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4:00 PM ET today is the final deadline for franchise tags. Unfortunately for Atlanta, they are nearly $20 million over the projected 2021 salary cap, and tagging a safety is close to $10.5 million, so the team genuinely can’t afford to keep Neal around.
The former 2016 first-round pick finished the season with 100 tackles (76 solo), nine tackles for a loss, one interception, and one forced fumble.
Where Will Neal End Up?
Neal currently ranks as a free agent at No. 72, according to Pro Football Focus:
“A former first-round pick, Neal found his home immediately as a traditional strong safety in the Falcons’ Cover 1/Cover 3 scheme. He made an impact from Day 1, flying around the field in the run game and showing good range against underneath routes when playing zone. Unfortunately, injuries limited Neal to just 213 snaps across 2018 and 2019, but he was healthy once again in 2020, grading out at 68.2 overall. Neal is a classic box safety who does his best work around the line of scrimmage and in the middle of the field, and his future team should look for him to play a similar role.”
Hopefully, the Falcons do try to push to keep him around as they did to Grady Jarrett in the past, but it will be hard. Plus, after having a solid season off of back-to-back injuries, Neal is going to have plenty of teams after him that will be able to pay him what he’s worth. One of those teams could be the Dallas Cowboys since Falcons’ former head coach, Dan Quinn, is now the defensive coordinator.
The Falcons Current Cap ‘Hell’
Atlanta’s new general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith face a tough task ahead of free agency and beyond when trying to put together a solid roster under an extremely tight salary cap. There has not been an exact number announced yet, but the number $180 has been thrown around as the minimum amount.
The Falcons will have some unused cap space over from last year with a whopping rollover of $1.7 million, according to the NFLPA’s public salary report. However, being nearly $28 million over the projected salary cap for 2021, that will not be much much help at all.
Two weeks ago, the Falcons released Allen Bailey and Ricardo Allen in order to free up $10.75 million in cap space. Split up, Allen saved Atlanta $6.25 million in salary-cap space and the Falcons got themselves an extra $4.5 million by letting go of Bailey.
With about 50% of a roster to fill, the Falcons are going to have to make several more cuts and reconstruct current player contracts as they did last season.
The upside is, Smith and Fontenot understand they plenty of talent to build off of, despite the massive cuts they will have to make.