Predicting the Falcons’ 53-man roster with salary cap ramifications

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Following this Sunday’s preseason matchup, the Atlanta Falcons will have to cut their roster from 80 players down to 53. In the past, all NFL teams played on Thursday of the final preseason week and had until that following Saturday to finalize their rosters.

Here is our projection for the Falcons 53-man roster and salary cap outlook ahead of the preseason finale. We dive in to the players who are locks, on the bubble, and have a long shot of making the roster.

Offense

(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Which players are locks?

In the spirit of competition, you would like to have every position be an open competition. However, this idea isn't practical in the NFL due to a number of variables. Here are the 17 offensive players we deem as locks to make the Falcons 53-man roster.

  • QB | Matt Ryan

  • RB | Mike Davis, Cordarrelle Patterson

  • FB | Keith Smith

  • WR | Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage, Olamide Zaccheaus

  • TE | Kyle Pitts, Hayden Hurst, Lee Smith

  • OT | Jake Matthews, Kaleb McGary

  • OG | Chris Lindstrom, Josh Andrews, Jalen Mayfield

  • C | Matt Hennessey, Drew Dalman

The players listed above are all starters on the Falcons' offense or will see a significant role. With the likelihood the teams keeps 25 players on offense, there are eight more spots that need to be filled.

Players on the bubble

Not all players are locks to make the roster, but there are plenty who are closer to the final roster than others. Here are the players we deem as on the bubble.

  • QB | Josh Rosen, Feleipe Franks

  • HB | Qadree Ollison, Caleb Huntley, D'Onta Foreman

  • WR | Christian Blake, Tajae Sharpe, Frank Darby

  • TE | John Raine, Parker Hesse

  • OT | Jason Spriggs, Willie Beavers

  • OG | Ryan Neuzil, Sam Jones,

With Josh Rosen entering the fold for the Falcons at QB, it's unknown what the team will do. On one hand, Feleipe Franks hasn't shown much outside of his ability to scramble. On the other hand, Josh Rosen is a former top-10 quarterback that is trying to prove he is more of a victim of circumstance rather than just bad. However, while one may make the initial 53-man roster after the Falcons face off against the Browns, they are both susceptible to be dropped soon after in favor of a true backup on the waiver wire. The same could be said for the Falcons' offensive line as well. Many wanted to see the team bring in another offensive lineman instead of quarterback, but the team could be waiting to see which players hit the waiver wire. Additionally, it comes down to Arthur Smith deciding how many receivers, running backs, and tight ends he wants. We have 2021 sixth-round draftee, Frank Darby, missing the cut in favor of four running backs and tight ends. Matt Gono is left off, but considering he is on the PUP list, he can be activated at anytime in the season. However, his activation will result in the Falcons dropping a player.

Long shots

These players face extremely long odds of making the team.

  • WR | Antonio Nunn, Chris Rowland, Juwan Green, Trevor Davis

  • TE | David Wells

  • OT | Kion Smith

  • C | Joe Sculthorpe

Italicized players represent the players not projected to make the final roster.

Defense

Which players are locks?

Like the offense, a majority of the Falcons defensive personnel are locks to make the final 53-man roster. This includes some All-Pro talent and free-agent signings from this offseason. Unlike the offense, the Falcons' defense is a bit more established in regard to who makes or doesn't make the roster. Here are the 22 defensive players we deem as locks.

  • IDL | Grady Jarrett, Marlon Davidson, Tyeler Davison, John Cominsky, Jonathan Bullard, Ta'Quon Graham

  • OLB | Dante Fowler, Ade Ogundeji, Brandon Copeland

  • ILB | Deion Jones, Foye Oluokun, Mykal Walker

  • CB | AJ Terrell, Darren Hall, Fabian Moreau, Isaiah Oliver, Chris Williamson, Avery Williams,

  • S | Erik Harris, Duron Harmon, Richie Grant, Jaylinn Hawkins

After designating 22 players as locks, there are three more more spots needing to be filled.

Players on the bubble

There's really only two positional battles up for consideration ahead of the final preseason game. In the case of Dorian Etheridge and Erroll Thompson, I'm giving the edge to Etheridge, but not by much.

  • OLB | Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, Steven Means, Tuzar Skipper

  • ILB | Dorian Etheridge, Erroll Thompson

Long shots

With a majority of positions already claimed, these players remain camp bodies. For someone like cornerback Kendall Sheffield, his injury proved to be costly based on time of occurrence.

  • IDL | Chris Slayton, Eli Ankou, Zac Dowe

  • OLB | Kobe Jones

  • ILB | Emmanuel Ellerbee

  • CB | Kendall Sheffield, TJ Green, Delrick Abrams Jr,

  • S | JR Pace, Dwayne Johnson Jr

Italicized players represent players not projected to make the final roster

Special Teams

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

There's not much discussion here as the Falcons will likely bring Cameron Nizialek as the team's punter with Younghoe Koo and Josh Harris as kicker and long snapper. The team had to sign Nizialek during training camp after seventh-round draft pick Sterling Hofrichter was placed on the injured reserve list. I am giving the nod to Nizialek simply because he has been featured more this preseason.

Salary Cap Implications

(AP Photo/ John Bazemore)

Now that we've decided the 53-man roster, what will the salary cap look like with all things considered? The Falcons will also have to take into account dead money, players on the practice squad, and players on the injured reserve or physically unable to perform list. Here is the cap makeup of the players we project to make the Falcons final roster. All numbers based upon the NFLPA Salary Report and OverTheCap.

Cap Ceiling: $ 184,280,606

Unit

Cap Hit

Offense

$ 79,168,690

Defense

$ 68,535,107

Special Teams

$ 2,655,000

Dead Money

$ 23,345,203

IR/PUP

$ 7,225,425

Practice Squad

$ 3,168,000

$ 2,649,600

Total

$ 184,097,425

$ 183,579,025

Leftover Cap

$ 183,181

$ 701,581

The 2021 salary cap is $182,500,000. However, the additional cap rollover from 2020 gives the Falcons an adjusted cap total of $184,280,606, via NFLPA Salary Report. Once we add up all the values listed above, we see the Falcons have a cap total of $180,929,425 before practice squad players are applied. When adding the cap hit for practice squad members, the Falcons must take into account how many veterans (up to six) they want to keep of the 16 total players. Of course, veterans have a weekly salary of $14,000, which is higher than their rookie counterparts. This gives a maximum and minimum value, both are noted in the chart above. So, as listed above, once we apply the maximum practice squad value, the Falcons are just $183,181 under the salary cap. If the team went the course of making all 16 practice squad players rookies, minimum value, then the added cost of $2,649,600 would keep the Falcons cap compliant by just over $700,000. All in all, the Falcons don't have much maneuverability in the event of an emergency signing. When looking at Josh Rosen versus a potential replacement, the Falcons can save $850,000 while taking no dead cap hit to sign a QB off the waiver wire.

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