The Atlanta Falcons still have plenty of business to take care of this offseason, but that doesn't mean they haven't been busy.
That number is close to the projected $15.3 million the Falcons would need to apply the franchise tag on defensive tackle Grady Jarrett if the two sides don't reach an agreement. The deadline to use the franchise tag is March 5. If the Falcons tag Jarrett, they have until July 15 to sign him to an extension.
The Falcons have between $26 million and $28 million in cap space. That doesn't appear to take into account the signing of offensive lineman Ty Sambrailo to a three-year extension. Sambrailo will count $3.25 million against the 2019 cap.
Former NFL agent Joel Corry, a contract and salary-cap expert, offered some insight into how the Falcons' business might unfold the rest of this offseason.
The Grady factor
Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff has often said signing Jarrett to a long-term extension was a priority, although talks with Jarrett's agent, Todd France, were put off during the regular season.
Now the Falcons have room to sign Jarrett.
Jarrett's production, with more than 50 pressures in 2018, warrants making him among the league's highest-paid defensive tackles. Aaron Donald is the highest-paid interior defensive lineman at $22.5 million per year.
"He's not getting Aaron Donald money," Corry said of Jarrett, "but interestingly enough, he has Aaron Donald's agent [Todd France].
"To me, this is more realistic: Todd France also represents Fletcher Cox, and Cox has a three-year-old deal. If you adjust Fletcher Cox's deal to a 2019 cap environment, you're well over $20 million per year. Getting above Cox's actual deal -- $17.1 million per year -- given what I just said wouldn't be unreasonable for Jarrett. It doesn't seem inappropriate."
Cox received $63.3 million guaranteed.
There's no reason to believe the Falcons will allow Jarrett to reach free agency, which begins March 13.
"If you stick him on the open market, then all bets are off because he has some pass-rush ability and can play the run really well," Corry said. "It could be more than [$17.1 million]. That's why you have to franchise him."
What would Jarrett's cap number be in '19 based on an extension? No doubt much lower than it would be under the one-year, $15.3 million franchise tag.
"Probably no more than $5 [million] or $6 million, if they're going to structure it the way they have," Corry said of Jarrett's potential '19 cap figure. "Some of these contracts have the option bonus. If they go that route, they pretty much have a low first-year cap number. But then you're going to have more significant cap numbers and a bunch of proration in the future."
What about Julio?
Jones has two years and more than $21 million left on the five-year, $71.25 million extension he signed in August of 2015. He has outplayed his contract and sits 11th among all wide receivers with an average of $14.25 million per year. Odell Beckham Jr. tops the list at $18 million per year.
Beckham also tops all wide receivers with $65 million guaranteed, followed by Tampa Bay's Mike Evans with $55.008 million.
Will Jones become the league's highest-paid receiver this offseason?
"Yeah," Corry said. "I don't know if he'll stay the highest paid, but he will. I don't see any reason why the Falcons wouldn't make the three-year extension average $20 million per year. If you look at what he's done, he's not slowing down. You can't say he hasn't earned that.
"But you've got two young guys who are going to sign deals that will surpass Odell Beckham Jr.: Tyreek Hill and Michael Thomas, assuming they both get done. If Jones goes first, [Hall and Thomas] are going to use his deal to get as close to him as possible. And if he waits until they're done, he'll leapfrog them, at least on an average standpoint but maybe not on a guarantee standpoint."
So Jones and agent Jimmy Sexton would be smart to wait on Hill and Thomas, right?
"Yes and no," Corry said. "If you can get the deal you want, my philosophy is to go ahead and take it knowing that other people were going to use it to better themselves in the marketplace. If you can get what you're asking for, take it."
For now, Jones' cap number for '19 is $13.47 million, third highest on the team behind quarterback Matt Ryan's $22.8 million and cornerback Desmond Trufant's $13.9 million. That number is likely to change with an extension.
"I don't think it goes up; I think it goes down," Corry said. "He's got two years left on his contract. Let's say you chop his base salary down to close to the league minimum. Let's say it's $1.1 million. Then you give him a $20 million signing bonus. You're going to pick up $4.5 million in cap room doing that.
"He takes care of himself. He's what I call a self-contained deal. ... If you have a $20 million signing bonus stretched out over five years, that's $4 million on the cap each year. So right there, instead of having $9 million or whatever his base salary is, you have $4 million proration plus whatever your salary is -- let's say $1.1 million -- just isolating those numbers alone. You've picked up that $4.5 million of cap room."
We'll see if the Falcons indeed reward Jones with a three-year, $60 million extension, which would make his contract essentially a five-year, $81 million deal.
Adding new faces
The Falcons didn't make much of a splash in free agency last season, bringing in special-teams ace Justin Bethel, starting guard Brandon Fusco, defensive tackle Terrell McClain and tight end Logan Paulsen while re-signing guys such as defensive lineman Derrick Shelby and safety Kemal Ishmael.
Those six moves alone accounted for just under $10 million in cap space.
It's unclear if the Falcons have their eyes on landing a top free agent to bolster the offensive or defensive line. Would they part ways with former first-round draft pick Vic Beasley Jr. if they knew they could land one of the elite free-agent pass-rushers? The top guys on the list are DeMarcus Lawrence, Jadeveon Clowney, Brandon Graham, Trey Flowers and Dee Ford, and their current teams could re-sign or franchise them. If the Falcons keep their faith in Beasley, his salary of $12.81 million becomes fully guaranteed March 13.
The Falcons could make other moves to save a little space, such as parting ways with right tackle Ryan Schraeder, who lost his job to Sambrailo at the end of last season. Or they could choose to bring back Schraeder at a reduced salary. His cap number for '19 is $7.75 million. Releasing Schraeder with three years left on his deal would save the Falcons $3.95 million this year, or perhaps $6.45 million if he's designated a post-June 1 cut.
They've also chosen not to make the restricted free-agent tender commitment of $2 million or more to nickelback Brian Poole, who is headed to free agency.
But the Falcons still have decisions to make on a handful of their own free agents, including backup quarterback Matt Schaub, wide receiver Justin Hardy, Bethel and pass-rusher Bruce Irvin. The team seems unlikely to bring back running back Tevin Coleman after signing Devonta Freeman to an extension.
How much cap room would the Falcons need to make some solid additions in free agency?
"Assuming you're not making splash signings, you probably need to clear another $5 million by the start of free agency, assuming Jarrett is on a tag," Corry said. "If he's not on a tag, you're probably going to be all right and don't need to do anything going into free agency."
It certainly helped to save the $7.9 million against the cap the Falcons did with the release of Alford.
"To me, it was an either/or proposition with Trufant or Alford, and you chose Alford," Corry said. "You're basically stuck with Trufant because his salary becomes fully guaranteed on the fifth day of the league year. You can't cut him because of the option bonus. There's too much proration. So you basically have to bite it for a year.
"I don't know if that was the main consideration, but from a cap standpoint, it was much easier to get rid of Alford than Trufant."
The Falcons, with the 14th overall pick in the draft, need to have between $5 million and $7 million allocated to their draft picks in terms of salary-cap space.