Falcons could reward safety Ricardo Allen with long-term deal

Falcons safety Ricardo Allen, who made $615,000 in 2017 as an exclusive-rights free agent, is due for a huge raise in 2018. Paul Sancya/AP

The Atlanta Falcons often talk about how important free safety Ricardo Allen is to the success of the defense. Now they have a chance to show him with a financial commitment.

Allen is a restricted free agent, but that doesn't preclude the Falcons from rewarding him with a long-term deal, either heading into the 2018 season or at some point during the season. Allen made $615,000 in 2017 as an exclusive-rights free agent.

“Yes, I believe we can create space for Rico and a number of other players,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said when asked if Allen could receive a long-term deal rather than just play under the one-year restricted free-agent tender. “That said, we are always striving for creativity. And decisions made on certain free agents, whether they be restricted or unrestricted, oftentimes are contingent on the creativity they enable or not.”

The Falcons seem likely to at least place a second-round tender on Allen to ensure he doesn't reach free agency. Allen opened eyes across the league with his consistent play, so placing a lower tender on the 2014 fifth-round pick from Purdue wouldn't make much sense, as it would increase the possibility of losing him.

“He's an eraser, he's got instincts, and he's very smart,” one league executive said of Allen. “The more he plays, the better he's going to look because he's going to get that experience. He's always been an instinctive guy because he was a corner. He's got a real good feel for the game. If the Falcons were to put him out there, you'd have a handful of teams jumping out at him because he's in the prime of his career.”

A second-round tender was worth $2.553 million in 2016 and $2.746 million last year. It should be just under $3 million this year. The deadline for a restricted free agent to sign an offer sheet from another team is April 20, and the deadline for a team to withdraw the tender is June 15.

Even if Allen were to sign an extended tender, that doesn't prevent the sides from reaching a long-term deal in the same breath. Allen is represented by powerhouse agent Drew Rosenhaus, who is accustomed to negotiating top-level contracts. Rosenhaus client Brandon Marshall, a linebacker for the Denver Broncos, signed a $2.553 million restricted-free-agent tender at the deadline in June 2016, and then immediately agreed to a four-year, $27.64 million extension that included $20.053 million guaranteed. The $2.553 million in the first year made it basically a $30 million deal for Marshall.

The Falcons had a similar case with right tackle Ryan Schraeder, who signed a $2.553 second-round tender in March 2016 only to agree to a five-year, $31.5 extension that November, an extension that included $12.5 million guaranteed.

Allen could bet on himself and play out next season under the one-year RFA tender, put together a Pro Bowl season, then command an even more lucrative contract in 2019. That appears to be the scenario for Carolina offensive guard Andrew Norwell, who played under the $2.746 million RFA tender this past season, played well, and now is expected to cash in as a top unrestricted free agent this offseason.

However it all unfolds for Allen, he is due for a significant raise. Rosenhaus surely will argue that Allen deserves to be paid among the top-tier free safeties in the league based on his value to the defense. Allen played multiple positions throughout this past season and logged 902 defensive snaps. He was the team's most consistent tackler and was a designated “chief” as one of the team's leaders.

The three highest-paid free safeties regarding average per year -- Arizona's Tyrann Mathieu, Minnesota's Harrison Smith and Seattle's Earl Thomas -- make $12.5 million, $10.25 million and $10 million per year, respectively, with Thomas currently looking for a new contract. New England's Devin McCourty averages $9.5 million, while Jacksonville's Tashaun Gipson, Denver's Darian Stewart and Philadelphia's Rodney McLeod each average about $7 million per season.

When asked about his future in the moments after a playoff loss to the Eagles, the last thing Allen wanted to talk about was contract numbers. He did speak, in general terms, about his goals for next season and beyond.

“My goal is just to push this defense as hard as I can, pulling the best out of my brothers,” Allen said. “For me personally, I want to take that next step and be considered among the elite safeties. I thought this past season, I did a good job of taking my chances when I needed to. I felt my game took another jump. But personally, I know I can play at an even higher level.”

The Falcons rewarded their top two cornerbacks with long-term deals in 2017, signing Desmond Trufant to a five-year, $68.75 million extension ($41.526 million guaranteed) and Robert Alford to a four-year, $38 million extension ($21 million guaranteed). We'll see how much they are willing to invest in Allen. Dimitroff said the upcoming contract extension for quarterback Matt Ryan should create more flexibility for others.

Again, the Falcons have gone out of their way to praise Allen's value to the defense.

"He might not be that big, he might not be that fast, but he does the job and he gets it done," defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel said of the 5-foot-9, 186-pound Allen. "We were better on defense that he only had two missed tackles all year. Not a lot of free safeties can say that, maybe that being Earl [Thomas].”

Allen appreciates the praise from his coaches and teammates, but he's more concerned about elevating the defense as a whole. The Falcons finished in the top 10 in total defense and scoring defense for the first time since 1998.

“I think if we keep taking steps, there's no reason why we can't push this to a higher standard and become a top-five defense,” Allen said. “All we have to do is keep developing and maintaining our high standards. I think it will all play out the way it should if we keep doing it that way.”