I’m out of breath just thinking about it.
It was a long time coming. The Falcons last made a notable signing in free agency in 2020 after even humble bloggers said the Falcons didn’t have the space to sign big names. Much like those investing in crypto, the Falcons ignored common sense and threw caution to the wind to land Dante Fowler.
The Falcons have been in more or less a cap crunch since the Super Bowl, with most of that cap crunch actually being cap hell. After years, fans and team alike flee Cap Hell. We’ve seen Hall of Famer wide receivers and quarterbacks traded. Young talents go into free hands. The team had to sit on his hands free.
It took a lot of time.
To set the stage, the Falcons entered this legal manipulation phase with the second-largest cap spot in the league, behind only the Chicago Bears. The Falcons could sign a player in almost any position. The options were endless. But most importantly, Terry Fontenot had to not do what fired the last guy. No overspending. Be balanced. And NO Dante Fowler.
It’s finally here. Such is the excitement that we’ll be writing grades for day 1 of free agency way too soon: the legal manipulation edition. The new signings will be unofficial until Wednesday, but you can count the broken deals on one hand.
Chris Lindstrom extension: 5 years, $105 million
If you want proof that Fontenot isn’t its predecessor, is ahead of the market, and is locking your young player up with franchise tag enforcement, then this is it. Have Lindstorm finish his option year, play under the day, then pay $23-$25 million a year for a top guard. While the Falcons have historically paid guys in the Top 5/Top 10 Top 3, Lindstrom is one of the best in the league and has earned his record-breaking contract.
Lindstrom may be the highest-paid guard, but it’s not by much. He narrowly edged out Quenton Nelson’s contract, signed last year, also signed when that blocker was 26 years old. Love this for maintaining continuity, keeping your playmakers and staying ahead of the market. Unusual.
Jessie Bates Signed: 4 years, $64 million
The Falcons, one of the most anticipated signings in the entire NFL, landed the (semi-consensual) top safety in free agency. Bates, of course, was phenomenal with the Bengals. He’s the fourth highest-paid safety in the NFL, just pennies more than Harrison Smith’s contract, which was signed in 2021.
I figured Bates could start higher, closer to the $17-18 million-a-year range between Jamal Adams and Minkah Fitzpatrick, thanks to the ever-increasing salaries in the NFL. Fontenot also kept the contract period in line with the market. Based on the market, it’s a good place to land. I might have happily spent money on a different position, but the available EDGE talent is lacking. A large but measured signing.
Jonnu Smith Trade
The Falcons paid a seventh-round pick to reunite Arthur Smith with his top tight end in Tennessee. A receiver of 8 touchdown passes in his senior year with Smith, Smith should immediately step in as a dangerous TE behind Kyle Pitts. Smith has reportedly restructured his deal, but right now we don’t know what that looks like. The Patriots could terminate his contract with the Falcons, hence the low draft pay.
It’s difficult to rate this without knowing it What The Falcons will pay Smith. Ignoring the contract because I have to is a fantastic addition to the offense. Adding a good tight end to the awesome gun that is Kyle Pitts adds an incredible amount of versatility. Arthur Smith can cook so much more with another weapon in 12 people. Pitts can push outside and run deep distances all day.
David Onyemata Signed: 3 years, $35 million
This signing appears to give Grady Jarrett the biggest tackle help of his career. Onyemata has been pretty good, especially under Atlanta’s new defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen. I think that’s overpay, especially for a man who turns 31 this season. Not a drastic overpayment, but clearly a push by Nielsen and Fontenot to get their man.
The good news is that getting her man isn’t too expensive. A good improvement for the team.
Keith Smith: 1 year
We evaluate one-year contracts for full-backs. Things have gone wild.
Smith is a competent full-back who has played about a quarter of the snaps since Smith coached the team. He plays strong and impresses on special teams. A good signature under the radar that should offer good versatility. We don’t have his contract numbers but based on contract length it’s probably pretty close to the vet minimum.
Extension Bradley Pinion: 3 years, $8.65 million
A multi-year contract for a player? Have we gone insane?
Still fairly young for a punter (28), Pinion had some impressive finishes in 2022 after signing as a free agent. He’s not Matt Bosher, but who is? As much as I would love to have a bone-crushing player or find a UDFA, the Falcons probably need consistency in a year where the team could sign anyone. There isn’t much downside.