The Atlanta Falcons began trimming the fiscal fat from their roster Friday, as cornerback Dunta Robinson, defensive end Jonathan Abraham and running back Michael Turner were all cut, the team announced.
The moves were far from surprising, and they saved the team more than $16 million in cap space, according to ESPN.
With the new NFL salary cap set at $123 million, Atlanta now has just over $23 million to use to sign players. And there’s a lot of work to do.
With Robinson gone, Atlanta has only one starting cornerback on its roster: Asante Samuel. Christopher Owens and Robert McClain can be used as nickel options, but neither should be relied on opposite Samuel. Dominique Franks is cornerback depth at this time.
Since the Falcons pick late in the first round (No. 30), the cornerbacks in the draft that have the best shot at making an immediate impact in the NFL will be long gone. Atlanta is going to need to find a cornerback via free agency or trade.
The first option that comes to mind is to trade for Darrelle Revis, but that may be more trouble than it’s worth.
The Jets want high-round draft picks for Revis, and the Falcons just can’t part with them. Revis is also an injury risk who will want to get paid on a big-time scale. Trading for him would make a huge splash, but it looks far-fetched.
The names on the free-agent-to-be cornerback list are decent. Nnamdi Asomugha is likely going to be released by the Philadelphia Eagles soon, while Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie finished his contract last year and will be an unrestricted free agent. But Samuel with Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie underachieved in Philadelphia in 2011.
Answers to why will have to appear before the Falcons can reunite these characters.
After Abraham’s 10 sacks last year, the Falcons' roster is fairly devoid of others who can get to the quarterback with regularity. Kroy Biermann had four sacks, leading just three others that notched more than two sacks in 2012.
The Falcons will have to add multiple pieces at defensive end and hope that some of the depth currently on the roster steps up.
I expect Atlanta to grab a defensive end in the NFL draft, but it also makes sense for the Falcons to look via free agency as well. Dwight Freeney is too old to make sense, but there are options out there like Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, though they may turn out to be too expensive.
Now that Turner is gone, Atlanta must depend on Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling to get things done out of the backfield in 2013. That’s not a recipe for success.
Both are great receiving running backs, which is a great fit for Atlanta’s new offense. But Rodgers has never carried the ball more than 11 times in a professional game, and Snelling’s best season was 2009, when he carried the ball 142 times and averaged 4.3 yards per carry.
Atlanta will need to add a running back, and there are two distinct methods to do so.
A guy like Steven Jackson could be signed and brought in to anchor the running back corps. Rodgers and Snelling would continue to be used as they were in 2012. While this is the best option for the Falcons to see success in 2013, it’s costly, and Jackson might not sign a cap-friendly contract, even for a contender like Atlanta.
The Falcons could also draft a running back, but anyone selected in April from the college ranks likely won't be ready to take over primary rushing duties. That would increase the number of touches coming to Rodgers and Snelling, and neither has shown he is ready for that.
Tight End/Third Wide Receiver
Tony Gonzalez still hasn’t informed the Falcons of his decision to retire or return for one more season. If he comes back, he’ll need to be paid in the neighborhood of $10 million—maybe more.
Many mock drafts have the Falcons grabbing a tight end with their first-round pick. I believe this would be a mistake.
Using a first-round pick on a tight end is akin to trying too hard and too fast to replace a guy who just happens to be the best who ever lived at his position. The move is more reactionary than it should be. Ryan’s third receiver doesn’t need to be a tight end; a third receiver who can really work the slot would be just fine. And that’s a position that’s best left to be filled through free agency with a guy like Wes Welker.
If the Falcons decide it has to be a tight end as Ryan’s third receiving option, free agency is the way to fill that need too. Martellus Bennett is an interesting option there.
Strong Safety/Left Tackle
Both William Moore and Sam Baker are set to hit the free-agent market this year, and both are main targets for the Falcons to re-sign. All the money freed up Friday by Atlanta’s bloodletting should help, especially since Moore plans to test the free-agent market.
Even though I expect both to re-sign with Atlanta, don’t be surprised if the Falcons bolster the depth chart with draft picks at both positions.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.