The Atlanta Falcons have used gobs of money to help build their secondary. They've also cultivated young players who may not have had the pedigree, but did have the talent. This off-season, they've released shining examples of both.
While Dunta Robinson clearly did not play up to his sizeable contract, Brent Grimes came into the league as an undrafted free agent cornerback and clawed his way to the top of the game. He was universally thought of as one of the better cover corners operating in the NFL, and he might still be considered one of the league's elite if not for last year's devastating Achilles injury.
Both are now gone. Dunta was released and signed with the Chiefs, while Grimes shopped around and got a very nice contract for a rehabilitating corner, grabbing one year and $5.5 million from the free-spending Dolphins. The Falcons were never going to match that with their cap situation being what it is, and certainly with a focus on going young, even a great 30-year-old rehabbing cornerback wasn't going to get many of their dollars.
And great he was. It's easy to forget this now that Grimes is moving on and the secondary was fairly successful in 2012, but Grimes was the team's best cornerback for a three-year stretch. It wasn't particularly close.
From 2009 to 2011, Grimes picked 12 passes, deflected 50 and graded out as one of Pro Football Focus's best coverage cornerbacks over that span. On a team capital D desperate for help at the position, Grimes was a godsend. The fact that he was a high-jumping, generously listed 5'10" cornerback with excellent ball skills made the whole thing better, as did the fact that he toiled on the practice squad out of Shippensburg before finding a role on the team.
The 2011 injury that cost him the playoff game against the Giants ended that, obviously. Grimes only played part of the first game of the 2012 season for Atlanta before suffering the Achilles injury.
Sometimes the right move is also a painful move. In a deep cornerback class, with a rock solid starter (Asante Samuel), a great nickel corner (Robert McClain) and some intriguing young talent further down the depth chart, outbidding $5.5 million for Grimes would have been a mistake, one that would have cost the Falcons other players because of salary cap issues. That makes it the right move to let him go to Miami, but because of Grimes' general excellence and what he meant to the team, it is painful to watch him walk away.
I wish Grimes nothing but the best, but when the Falcons play the Dolphins this year, I hope Matt Ryan torches him. That's the business of being a fan.