ATLANTA — The Atlanta Falcons have entered the free-agency period facing financial constraints made more difficult by the league’s soaring market for quarterbacks.
The Falcons addressed a need on Wednesday’s first day of free agency by signing offensive guard Brandon Fusco, who started 16 games for San Francisco last season, to a three-year deal.
Fusco, who began his career with the Vikings, could immediately start at right guard.
An offseason priority is reaching a new deal with quarterback Matt Ryan, the 2016 NFL MVP. Ryan can become a free agent following the upcoming final season on his six-year, $103.75 million contract.
General manager Thomas Dimitroff has expressed optimism about reaching a new deal with Ryan this offseason.
“I think it’s not going to be that difficult of a negotiation, quite honestly,” Dimitroff said after last season.
Now, however, the market has become more expensive.
Ryan is set to earn $19.25 million in 2018, and Drew Brees of the NFC South rival New Orleans Saints has just signed a new two-year deal reportedly worth $50 million . Meanwhile, Jimmy Garoppolo, who has played in only 23 games in his career, last month signed a five-year, $137.5 million deal with San Francisco.
Dimitroff said at the NFL draft combine on March 2 the Garoppolo contract, worth a record $27.5 million per year, “complicates things.”
“I think a lot of quarterbacks are honed in on what’s going on,” Dimitroff said.
Though Ryan couldn’t match his 2016 production and the Falcons’ offense struggled at times last season , the quarterback appears to be headed for a raise.
It would help the Falcons’ offseason efforts if Ryan, who turns 33 on May 17, will agree to a deal that relieves salary cap pressure for 2018.
The team’s available cap space was about $9 million after re-signing kicker Matt Bryant , offensive lineman Austin Pasztor and cornerbacks Leon McFadden and Blidi Wreh-Wilson.
Atlanta released defensive end Derrick Shelby and announced plans to release tight end Levine Toilolo in cost-cutting moves.
Also, the Falcons this week placed second-round tenders on safety Ricardo Allen and guard Ben Garland, who are restricted free agents.
There wasn’t financial room to re-sign all the looming free agents — especially with Ryan’s new deal looming.
“Matt Ryan’s situation of course has some play in dictating where we are and how creative we are in free agency and re-signing some of our other players,” Dimitroff said.
“Anytime you’re signing a top-tier quarterback you’re going to be faced with complications. That’s just the way it is.”
The team’s defensive front took a hit on Wednesday, the first day of free agency, when starters Adrian Clayborn, who led the team with 9 ½ sacks last season, and Dontari Poe became unrestricted free agents. Among other key players who became unrestricted free agents were fullback Derrick Coleman, wide receiver Taylor Gabriel, linebacker Kemal Ishmael and defensive tackle Courtney Upshaw.
After signing Fusco, Atlanta’s needs in free agency and the NFL draft include defensive line and tight end.