Free safety Ricardo Allen looking to earn his money with Falcons

The Atlanta Falcons are pleased with what Ricardo Allen brings at the free safety position. We’ll see what that eventually translates to financially.

With Allen being an exclusive rights free agent, the Falcons can tender him at the minimum amount of $615,000 for the 2017 season, although such a tender has yet to be extended. And although Allen can’t negotiate with any other team and is likely to be locked into that amount next season, he can set himself up for a more lucrative deal down the line.

One can bet Allen’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, will work diligently to get Allen more financial security for the future.

"My time is coming, and we’re just going to keep working," Allen said Monday. "We’re just going to keep working and keep staying on the path that we’re on and just keep getting better. I’m not stressing for money right now. The stats are going to keep getting better and my play is going to keep getting better. The money is going to come when it comes."

How much do the Falcons’ value Allen? Coach Dan Quinn was asked for his assessment.

"Off the field, his leadership really grew," Quinn said. "And he was a real factor for [rookie] Keanu Neal in terms of his readiness. He was often the guy behind the scenes that could help coach when the coaches aren’t there. That happens a lot more than guys think. ... That’s Ricardo taking guys to his house Thursday night to go through film together. Those examples, I thought, he really improved.

"One of the areas that he wants to improve upon is where can he make more plays to create some turnovers. Sometimes that will be, `Can I take a shot on this formation?’ Not being reckless, but knowing, `OK, all the indicators tell me right now I’ve got to go get this.'"

Allen’s regular-season statistics this past season included finishing third on the team with 90 tackles and tying for second with two interceptions. In the postseason, Allen added two more interceptions, 14 tackles and two passes defensed in the postseason. His primary role in the Cover 3 defense is to erase big plays, not so much to cover, although he had more coverage responsibilities as the Falcons utilized more man-to-man coverage.

In 31 regular-season games over the last two seasons, Allen recorded 158 tackles, five interceptions, four passes defensed and a sack. Those two-year numbers are comparable to a number of the league’s highest-paid free safeties. Arizona’s Tyrann Mathieu, who tops all free safeties at $12.5 million per year, had 124 tackles, six interceptions, eight passes defensed and two sacks over that time span. Minnesota’s Harrison Smith, at $10.5 million per year, recorded 157 tackles, two interceptions and three sacks the last two seasons. And Seattle’s Earl Thomas, who makes $10 million per season, had 107 tackles, seven interceptions and 10 passes defensed during the 2015 and 2016 seasons, although Thomas missed the last five games of the ’16 season after suffering a broken leg.

General manager Thomas Dimitroff has talked constantly about the priority right now being re-signing his own players. The Falcons started the process during the season in inking cornerback Robert Alford and right tackle Ryan Schraeder to extensions. Dimitroff told ESPN a month ago that Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant will receive a lucrative contract extension this spring.

As for Allen, the exclusive-rights designation doesn’t necessarily prohibit the Falcons from signing him to a longer-term deal, but it typically doesn’t occur. Allen is not expecting to be one of the highest-paid players at his position, but he can earn himself a bigger paycheck with his play.

Dimitroff was asked for his evaluation of Allen coming off this past season.

"I thought Ricardo played well," Dimitroff said. "I thought Ricardo had a really good grasp of our defense and continued to get better and better at all levels and in all facets of his game. This was, again, new for him to transition from corner to safety. He’s done a very nice job with that. I think he’s becoming more and more of a leader as well, which has been good."

Allen knows Quinn is all about competition, and Quinn already said nickel back Brian Poole, a safety in college, could get a look at free safety next season. The Falcons will have somewhat of a surplus at cornerback with Desmond Trufant returning from pectoral surgery and his replacement, Jalen Collins, proving himself worthy of a starting role outside at corner. The Trufant-Collins combination outside is likely to send Alford into the slot, thus leading to Poole getting that look at free safety.

Besides Poole, expect the Falcons to see what the free safety draft class has to offer, particularly from a speed standpoint. A few of the free safety names to watch include Florida’s Marcus Maye, UConn’s Obi Melifonwu, Washington’s Budda Baker and Alabama’s Eddie Jackson. The 6-foot-4-inch, 224-pound Melifonwu ran the 40 in 4.4 seconds and posted a 44-inch vertical at Monday's NFL combine, boosting his stock.

The Falcons need depth at free safety with Poole or whomever, considering Allen played the end of last season essentially with no backup after the team cut Robenson Therezie.

Allen talked about his primary focus heading into next season.

"I like that I can diagnose plays and formations really, really, really fast," Allen said. "The one thing I want to do is I want to shoot my gun sometimes -- not necessarily be reckless, but be a little more free. I have to play what I see because I see a lot stuff, but sometimes I don’t go get it. That’s one thing that I want to do to take my game to the next level.

"And then being that player who can play any spot in the field. I came from playing corner, so I can do that. I want to be up playing some man to man on some slots, tight ends and running backs. I want to be able to move around. I don’t want to be just stuck in the middle of the field. I want to be a player who can do it all for the team."