Grady Jarrett has put in the work that's deserving of a new contract

Atlanta's Grady Jarrett has a career-high six sacks in 12 games played to go with three forced fumbles and 47 combined tackles. Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Maybe the best way to sum up what defensive tackle Grady Jarrett means to the Atlanta Falcons is to talk to his teammates.

Ask Takk McKinley, a defensive end who plays alongside Jarrett on the line.

"Just how athletic he is," McKinley said of the 6-foot, 305-pound Jarrett. "For a big man like that to be able to move and be as agile as he is, it's very unique. You know how bad he wants it. Stats may not prove it sometimes, but when you look on film you see how he stands out regardless of two sacks, one sacks, whatever ... it's hurries, pressures. All of that matters. And he's our leader.

"We go as he goes."

Or ask six-time Pro Bowl center Alex Mack, who regularly lines up against Jarrett in practice.

"He's a great player," Mack said. "He's very powerful. He's a hard body type to block because he's low to the ground and really explosive. To get those reps and to have those things in practice is really beneficial to us and our team. And he comes off the ball hard and works hard every day. The better players you have on your team, the better they make everybody."

The Falcons seem to understand how valuable Jarrett is to the organization, although they need to take another step to show it. Leading into this season, there was discussion about Jarrett being awarded a long-term extension with one year and $1.905 million left on his rookie deal. Such has yet to happen despite Jarrett playing at a high level through a 5-9 season, including being named NFC Defensive Player of the Week following last week's seven-tackle, two-sack, one-force fumble performance against Arizona.

Heading into Sunday's game at Carolina (1 p.m. ET, Fox), Jarrett has a career-high six sacks in 12 games played, to go with three forced fumbles and 47 combined tackles. Not to mention he is the team's Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee for his community service, showing leadership on and off the field.

So, what about that new contract?

"I mean, it's going to play itself out," Jarrett said. "But at the end of the day, I've got a job to do right now and an obligation to fill through my current situation. Anything that I've been going through has been by plan. Ain't been no frustration my way. But I know when the time comes, I know that I've put in work. And I'm not blind to that. And I'm not settling. That's all I have to say."

Jarrett should be one of the primary pieces as the Falcons try to rebuild their defensive line for the future. The line is expected to undergo a major facelift this offseason, with the potential for the team to target a defensive lineman with what will likely be a top-10 pick in the draft. In a mock draft, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay had the Falcons selecting Clemson defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence (6-4, 350) to pair with Jarrett, a former Tiger.

"He's a good player," Jarrett said of Lawrence. "Big, strong, athletic guy. Especially for his size, he's a really good athlete and can move and bend well. He's definitely a great prospect."

Now back to Jarrett. There has been speculation about how the Falcons might proceed with his contract situation. Joel Corry, a former contract agent and current analyst for John Clayton Football, envisioned a scenario where the Falcons could use the one-year franchise tag on Jarrett next season at a price projected to be around $15.355 million.

Cincinnati's Geno Atkins leads all defensive tackles with an average of $16.3 million per year. Philadelphia's Fletcher Cox, a former 3-4 defensive end who went back to play defensive tackle, received $17.1 million per year. Jarrett's agent, Todd France, likely will try to work off those numbers.

The Falcons' highest paid defensive player right now is cornerback Desmond Trufant at $13.75 million per year. Quarterback Matt Ryan leads all the players on the roster at $30 million per year.

Jarrett's versatility should help persuade the Falcons. He's known more as a nose tackle but has had success at the three-technique as well.

"This year, I've been [playing at] nose a lot heavier kind of because of the personnel that we've got," Jarrett explained. "But I play both well. And when I'm at both, I want to be the best that I can be.

"At nose, you're going to get a lot more doubles and you might have to be a lot more stout in the run game. Three tech, you have a lot more pass-rush options and also opportunities to make plays in the backfield. But they come at nose, too. So they kind of just come how they go. I've gotten sacks from the nose. I've gotten sacks from the three-technique. I got tackles for loss from the nose. I got tackles for loss from the three-technique."

The Falcons got a glimpse of what life without Jarrett is like. Injury forced him to miss the Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay games earlier in the season. In those games, the Falcons allowed the Steelers and Buccaneers to convert 75 percent and 62.5 percent, respectively, on third down. And they didn't sack Ben Roethlisberger.

Defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel never takes for granted how much Jarrett means to the unit.

"The truck-driver has a special, unique skill set," Manuel said. "He's not 325 pounds and a 6-4 guy, but he's a combination of different things. He beats you with his get-off. His length, meaning his arms, are bigger than what people would anticipate. His speed to power is different than anybody else, almost John Randle-ish. ... Not there yet but in that conversation with the skill set that he has."