How can the Falcons create more cap space this offseason?

For the past few offseasons, the Falcons have been forced to part ways with numerous players due to a lack of salary cap space. That won’t be the case in 2023, though, as the front office can finally construct the roster the way head coach Arthur Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot envisioned.

Currently, the Falcons have $56.6 million in projected cap space for this offseason (according to Spotrac). This includes cap rollover and the 19 players signed to reserve/future contracts in early January.

Below we’ve broken down how Atlanta can maximize its cap space this offeason through cuts, trades and extensions. But first, let’s explain the rule of 51.

Rule of 51

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During the regular season, teams operate with a 53-man roster and 16-man practice squad. These players all count against a team’s given cap allotment. However, in the offseason, teams have a bit of leeway when it comes to cap constraints due to the number of players needed to fill out training camp rosters. This is where the rule of 51 comes into play.

For each team, only the 51 highest cap hits for the upcoming season count against the salary cap. The Falcons, who have 58 players right now, have seven players who do not count against the cap. That means, any player Atlanta signs for over $750,000 for the 2023 season, will count against the cap and push down the previous 51st highest player.

Right now (per OverTheCap), Falcons DB Jamal Peters is the 51st player with a cap hit of $750,000. If The Falcons were to bring in a player with a $1,000,000 cap hit, it would push down Peters, who would no longer count against the cap.

Restructures

(Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

Restructures have been a very common practice in recent years and it led to players like Matt Ryan and Julio Jones having unreasonably high cap hits. While restructures free up cap space for the present, they take away future cap flexibility. Here are a few potential restructure candidates and their potential cap savings.

  • Jake Matthews: LT – $11.1 million

  • Grady Jarrett: DT – $10.2 million

  • Total Savings: $21.3 million

These potential savings would be helpful if the team makes a run at a big-name free agent, but since the Falcons have plenty of cap space, it makes more sense simply endure Matthews and Jarrett’s cap hits this season.

Extensions

(AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

Extensions are another way to create space. However, the Falcons’ highest-paid players recently signed extensions, so extending them again isn’t practical here. However, if the team were to go this route, these are the potential savings.

  • LT Jake Matthews: $11.9 million

  • DT Grady Jarrett: $12.2 million

  • RG Chris Lindstrom: $9.6 million

  • QB Marcus Mariota: $8.6 million

  • CB Casey Hayward: $3 million

  • Total Savings: $45 million

The most likely person to see an extension is right guard Chris Lindstrom, who is playing on his fifth-year option. Lindstrom is the heart of Atlanta’s offensive line and if the team doesn’t extend him, he could potentially sign elsewhere next offseason.

Extending Mariota would free up over $8 million, but it seems highly unlikely given Mariota’s performance this season.

Cut/Trades

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

As noted above, Mariota would save the Falcons some cap space if he were to take an extension, but the more likely outcome is that he gets released. When the team signed Mariota to a two-year deal last offseason, it was more like a one-year deal due to the lack of guaranteed money.

Cuts (Pre-June 1)

  • QB Marcus Mariota: $12 million

  • CB Casey Hayward: $5 million

  • Total Savings: $17 million

Cuts (Post June 1)

  • QB Marcus Mariota: $12 million

  • CB Casey Hayward: $5 million

  • HB Cordarrelle Patterson: $4.2 million

  • Total Savings: $21.2 million

Trade (Pre June 1)

  • QB Marcus Mariota: $12 million

  • DT Grady Jarrett: $8.2 million

  • RG Chris Lindstrom: $13 million

  • LT Jake Matthews: $4.3 million

  • CB Casey Hayward: $5 million

  • Total Savings: $42.5 million 

Trade (Post June 1)

  • LT Jake Matthews: $16 million

  • DT Grady Jarrett: $16.5 million

  • RG Chris Lindstrom: $13 million

  • QB Marcus Mariota: $12 million

  • CB Casey Hayward: $5 million

  • Total Savings: $62.5 million

Don’t expect to see many of these guys cut or traded, however, I wouldn’t be shocked to see a guy like Grady Jarrett get moved to a team that can better maximize his talent. This would save Atlanta over $16 million if the team traded him after June 1.

Despite all of these possibilities, releasing Mariota is the only expected move at this point. The team could bring him back on a lesser contract, but it would have to be as a backup to Desmond Ridder.

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Story originally appeared on Falcons Wire