Foyesade Oluokun has put himself in a strong position ahead of free agency, thanks to his performances for the Atlanta Falcons last season. He led the NFL in tackles and showed excellent durability during a breakout campaign in a contract year.
Now, Oluokun has the chance to cash in for more than $10 million per year before the market officially opens on Wednesday, March 16. That is if the Falcons don’t retain the quarterback of their defense.
It would be worth the investment for general manager Terry Fontenot. Oluokun has established himself as a key part of the Falcons’ scheme, although not everybody is convinced the middle linebacker is worth the money he’s likely to receive.
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In fact, one writer for a leading analytics site believes Oluokun is the most overrated player at his position set to test this year’s market.
Stats Don’t Impress Oluokun’s Detractors
Writing for ESPN, Anthony Treash of Pro Football Focus named Oluokun overrated: “Oluokun has left a lot to be desired as a starter for Atlanta over the last two seasons. He owns a 48.9 PFF grade collectively over that span, ranking 45th of 65 qualifiers. Despite that, Oluokun is likely to secure a four-year, $40 million contract in free agency, according to PFF’s projections. This is because linebackers are generally rewarded for high tackle totals even though it’s a flawed method of evaluation.”
It reads like a harsh assessment of a player who is still 26 and only just beginning to scratch the surface of his prime. There was compelling evidence of what Oluokun can mature into when he paced every defender with 192 tackles last season.
Aside from the tackles, Oluokun also chipped in with two sacks, six pass breakups, three interceptions and one forced fumble. Those numbers are ample proof of his ability to impact both phases of offenses.
Oluokun was active, tough and decisive, all qualities obvious in this highlight package put together by the Falcons’ official Twitter account:
Treash is right to point out how tackle numbers aren’t always the most reliable way to measure a linebacker’s effectiveness. A lot of times it depends where and when those tackles are being made.
Do most occur after 5-10-yard gains? Are a good percentage of those tackles made in garbage time when games are already decided?
Those are questions facing every linebacker, but Oluokun does have one asset in his favor. Specifically, the ability to drop ball-carriers at first contact, per PFF’s Jon Marci:
That’s no easily dismissed statistic for a middle linebacker who is far from the classic, big-bodied thumper often associated with the role. Oluokun only tips the scales at 215 pounds, but he plays bigger and with more intensity, one reason why he deserves a decent payday this offseason.
Treash put that potential payday at $10 million annually, while his fellow PFF writer, Ari Meirov, thinks Oluokun could earn “up to $12 million a year.” Like Treash, Meirov also believes Oluokun will be overpaid.
The idea of Oluokun’s skills being misjudged or overlooked altogether, could play to the Falcons’ advantage.
Critics Could Do Falcons a Favor
Keeping Oluokun would be a minor coup for Fontenot. The linebacker is part of a clutch of important players a burgeoning defense will need in order to improve this year.
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees knows he can rely on nose tackle Grady Jarrett to draw attention up front. Pees also knows A.J. Terrell is a legitimate shutdown cornerback.
Oluokun is Pees’ trusted signal-caller, a player who understands the scheme and thrives within its parameters. He also stays on the field, having started every game last season and “played 98% of the Falcons’ defensive snaps,” per The Athletic‘s Sheil Kapadia.
His levels of durability and production make Oluokun worth bringing back, something more likely to happen if a few teams around the league share the opinions of Treash of Meirov.
It shouldn’t take much to talk Oluokun into returning if his initial market runs cold. He’s already indicated he would be open to staying with the Falcons, according to D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Yet, a bit of clever wheeling and dealing should put the Falcons in position to offer Oluokun terms appealing enough to stick around for at least another couple of seasons.