Cordarrelle Patterson is getting used to offseason recognition for his brilliant first year with the Atlanta Falcons. The pending free agent has already had his talents endorsed by analytics site Pro Football Focus.
Now, Patterson has earned similar accolades from the Pro Football Writers of America.
Patterson has been deemed worthy of the organization’s most improved player award, but there’s a catch. The caveat is Patterson has to share the accolade with a breakout star who earned Pro Bowl honors with the Dallas Cowboys this season.
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Patterson Shares the Stage With Shutdown Cornerback
The PFWA announced on Friday Patterson would share his award with the NFL’s interception leader for 2021:
A look at the PFWA official website shows Patterson and Trevon Diggs are the first pair to share this award since Kirk Cousins and Josh Norman split the honor in 2015. Diggs merited inclusion after topping the league’s interception charts with 11 picks.
The opportunistic cover man snatched one of those interceptions when the Cowboys thumped the Falcons 43-3 at home in Week 10. Patterson was held to 25 yards on four carries and one catch for 14 yards, per Pro Football Reference.
This wasn’t the only time Diggs got one over on Patterson during the season. Diggs was also named to the NFC Pro Bowl roster, while Patterson was a notable snub.
Perhaps the PFWA award will make up for it, even if Patterson still can’t shake Diggs. Yet, it speaks volumes about Patterson’s performances that Diggs’ turnover-binging campaign wasn’t enough to earn him solo accolades.
Patterson deserved his share of the award, and he’s also the first Falcon to win it since edge-rusher Vic Beasley claimed the prize in 2016. That was the year the Falcons reached Super Bowl LI, and Beasley led the defense with 15.5 sacks.
Patterson’s impact hasn’t been quite as significant, but he’s still successfully reinvented himself since moving to Atlanta last offseason. He converted from renowned return ace and part-time wide receiver to full-time running back.
Falcons’ head coach Arthur Smith turned to Patterson as his lead workhorse when Mike Davis flopped following his move from NFC South rival the Carolina Panthers. Patterson responded brilliantly, leading the Falcons in rushing yards and touchdowns, with 618 and six scores.
He still chipped in as a receiver, pacing the team with five touchdowns. Patterson proved his worth as an every-down weapon in a year when versatile receiver-runner types became all the rage in the NFL, with San Francisco 49ers‘ star Deebo Samuel leading the way.
Samuel’s the man for this hybrid role, but Patterson is a close second and can count PFF among his most ardent admirers:
The question now becomes can the Falcons keep Patterson from the clutches of other teams once the 2022 veteran market opens on Wednesday, March 16?
Keeping Patterson Will Be Tough
The Falcons are strapped for cash entering this offseason. Figures from OverTheCap.com put the team $5,914,636 above this year’s salary cap.
It’s a harsh reality that will require some creative maneuvering from general manager Terry Fontenot. Finding room to keep Patterson on the books should be near the top of his to-do list.
Striking the right balance between value and reward will be a tough juggling act for Fontenot. Patterson earned $1.3 million in 2021, but his performances will earn him more than that on the open market this year. He’s also set to turn 31 on March 17.
The rise of players like Samuel and Patterson has increased the premium on gifted hybrids able to gash defenses in multiple ways. That’s the kind of flexibility the Falcons need on an offense undergoing a transition.
Julio Jones was traded to the Tennessee Titans last offseason, while his fellow wideout Calvin Ridley is widely expected to be on the auction block this year, per NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo.
The Falcons have been forced to rebuild around Patterson and dynamic young tight end Kyle Pitts. Bringing back the former will be key to maintaining important continuity among a set of burgeoning skill players.
Patterson wants to return and hasn’t been shy about dropping a hint or two:
There’s some optimism a deal can be struck, at least from Falcons Digital Managing Editor Scott Bair, who believes, “the market for an older skill player, even one without tons of tread on the tires, is never sky high. He’ll have suitors, but I ultimately think a pact is reached.”
Keeping Patterson in the fold would represent quite the coup for Fontenot and Smith, who need to prove they can make the right decisions to accelerate their rebuild of the Falcons in year two.