The wide receiver is a restricted free agent, meaning the Falcons have the upper hand with him even if another team has the intent to sign him to an offer sheet. However, it seems unlikely to reach that point, considering the Falcons can decide to place a higher tender on Gabriel, which would discourage another team from giving up a first- or second-round pick along with awarding Gabriel a new contract.
The Falcons also have the option to extend Gabriel's current contract up until it expires on March 9, but their current $926,540 salary-cap figure, according to NFLPA calculations, would make doing so unlikely.
"Of course, I want to be a Falcon forever," Gabriel told ESPN.com. "Just the camaraderie and the group, from [coach] Dan Quinn to the owner [Arthur Blank]. And everyone has bought into what we have here. Yes, I want to be a Falcon forever."
General manager Thomas Dimitroff said last week while discussing cornerback Desmond Trufant's contract status that the focus heading into free agency is re-signing the team's own players. He included Gabriel in the group despite Gabriel's restricted status. The Falcons are expected to have between $26 million-$29 million in cap space once the new league year starts (March 9, 4 p.m. ET), based on a projected salary cap between $166 million-$168 million.
"It's going to be positive for him," Dimitroff said of Gabriel. "Yes, we want him back as well."
The Falcons placed second-round tenders on restricted free agents Ryan Schraeder and Paul Worrilow last March at a one-year cost of $2.555 million. Schraeder eventually received a five-year, $31.5 million extension in November, which included $12.5 million guaranteed, while Worrilow is set to become an unrestricted free agent. Like Schraeder, Gabriel is likely to be rewarded with a longer-term deal even if it means first signing the tender.
The Falcons surely will place at least a second-round tender on Gabriel at around $2.8 million for 2017, if not the first-round tender at around $4 million. If they opted for the low tender, which is expected to be around $1.8 million, it would open the opportunity for another team -- namely the San Francisco 49ers and former Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who lobbied to bring Gabriel to Atlanta -- to swoop in and sign Gabriel without compensation. That wouldn't make sense considering Dimitroff's thoughts about Gabriel and the explosiveness Gabriel brings to the offense.
Gabriel is well aware of all the details regarding his restricted status.
"Yeah, I’m familiar with everything," he said. "I know about everything as far as what needs to be done and what has to be done. At the same time, like I said, I would love to be a Falcon forever."
Gabriel showed his value this past season after being claimed off waivers from the Cleveland Browns at a price of $600,000. The former undrafted player from Abilene Christian, who just completed his third NFL season, tied Julio Jones for the team lead with six touchdown receptions. The 5-foot-8, 165-pound speedster averaged 42.7 yards on his touchdown receptions, which was the second-highest among receivers with five or more touchdown catches behind New Orleans' Brandin Cooks (44.1).
Gabriel finished the regular season with 35 catches for 579 yards, then had nine catches for 171 yards in the playoffs. He also had four rushes for 51 yards and one touchdown during the regular season.