John Abraham, Dunta Robinson and Michael Turner played a combined 224 regular season games for the Atlanta Falcons. And it appears that tally will stop right there.
All three veterans were released Friday by the Falcons in a trio of cost-cutting moves. In all, those decisions will save Atlanta $15.9 million off next year's salary cap, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution -- $6.4 for Turner, $5.75 for Abraham and $3.75 million for Robinson, while the Falcons also avoid having to pay a $3 million roster bonus to Robinson later this month.
"As a football coach it is never easy to cut any player, especially veteran players who have been valuable members of the organization," Atlanta coach Mike Smith said in a statement. "The guys we released today have contributed to the success that we have had over the last five years, and we greatly appreciate their efforts."
There was speculation that all three of these moves might be coming but, at least in the cases of Abraham and Robinson, they leave the Falcons with holes to plug via the draft or free agency. Robinson started all but one game over the past three seasons, delivering four interceptions and 25 pass break-ups during that time.
Abraham, meanwhile, led the Falcons with 10 sacks in 2012, the third straight season he's paced Atlanta's defensive attack. Even with Abraham's efforts, the Falcons finished with just 29 total sacks last season, the fourth-worst mark in the league. Now, Atlanta will have to find a way to replace its top defensive end and somehow upgrade its pass rush in the process.
The 31-year-old Turner averaged 1,216 yards on the ground in his five seasons with Atlanta, though his total plummeted to 800 in 2012, as he averaged a career-worst yards per carry (3.6). He also averaged fewer than 14 rush attempts per game, with Jacquizz Rodgers cutting into his playing time.
Rodgers, no doubt, will be a huge part of the Falcons' offensive plans heading into 2013. With Turner out of the picture, only Rodgers and fullback Jason Snelling remain with any experience running the football in this offense. Rodgers rushed for 362 yards on 94 carries in 2012; Snelling gained 63 yards on 18 attempts.
The Falcons could use their new-found money to lock up a host of their own free agents, including S William Moore, OT Sam Baker, CB Brent Grimes (who was franchise tagged last offseason) and, of course, TE Tony Gonzalez. Atlanta is still awaiting word on Gonzalez's plans for the 2013 season.
Also facing Atlanta in the near future: a needed contract extension for Matt Ryan. The Falcons' 27-year-old QB has just one year left on his current deal at $10 million. Once Joe Flacco and the Ravens agree to terms on a new contract, potentially setting the standard for QBs, Ryan and the Falcons might get to work on their own agreement.
Whatever is to come, there's no question that things will look a little different for the Falcons in 2013. They guaranteed that with Friday's decisive hack at the roster.
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