I know, I don’t like waking up to startling news early in the morning either. Usually that ends in fluid of some kind surrounding me.
I assure you, though, this isn’t shocking news, or it least it won’t be for more than a second or two. Ready? Alrighty then, here goes…
The Falcons cut Michael Turner, John Abraham, and Dunta Robinson.
Turner’s release isn’t remotely surprising, and in fact we had long passed the point where the opposite would have been far more jarring. Turner had a fine career in Atlanta, highlighted by his 1,699 rushing yards with 17 touchdowns back in 2008. But five years is often quite literally half a lifetime for an NFL running back, and now the 31-year-old Turner had faded to average only 3.6 yards per carry this past season, a career low. He’s not completely useless, as with his 10 touchdowns he still flexed his power and strength down by the goal-line, making him an ideal complement somewhere to a speed back who’s more comfortable bouncing to the outside. Translation: Turner can’t start anywhere, but he’d be fine in a platoon situation, and making a return to San Diego is still a strong possibility.
Abraham is the name that will be far more surprising at first, simply because he’s the primary source of pass rushing on a team that didn’t do too much of it despite nearly reaching the Super Bowl. The Falcons had only 29 sacks (28th), and Abraham had 10 of them, while none of his teammates recorded more than four. But the numbers game led to a crunch which in turn led to a reality with Abraham that Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff acknowledged today. Although he’s still effective, Abraham will turn 35 in May, and he played almost solely on passing downs, coming off the field for about a third of the Falcons’ defensive snaps.
That was part of the equation for Abraham’s Atlanta demise, and the other was his large cap number. He was due to account for a cap hit of $7.25 million next year, which is a painfully steep sum for a player of his age. While his release makes financial and strategic sense, a massive hole is now left on the field that won’t be filled nearly as easily as the one left by Turner, if he even left a hole at all (Jacquizz Rodgers, ya’ll). Free agency starts in just under two weeks, and an option there is Osi Umenyiora, along with an also aging Dwight Freeney whose price has declined.
Meanwhile, Robinson’s release is another product of a player being paid far too much while producing inadequate returns. He’ll be remembered in Atlanta as a rare recent free agency flop by Dimitroff after he was signed to a six-year deal worth $57 million, and then his overly aggressive nature in coverage led to far too many major gains. He was due to account for a groin punching $9 million against the cap next year, and now the space freed up by both his release and the jettisoning of Turner and Abraham (about $15.9 million) provides room for pending free agent Brent Grimes to be retained. Cornerback depth also contributed to Robinson’s release, with both Grimes (if he’s re-signed) and Asante Samuel playing at a much higher level.
The most likely scenario to address Abraham’s departure — by far the most significant of the three — is the Falcons waiting to draft the best available pass rusher with their 30th overall pick. But although a defensive end is now a much more glaring need, the temptation to draft a tight end will also be strong if Tony Gonzalez retires given the importance of the tight end position to Atlanta’s offense.
To an extent, the Falcons’ offseason direction still rests with Gonzo’s decision.