The Atlanta Falcons covet Grady Jarrett long-term. But they also desperately need space under their salary cap.
Can they finagle the best of both worlds?
Jarrett is the anchor of the Falcons' defense, a consistent performer on a unit that annually underachieves. The former fifth-round pick out of Clemson has been been selected to the Pro Bowl the last two seasons.
He is due to be a free agent after the 2022 season, and the Falcons will likely look to re-do his contract in 2021 to potentially lower his $21 million cap hit.
The bad news for the Falcons is they have little salary-cap room next year, either. The situation isn't quite as bad as it was this past offseason, when Atlanta was nearly $50 million over the cap when new general manager Terry Fontenot took over. But according to Spotrac, the club is projected to have only a $307,976 in cap space next year.
The good news, aside from the fact there always been room to maneuver around the cap, is that Jarrett is already one of the highest-paid defensive tackles in the NFL.
Read More: ESPN Down on Falcons' Future
He signed a four-year, $68 million contract in 2019 with an $18 million signing bonus. His base salary jumped from $5 million last season to $13.5 million this year and will increase $16.5 million next season.
His 2021 salary-cap number of $21 million ranks him second among NFL defensive tackles, behind only the Philadelphia Eagles' Fletcher Cox ($23.9 million).
Jarrett's dead cap number drops from $19.1 million to just $7.3 million next year, while his cap hit rises to $23.8 million. Those numbers are a good indicator that Atlanta will want to tweak Jarrett's contract to get some flexibility under the cap next season.
No one would want a repeat of this past offseason, when franchise receiver Julio Jones requested a trade and was moved in part to create room under the salary cap.
But what could a new contract look like for Jarrett?
Jarrett won't turn 29 until next offseason. The Los Angeles Rams' Aaron Donald signed his six-year, $135 million contract when he was 27. Cox got six years and $102.6 million when he was 26. DeForest Buckner of the Indianapolis Colts signed a four-year, $84 million deal also at 26. Chris Jones of the Kansas City Chiefs signed his four-year, $80 million deal at - you guessed it - age 26.
The going rate for a premier defensive tackle is roughly $20 million per season. The long contracts signed by the highest paid players at that position were signed when the player was 26 or 27.
Assuming Jarrett is still playing at a Pro Bowl level this season, there's no reason to think Atlanta won't keep paying him like a premier defensive tackle. But Jarrett won't get the long deal of his younger peers.
Three years and $60 million seems a logical starting point. The Falcons could turn the final year of his compensation into a signing bonus and lower his cap hit next season.
Biggest Key for Falcons to Beat Buccaneers
The Atlanta Falcons will need to deploy a pass-first offense to upset the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 2.
Grady Jarrett on Falcons Defense : 'I Believe in this System'
Atlanta Falcons defensive lineman Grady Jarrett was held without a tackles against the Eagles.
Bucs Missing Key Defender vs. Falcons?
The Atlanta Falcons vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers injury report is 'advantage Atlanta.'
If the the Falcons and Jarrett tear up the final year of his current deal do sign something close to three years $60 million, that will put Jarrett's total compensation from his age 26 season at roughly six years and $100 million.
That's right in line with the other stars at his position.