The Atlanta Falcons moved to 5-6 on the season with a 21-14 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.
Running back Cordarrelle Patterson was a game-time decision after battling an ankle injury the last two weeks. He played, and he was the star of the game with a career-high 108 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
The former Minnesota Vikings first-round pick at wide receiver also chipped in three catches for 27 yards.
Patterson joined the Falcons as a free agent during the offseason on a one-year $3 million deal, and he has turned out to be the bargain free-agent signing of the season. An All-Pro kick returner, Patterson was signed to bolster the Falcons' special teams and be an x-factor of sorts on offense.
The Falcons have gotten so much more than that.
He's turned out to be the Falcons MVP. He leads the team in rushing yards and touchdowns. He's the second leading receiver behind rookie tight end Kyle Pitts in yards (661 to 500), but he leads the team in touchdown receptions.
Pro Football Focus rates Patterson as the No. 1 running back in the NFL.
Patterson missed the game against the New England Patriots last week and half of the game against the Dallas Cowboys two weeks ago. Without him, the Falcons didn't score a single point.
At age 30, a team might hesitate to give a big contract to a running back, but he's never been a featured back in his career. He only has 260 career carries and 257 career receptions. Jamal Anderson set an NFL record with 410 carries for the Falcons in 1998. There's not been a lot of wear and tear on Patterson.
It's been well documented that the Falcons don't have a lot of room under the salary cap next season, so how will the Falcons be able to keep Patterson?
A team like the Denver Broncos will cut $8 million off of the salary when running back Melvin Gordon becomes a free agent after this year. They could double Patterson's salary and save money.
Falcons running back Mike Davis signed a two-year $5.5 million deal in the offseason, but it was structured so Atlanta could get out of the second year with just a $750,000 dead cap hit. Parting ways with Davis and his 3.2 yards per carry to save $2.5 million next year looks like a no-brainer.
Take Davis' money, offer it to Patterson, then pick up a running back in the NFL Draft.
That's a start.
Julio Jones' has a cap hit for the Falcons of $15.5 million in 2022, but that number comes off the books after next season. The Falcons could offer Patterson a three-year deal worth $20 million with a base salary of $1 million in 2022, $2 million 2023, and $2 million in 2024 with a $15 million signing bonus, and he would carry only a $6 million cap hit in 2022. The Falcons will have much greater financial flexibility the following years.
Would Patterson take a deal with $15 million in guaranteed money? He reiterated at his post-game press conference that he loves it in Atlanta.
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Three years at $20 million, $15 million guaranteed, would be a good starting point for the Falcons to offer Patterson.
The Falcons might be tight against the salary cap in 2022 and can't afford big-money signings, but it's painfully obvious the Falcons can't afford to lose Patterson, either.