Falcons place franchise tag on Jarrett, still want new deal

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              FILE - In this Dec. 2, 2018, file photo, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Robert Griffin III (3) runs out of the pocket as Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett (97) defends during the second half of an NFL football game in Atlanta. The Falcons have placed a franchise tag on Jarrett while saying they still hope to negotiate a long-term contract with the defensive tackle. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons placed a franchise tag on Grady Jarrett on Monday while saying they still hope to negotiate a long-term contract with the defensive tackle.

The $15.209 million tag comes after Jarrett was a bright spot in the Falcons’ disappointing 2018 season. Jarrett had 52 tackles and set career highs with six sacks and three forced fumbles as the leader of Atlanta’s defensive front.

Jarrett, 25, was seen as one of the top free agents at defensive tackle. General manager Thomas Dimitroff had no intention of allowing Jarrett to become an unrestricted free agent on March 13.

“As we have said since the end of the season, getting a deal done with Grady is our priority,” Dimitroff said in a statement.

“Applying the franchise tag to him does not change that in any way. Our aim is for Grady to be an integral part of our plan for many years to come and this allows us to extend our negotiating window.”

The Falcons can negotiate with Jarrett until July 15.

The non-exclusive tag means Jarrett can still be courted by other teams. If Jarrett signs an offer sheet from another team and the Falcons don’t match the offer, that team must give Atlanta two first-round draft picks.

Jarrett, a fifth-round pick from Clemson in 2015, has started at least 14 games in three straight seasons. His sacks total has climbed each season. He has 14 through four seasons.

The Falcons reached an agreement on a new two-year deal with backup quarterback Matt Schaub last week but may not have cap room to retain some other potential free agents, including running back Tevin Coleman.

The Falcons have about $22 million to work with under the salary cap. Jarrett will claim a large portion of that space.

“Grady is a very important part of our football team and it’s important that he’s back,” Dimitroff said last week at the NFL combine.

Dimitroff has other offseason goals, including a new deal for wide receiver Julio Jones.

“Still don’t have a timetable on that,” Dimitroff said last week, adding the team is “in a really good place with Julio.”