Atlanta came within 10 yards of the Super Bowl, but in the salary cap era that's no reason not to blow things up. It wasn't unexpected, by today the Falcons announced the releases of RB Michael Turner, DE John Abraham, and CB Dunta Robinson. It's not fun to say goodbye to three faces of a franchise (for better, or in Robinson's case, for worse), but taken together the cuts will save the Falcons $16 million in cap space.
It's also an opportunity to build a team that can compete for a few years, while Matt Ryan's window is wide open.
"In 2008, we came in here and we were the youngest team in the NFL," Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. "This last year, we were one of the oldest teams."
Turner's the biggest shocker, after five solid years as the centerpiece of Atlanta's running game. But he's 31, moving toward the tail end of the average back's career, and put up a career-low 3.6 yards per carry even as he ceded touches to Jacquizz Rodgers. Abraham is the oldest of the three, but the most effective—he led the Falcons in sacks and remains a dangerous pass rusher. Robinson's just not very good, especially not under the six-year, $57 million contract he signed in 2010.
There are lessons here. One: nobody is irreplaceable. Two: players, get your money while you can. NFL contracts aren't "contracts" in the sense of the word used by literally every other business. Turner had a year left on his deal and was due a significant raise in 2013. Abraham had two years left after signing an extension just last spring, and Robinson had three years remaining. That's tens of million of dollars agreed to that the Falcons simply don't have to pay because they don't want to. Players should never be begrudged for holding out, or for insisting on bonuses and other guarantees. It's ruthless out there, and no one's ever stayed employed by sentiment.