On Friday the Atlanta Falcons announced the signing of tight end Jaeden Graham, who became the last of Atlanta’s five exclusive rights free agents to continue their association with the team. The other four signings were announced on Thursday and included defensive tackle Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, plus placekicker Younghoe Koo, cornerback Tyler Hall and wide receiver Christian Blake.
Jaeden Graham’s Role With the Falcons
Graham was originally signed by the Falcons as an undrafted free agent out of Yale following the 2018 NFL Draft. He spent his rookie season on the practice squad, but appeared in every game in both 2019 and 2020. Over that time period he recorded 12 receptions for 174 yards and one touchdown, including three catches for 25 yards last season.
While the Falcons will likely sign or draft another tight end with the potential to move ahead of him on the depth chart, re-upping with Graham is a sensible move. If nothing else, the 25-year-old can continue to play a valuable role on special teams. He was on the field for 217 special teams snaps in 2020 (48%) and 309 snaps in 2019 (69%) and has recorded a total of nine specials teams tackles (six solo) over the past two years.
It’s also perhaps worth noting that Atlanta’s assistant offensive line coach, Chandley Henley, was Graham’s tight ends coach in college and helped him earn first-team All-Ivy League honors.
Hayden Hurst’s Fifth-Year Option
Meanwhile, the Falcons will soon have a decision to make in terms of whether to pick up the fifth-year option on fellow tight end Hayden Hurst, who was a first-round draft choice of the Baltimore Ravens in 2018 (No. 25 overall), selected one spot before Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley.
Hurst was traded to the Falcons (along with a 2020 fourth-round pick) in exchange for a 2020 second-round pick and a 2020 fifth-round pick, and in his first season with Atlanta he caught 56 passes for 571 yards and six touchdowns while playing 70% of the team’s snaps on offense.
Based on the fifth-year price tags for 2018 first-round picks (revealed Wednesday by NFL reporter Albert Breer), Hurst would cost $5.428 million in 2022, an amount that would be fully guaranteed at signing.
The Falcons have until May 3rd to decide whether to exercise the option. Meanwhile, Hurst is scheduled to earn $1,984,914 in 2021 and will count the same against the salary cap (as Baltimore paid his rookie signing bonus).
A decision on Hurst probably won’t come until after the draft, however. If Atlanta decided to use its first-round pick on Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, that would mean that Hurst’s time with the team would likely come to an end after the 2021 season, if not sooner.
As for Atlanta’s restricted free agents, the team has just two: offensive tackle Matt Gono, who has appeared in a total of 21 games in the past two years; and wide receiver/kick returner Brandon Powell, who contributed 12 catches for 69 yards and two touchdowns in 2020. He also had 17 punt returns for 152 yards (8.4-yard average) and 17 kickoff returns for 343 yards (20.2-yard average).
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