The Falcons chose to part ways with defensive end John Abraham Friday, a move that stunned a fair amount of the Atlanta fans out there. Whispers in recent weeks indicated the team could be inclined to cut Abraham, but actually releasing the player with the second-most sacks in franchise history was hardly anticipated.
Abraham will turn 35 in May. Although he's aging, No. 55 proved to be a tenacious pass rusher once again in 2012, finishing with 10 sacks, 38 hurries and eight hits in 463 pass rush snaps, per Pro Football Focus. The Falcons recorded 29 total sacks as a team. Replacing over a third of that statistic will be an adverse task.
Why cut Abe, though? He can still wreak havoc on opposing passers. He played every game last season. There's not really a glaring downside to his tenure with the team.
A few reasons for release:
1) Money: Abraham's cap hit was $7.25 million. With a prorated signing bonus of $1.5 million, the Falcons come away with $5.75 in savings. He took a relatively cheaper deal last offseason to stay in Atlanta. That makes me believe he won't stick around again looking for an even less expensive deal, as some have inquired about.
2) Age: 35 is not the new 25, sorry to say. He's not a decrepit old-timer struggling to make an impact. BUT, he is getting up there. "This last year, we were one of the oldest teams," Thomas Dimitroff said to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC. We've seen major purges like this before from the current regime. Keith Brooking, Dominique Foxworth, Lawyer Milloy, Michael Boley, Grady Jackson, and the rest of Grady Jackson all left town back in 2008.
3) Playing time: Well, Abraham played 71.62 percent of the Falcons defensive snaps in 2012. Some analysts point to Abe's "situational" usage as a reason for his departure. He wasn't outstanding against the run, but that's not his main forte. Rotoworld believes the $7.25 million cap hit was a steep price for a someone playing just over two-thirds of the time.
4) Looking elsewhere for help: Cliff Matthews is growing on the coaching staff. Jonathan Massaquoi was drafted last season and hasn't really been given a chance to prove himself yet. Lawrence Sidbury is still on the roster, I think. The Falcons have also been linked to top-name free agents like Dwight Freeney and Osi Umenyiora. Releasing Abraham could indicate confidence in the younger defensive ends on the roster along with a potential for making a serious run at an elite free agent.
5) Switch to 3-4: I expressed my belief in the Falcons moving towards a 3-4 defensive base yesterday, and today's news only reinforced that suspicion. The NFL continues to shift towards the 3-4. Mike Nolan holds his own expertise in this scheme. It makes sense. You're not going to find a dominant pass rusher to replace Abraham at No. 30 in the draft. If the Falcons don't sign one of those top defensive ends, moving to a 3-4 might be inevitable. But that's just my take. What's yours?