The Falcons are releasing key players, marking the end of an era

The 2020-21 NFL season begins on Sep. 7, but the real fun started this past week with the NFL offseason. 

Among those reshaping their roster are the Atlanta Falcons. Entering the offseason, the Falcons possessed little cap space. Also, the current front office regime continues to hang on its final threads. The bold moves have changed the landscape of the team’s scheme. But will they open the door for a brighter future? 

Let us look back at the transactions that caught our eyes this week.

Key players

The Falcons’ announced they were releasing two former Pro-Bowl veterans earlier this week: running back Devonta Freeman and cornerback Desmond Trufant. Both veterans were on the downturn as Freeman and Trufant dealt with falling production and injury concerns. 

Atlanta possessed just over $4M in cap space before the cuts. 

Cutting Freeman is the real head-scratcher. The Falcons could have potentially traded he and Austin Hooper for a good return value. For example, the Detroit Lions offered a trade for Freeman, but Atlanta refused. 

Falcons beat reporter Terrence Moore sees the release of the star tailback as an admission of guilt.

“Losing Freeman solidifies the era of losing [former Falcons running back] Tevin Coleman to the San Francisco 49ers for nothing,” Moore said. 

Following the 2016 season, Freeman was made the highest-paid running back in the league, but never regained his form without Kyle Shannahan. Trufant was once seen as one of the best up and coming defensive backs. A few years later, injuries and on-field mistakes made his contract look like a mistake with Falcons’ current financial situation. 

But where does it leave the franchise now?

They also parted ways with offensive tackle Ty Sambrailo, who, just last year, was given a three-year extension by the birds. General Manager Thomas Dimitroff is trying to shed all the questionable contracts he has handed out in the last decade. 

Following the 2016 season, the Falcons made Freeman the highest-paid running back in the league after signing him to a five-year, $41.25 million contract. Many in the league viewed Trufant once seen as one of the best up and coming defensive backs. A few years later, injuries and on-field mistakes have made his contract look like a mistake with the Falcons’ financial situation.

The cuts also put more pressure on nailing their upcoming draft. Atlanta could take a defensive line player with their first pick, but Trufant’s release puts them in a position where a defensive back will be a priority. Also, it looks like Dan Quinn and Dimitroff are gambling on themselves (again) to get this team back to contention.

However, Atlanta also made an addition as they traded their second-round pick from New England and their fifth-round pick to the Baltimore Ravens for tight-end Hayden Hurst. The move was to fill the void of Hooper, who departed in free agency and signed a record deal with the Cleveland Browns on Tuesday. 

The Ravens selected Hurst in 2018, but the Clemson Tigers product seldom received in-game snaps while backing up 2020 Pro Bowler Mark Andrews.

The trade comes with a caveat. Atlanta will lose their second-round pick (55th overall) from the New England Patriots. 

The Falcons have so many holes that even the fourth-rounder received from the Ravens is not enough to offset the extra second given up to Baltimore.

Overall, there is little room for error. The Falcons were able to move on from past their prime veterans and get out of bad deals. Atlanta also found a quality replacement for Hooper at the tight-end position. However, with dead cap and losing valuable draft capital, the offseason only puts the team more under pressure to hit the jackpot come April’s NFL Draft.