PFF names Falcons’ best and worst contracts entering 2021

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There’s no greater lesson on the dangers of reckless salary cap management in the NFL than seeing Julio Jones make his debut in a Titans uniform. Jones’ decade of greatness in Atlanta came to an end this offseason when the cash-strapped Falcons sent him to Tennessee in exchange for draft picks and $15 million of cap relief.

Since the trade, Atlanta has been able to sign most of its 2021 draft class, which couldn’t have happened otherwise. Former Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff ultimately lost his job in 2020 due to short-term thinking and a lack of wins over his final three seasons. Even after the Jones trade, Atlanta has some big contracts it will be paying off for years to come.

Pro Football Focus released a feature examining each team’s best and worst contracts entering the season. For the Falcons, left tackle Jake Matthews was ranked the best. Here’s what PFF’s Brad Spielberger had to say about the veteran lineman.

“If you’re looking for another reason why the Falcons recently moved on from wide receiver Julio Jones, it’s because the Falcons arguably have the fewest veteran contracts currently providing value to a franchise.

Interior defender Grady Jarrett and Jake Matthews are very good players at premium positions with some surplus value compared to their contracts, especially with the recent explosion of the left tackle market, but the list pretty much ends there.

Matthews has played 4,357 snaps over the last four seasons, the most of any tackle in the NFL. His 84.1 grade is eighth-best among all left tackles since 2017. You can’t ask for much more from your blindside protector, and the former No. 6 overall pick of the 2014 draft still has three years remaining on his contract, with a total cash flow of $39.5 million”

As for the worst contract on the team, PFF highlights linebacker Dante Fowler’s recently revised deal that he signed just a year ago.

“Fowler agreed to revise his contract this offseason after signing for three years, $45 million during the 2020 offseason, turning the 2022 year into a void year and reducing his 2021 base salary by $7 million down to $6 million. His situation could have potentially served as a cautionary tale for the Rams with respect to edge defender Leonard Floyd, but Fowler’s success alongside DI Aaron Donald in Los Angeles was unsurprisingly not replicated on a poor defensive line in Atlanta.”

It’s low-hanging fruit to pile on Fowler at this point. The team had unrealistic expectations of the impact he would have on a deeply flawed defense. Still, the former No. 3 overall pick was unimpressive as he dealt with injuries for most of the year. Playing in a more aggressive 3-4 scheme under defensive coordinator Dean Pees could help Fowler be a more productive member of the team in 2021.

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