Falcons cut three veterans


The Falcons carried the NFC’s oldest roster last year during their 14-4 season that came up five yards short of a spot in Super Bowl XLVII. With internal pressure to take the final step and reach MetLife Stadium next February, the franchise decided it was best to swap three veterans for youth and salary space. Michael Turner, John Abraham and Dunta Robinson were all cut this morning as the team prepares for the opening of free agency on March 12.

Robinson was the No. 10 overall pick in the 2004 draft by the Houston Texans. The Falcons signed the defensive back to a six-year contract in 2010 that brought the former Clarke Central Gladiator back to his home state. The move to release the 30-year-old Robinson was made possibly thanks to the depth at cornerback with Dominique Franks, Chris Owens, Asante Samuels, Robert McClain and Brent Grimes. He perhaps knew his time with the team was up following the NFC Championship Game loss as he was one of the last two Falcons to leave the locker room.

Robinson’s departure saves the Falcons $3.75 million; Turner’s release saves $6.4 million while Abraham’s release saves $5.75 million. The total savings will give the Falcons $15.9 million plus an additional $2.4 million after the NFL raised the salary cap to $123 million.

The two vacancies that the Falcons must fill before the 2013 season now are at running back and defensive end. These are two positions in particular that do not carry veteran mileage well. It will be necessary to find guys that will be able to make an immediate impact as well as provide dependability at the position. Abraham was a reserved leader that led by his effort and knack for big plays rather than through his words. With Abraham out, it looks like the more animated Sean Weatherspoon is the guy that takes the mantle to lead from the defensive side and is more than capable of anchoring a strong defense once the demand for a defensive end is satisfied. Weatherspoon’s tenure with the team combined with his position and enthusiasm at practice makes him a natural choice to assume the leadership role.

The Atlanta Falcons evolved to one of the league’s most potent offensive attacks with the arrival of coordinator Dirk Koetter. The new offense featured heavy doses of Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez, with much less of Turner, whose role at running back was significantly diminished. Turner improved from a noticeably slow start and showed flashes of his old self while running behind fullback Mike Cox in 2012. The 31-year-old “Burner” lacks the threat of catching out of the backfield, however, and in the aerial attack was not capable of meshing with this new playbook. Turner seemed disinterested in the team’s offense after appearing to sustain a game-ending injury in the NFC Championship Game and more occupied in his own future as he was unavailable after the game to talk to reporters. The Falcons will likely aim for an all-purpose back that can explode into the flats for screens if needed and play more of a Darren Sproles- or Reggie Bush-brand of running back.

Cutting veteran players that helped contribute to the Falcons’ success over the past several seasons was obviously a difficult decision. Turner holds the franchise record for most rushing touchdowns (60) in his five-year stay as well as the record for most touchdowns in a season (17) in 2008. The Falcons all-time sack leader and soon to be 35-year-old Abraham signed his three-year/$16.72 million deal to remain in Atlanta on June 21, 2012. He will have to test the free agent market.

Against the suddenly-popular spread offense, the Falcons defensive line proved to be lacking. Perhaps Atlanta’s decision to part ways with Abraham signals a shift for Nolan and this defense to a 3-4 base. Atlanta could be looking to bring in two new ends that will be the new first line of defense against the option.

The Falcons are serious about building a Super Bowl team in 2013 and have taken a step back with confidence that they can take two big steps forward with free agency and the draft.

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