The Atlanta Falcons depth chart isnt so deep right now. That should be expected, I suppose, after a team releases three of its starters.
It took courage for general manager Thomas Dimitroff to let running back Michael Turner, defensive end John Abraham and cornerback Dunta Robinson go Friday. It might have been necessary, but it couldnt have been easy.
This was a team that was only a few yards and one play away from a Super Bowl appearance six weeks ago. To tinker too much with a roster that close to a championship is always a gamble, but, in this case, it is simply the first step in trying to make sure the Falcons get back that deep in the playoffs.
The release of Turner was expected. Hes 31 years old, and weve seen his numbers decline in each of the past few seasons. Turner was OK this past season, but there are times when an NFL teams needs a back who is better than just OK.
Now the Falcons must decide on three options to replace Turner. Do they sign a free agent, like Steven Jackson or Reggie Bush? Do they pray Alabamas Eddie Lacy is on the board when they pick 30th in the first round? Or do they wait until the second or third day of the draft and try to get this years Alfred Morris, who was a sixth-round pick last year by Washington and rushed for more than 1,600 yards.
My vote is for signing Jackson, who will soon opt out of his contract with the St. Louis Rams and reportedly wants to sign with a contender. Jackson will turn 30 this July, so hes going to be past that magic number, too. But this is a player who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of the past eight seasons. He can also catch the ball out of the backfield, which is something the Falcons could not expect out of Turner. The Falcons should draft a running back late, but they need a veteran to be the main guy behind quarterback Matt Ryan in the backfield.
Replacing Abraham will be trickier, since the Falcons also have issues on the other side at the same position. The midseason release of Ray Edwards was an admission that signing him was a mistake, but the Falcons really needed to replace him this offseason. Now they need two pass rushers, since Kroy Biermann is more of a situational defensive end.
Atlanta could sign Dwight Freeney or Osi Umenyiora, who are both available. Theyre a bit younger than Abraham, but they have been solid football players, and youd just have to hope they have more left in the tank. This could also be the spot the Falcons look for help in the draft.
The secondary is a mess right now, with only Asante Samuel set at cornerback and Thomas DeCoud at safety. Cornerback Brent Grimes, who got hurt in September and missed the entire season, and safety William Moore, are both free agents.
Perhaps Grimes will come back on a cheaper contract to re-establish his value and cash in next offseason, but there are rumors out there that the Falcons want Darrelle Revis from the New York Jets. Hed be expensive, but hes the best cornerback in football and would provide a beast for Atlanta on defense.
The Falcons must re-sign Moore, who was outstanding last season. If theyre going to make an investment in one of their own, hes the pick. Thats part of the reason the Falcons released the three players Friday -- to pay for Moore and maybe offensive tackle Sam Baker, who is also a critical free agent.
Atlantas free agents, and the players released Friday, give the team eight positions of the 22 on the field that are currently vacant of a starter. The draft will obviously be very important. Dimitroff stressed getting younger, and that means the pick at 30 in the first round will have to be a starter, and its likely the second pick could be that crucial, as well.
The math is going to be dicey for Dimitroff. He has some cap space room, but fitting his own free agents, along with the possibility of tight end Tony Gonzalez coming back, will not be easy. Plus, he will have Ryans contract situation to deal with soon. But the release of Turner, Abraham and Robinson will not only help make that happen but will also give him the chance to make this team better.
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