The Falcons released Steven Jackson after two years in Atlanta, leaving the running back depth chart unsettled and freeing up some space in the process. Here's what this means for the team, in a nutshell.
The Falcons save $3.75 million against the 2015 salary cap by cutting Jackson, and with additional cuts today, they'll have over $30 million to play around with. We all expect this team to be aggressive about filling a couple of key positions of need in free agency, so having that kind of money is a real boon.
This is a roster in desperate need of a pass rusher, tight end and stopgap starters at positions like safety and potentially left guard, and it just so happens that this particular free agent class has some nice options available at basically all of those positions. It's worth noting that the Falcons could turn around and use the money they're saving from Jackson to pick up another veteran running back, but man am I tired of backs with a lot of mileage coming to Atlanta to wither away.
Either way, that money's available.
Devonta Freeman's future remains bright
I wrote last week that I had high hopes for Devonta Freeman, and even though the Falcons are clearly going to be shopping for new blood at running back, he's the biggest beneficiary of this move.
Freeman isn't the fastest or strongest back, but he's shown quality vision in the past, he's quick to the hole and he's a terrific pass catcher already. If he spends the offseason working on pass protection and has a firm grasp on Kyle Shanahan's playbook, the coaching staff is going to have every reason to feature him.
Bottom line: Freeman won't carry the load by himself, but he's still likely to get more snaps in this backfield than anyone else. There's a reason the new coaching staff has been talking him up.
The Falcons will add at least one new back...
Atlanta certainly seems interested in re-signing Antone Smith, and he would once again be a fearsome weapon out of the backfield for this Falcons team. They may even have a role for bruiser Jerome Smith, who is hanging around after spending a large portion of last season on the practice squad.
Even if they do roll with those three backs, expect some new blood. The Falcons could look into former Raven Justin Forsett, who has terrific speed, or they could dip their toes into an insanely deep running back class and try to come up with a complementary back with upside. Either way, expect a fresh face or two in Atlanta by the time April's over.
...but the days of expensive veterans may be over
You can't rule anything out with a new coaching staff, and Dan Quinn had to appreciate that free agent Marshawn Lynch was so amazing in Seattle. But after watching Michael Turner break down in 2011 and 2012 and seeing Steven Jackson battle injuries and stretches of ineffectiveness in Atlanta, I'd have to think the team will be wary of trying to buy another feature back. That's probably for the best.