the NFL Combine. Looking back, Fontenot subtly put forth a sales pitch. He was pitching his organization as a place for mid-level veteran free agents to find rejuvination in their twilight years in the league.
"You look at our coaching staff and you look at what they are able to do with players. You look at Atlanta and living in Atlanta whether you're young and single, whether you're married or have a big family. It's a good place to live," Fontenot said.
And you know who exemplifies this? Patterson. Expects the Falcons to try to find veteran free agents they can reinvent in 2022 as they did with Patterson in 2021. They're hoping lightening can strike twice with a value-find in free agency.
"I think CP is an example of what we have to do," Fontenot said, "especially with the constraints we have here this year."