The Atlanta Falcons' best signed pass rusher, if we were to go purely by number of 2014 sacks, would be either Paul Worrilow or Jonathan Babineaux. They each had two sacks.
I begin this piece with that little factoid to underscore the depth of the problem in Atlanta, where the team just released Jonathan Massaquoi. It's an open debate whether Mass represented the next great hope for the Falcons' pass rush or just another defender overhyped by fans desperate for a solution, but either way, he was one of the team's more productive pass rushers, and now he's gone.
What does this mean for the Falcons?
Look over your shoulder if you're disgruntled
Massaquoi's on-the-field ability may not have been entirely clear, but he at least had some production and clear potential to point to. Off-the-field, things were a little different.
Per Vaughn McClure, Mass skipped treatments for his injured foot last year. He openly complained about his playing time. Though nothing else came out into the open, Mass's release suggests there was more than going on behind the scenes, or there would be little reason to cut ties with a pass rusher who has not yet turned 27 years old.
The team will always have guys with questionable attitudes, but you've got to buy into what the organization is doing or you won't survive. That much is clear.
Expect at least two new pass rushers
The Falcons now have a few projects with promise, including Prince Shembo, Stansly Maponga and Tyler Starr. They have some skill on the interior in Jonathan Babineaux, Ra'Shede Hageman and perhaps Corey Peters, if he returns. They don't have a true pass rushing talent anywhere on the roster, which means they'll have to go acquire some this offseason. You can only scheme so much.
The Falcons could and should make their first round pick a pass rusher, given the strength of the class and who is likely to be available at pick #8. That doesn't mean they shouldn't invest in one or two in free agency, given that they have $30-plus million in cap space and there's genuine talent available. Walk away with Brandon Graham and Pernell McPhee, to grab two mid-tier names out of a hat, and you've drastically upgraded one of the weakest units in football without absolutely breaking the bank. The Falcons have left themselves little recourse but to spend dollars and draft picks to fix one of their most chronic woes, and cutting Mass was essentially the final nail in a well-built coffin.
Little cap savings
The Falcons will realize a meager $660,000 in cap savings by cutting ties with Mass, so this was not about the money. I suppose every dollar helps.