The Falcons last year lost their roughly average starting left tackle, average if versatile defensive end and linebacker and average running back for large swaths of the season. While that wasn't the only reason the team went 4-12, the cascade effect that comes with replacing proven players with unproven or downright lousy ones was a contributing factor.
That's what makes the current mood of the fanbase fairly peculiar. The overwhelming urge at the moment seems to be to kick the bums out, which as I've said before is an understandable sentiment. For all the Falcons fans who are clamoring to be rid of Harry Douglas, Osi Umenyiora, Sam Baker, Kroy Biermann and Steven Jackson, though, I'd just ask: Who replaces them?
At first blush, you might say anyone. As last season showed us in excruciating detail, however, it's clear that not just anyone can step in. The Falcons could use some of their limited free agent dollars and their more bountiful draft picks to try to find upgrades on some of these players, but the chances of legitimately finding better players at all four spots are slim at best.
Let me elaborate on that: Given the relatively fungible nature of running backs, you could probably draft a back in the first five rounds who could step in and deliver as part of a rotation. Adding a pass rushing linebacker/defensive end hybrid would allow you to replace either Osi or Kroy, and certainly there are receivers you could invest in over the course of this deep draft class. How confident are you that you can hit on all of those, plus a left tackle, and have them all contribute at a high level in 2014?
My point isn't that any of these players are irreplaceable, to be certain. It's just that especially at this point in the offseason, when the free agent well is drying up and gobs of cap space are unnecessary, we shouldn't be trying to boot reasonably valuable veterans out the door. All of the guys listed above, if healthy, will be contributors for what we all hope will be a winning football team.
If all goes well, the Falcons will be adding real talent at wide receiver, tackle, outside linebacker and running back in the draft. Just don't expect all those players to be able to step in and replace the veterans currently on the roster.