The Atlanta Falcons offense set records in 2016 thanks to big performances from skill position players like WRs Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu, and running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. However, one hero of the season was wide receiver Taylor Gabriel. The third year receiver had 35 receptions for 579 yards, and tied for the team lead with six touchdowns.
Gabriel joined the Falcons this season on a one-year deal after the Cleveland Browns released him at the end of training camp. It seems like par for the course for Cleveland that they would release a player who would go on to make big contributions for a Super Bowl team.
Gabriel spent two seasons with the Browns, so the end of his one-year deal with the Falcons means he is a restricted free agent. Gabriel told ESPN he wants to stick around with the Falcons. As an RFA, he has less power than he would as an unrestricted free agent. The Falcons can place a tender on Gabriel that makes it prohibitive for another team to sign him. They could place an original round tender, second round tender, or first round tender. Gabriel joined the Browns as an undrafted free agent, so an original round tender would simply be a right of first refusal on a contract offer.
ESPN’s Vaughn McClure thinks the team could very well pay a little extra for the first or second round tender. Thomas Dimitroff told McClure the team wants him back as well, and think they can work things out. A first round tender would cost around $4 million, and a second round tender would cost around $2.8 million.
McClure mentioned how if the Falcons opted for a right of first refusal tender ($1.8 million), it would open the door another team with significant cap space to try and sign Gabriel away. McClure specifically noted the 49ers and former Falcons OC Kyle Shanahan. Gabriel and Shanahan worked together in 2014 during Shanahan’s one season in Cleveland, when Gabriel was a rookie. McClure mentioned that Shanahan lobbied for the Falcons to sign him.
My guess is Gabriel gets the first or second round tender, and he sticks around this year. The 49ers would have to give up their 2017 first or second round pick in such a situation. The 49ers do need wide receiver help, but Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch would have to absolutely love Gabriel to consider giving up a high second round pick for him. If they are looking wide receiver high one could debate the merits of using the pick on a three-year veteran, but I just would not see it happen.