The Monday, July 16 deadline for when franchise players could get long-term deals done passed without Falcons corner Brent Grimes getting one. That outcome was not a surprise given how little movement and noise had been made in recent weeks.
The Falcons appear to be in a position to play wait and see with Grimes. The team picked up Asante Samuel this off-season, and the team is trying to get a return on their substantial investment in Dunta Robinson this year by moving him inside in nickel situations. Essentially, if Grimes has a good season then he’ll likely land the long-term deal he seeks next off-season. But the Falcons want to be sure that they are not committing another huge deal to a player that does not deserve it. Because while the Falcons brass won’t admit it, they aren’t too thrilled about the Robinson deal they gave out two years ago.
Robinson received $57 million over six years, and nearly $25 million in guaranteed money. That was and remains roughly market value for a top No. 1 corner. Unfortunately, Robinson has been anything but that caliber of player. On the other hand, Grimes has been. You would be hard-pressed to find a corner outside Darrelle Revis and Samuel that has collectively played better the past two seasons than Grimes. Yet the Falcons appear to be reluctant to make such a big investment unless they deem that player to be essential. And right or wrong, it’s clear that this team doesn’t view Grimes as an essential piece.
And from a certain perspective that is understandable, now that the team has added Samuel and decided to move Robinson inside to the slot. If Samuel continues to play at a high level, and there is a significant uptick in Robinson’s play so that he appears to solidify a nickel spot that has been a major weakness for this defense for three years running, then committing $50 million or more to Grimes isn’t the smartest financial decision. Especially when you have players like Dominique Franks and Chris Owens on the roster. While they are not nearly the players that Grimes is, the Falcons only have to commit roughly $1.9 million to the pair over the next two seasons. Had the Falcons given Grimes the exact same contract as Cortland Finnegan received from the Rams this off-season (5 yrs., $50 million), that figure would be around $24 million. So while you may only be getting one half of the player, you’re getting him for one-twelfth the price.
The other looming financial issue for the Falcons is that a new deal for Matt Ryan is on the horizon. And given the success of his agent Tom Condon in recent months of landing blockbuster deals for his clients (e.g. Peyton Manning and Drew Brees), they are going to come to the negotiating table wanting to be paid like a Top 5 QB, regardless of whether people think Ryan deserves that money. Condon knows that the Falcons aren’t going to find a better option between now and 2014 and Ryan is the biggest reason why the Mike Smith Era has been so successful, so he holds most of the leverage in any potential negotiations. And that looming contract situation is just another reason why the Falcons are wary of committing another big money deal to Grimes.
And that’s a major contributing reason why the Falcons didn’t commit big deals this off-season to any of their free agents. And while the $21 million they gave John Abraham is not a small deal, given half that money is tied exclusively to performance through escalators and per-game roster bonuses, it’s a relatively small and safe commitment. Even the long-term deals signed by Kroy Biermann, Thomas DeCoud, and Harry Douglas are structured so that the team could easily get out of them by 2014.
The other issue that the Falcons have to deal with is the age of their team. A large chunk of their key contributors such as Abraham, Tony Gonzalez, Michael Turner, Jonathan Babineaux, etc. are older players. And a lot of those guys may not be Falcons next year or the year after. There is a good possibility that over the next few years there will be significant upheaval of the roster, to the point that potentially 50-75% of the projected starters this year won’t be on the team come 2015. Grimes turns 29 this week and it’s feasible that he could play another three or four years at a high level. But the Falcons are reluctant to be in a situation where three years from now they are looking back and seeing that they overpaid a declining player. Similar to how the team may confidentially view the Robinson deal as of today, who was weeks away from his 28th birthday when he signed on the dotted line back in 2010.
Unfortunately all of these factors, few of which are under Brent Grimes’ control, coalesce to prevent him from getting a long-term deal. There are no bad guys here. The only thing that Grimes can control is going out and playing at a high level this year. If he does so, then the Falcons should be more amenable to give him a long-term deal next off-season. And if not, then he should be able to get it from someone else. And whether that deal comes from the Falcons brass or some other team, really doesn’t matter to me. Brent Grimes has worked as hard as anybody at this level, from going from an undrafted free agent at a Division III school to one of the league’s top corners in six years. That story deserves a happy ending, one in which I hope occurs in Atlanta.