With another disappointing regular season completed, the much-anticipated offseason has arrived. Before the free agent frenzy begins, teams will cut players to clear cap space for potential high-priced signings. The Falcons will be forced to cut ties with several veterans. Some players have worn out their welcome, while others are beloved veterans that have rapidly declined.
For the Falcons, investing heavily in a pass rusher, wide receiver, or middle linebacker are all realistic options. The front office will be active, as Thomas Dimitroff continues to teeter on the hot seat. Here are five players to monitor during the offseason.
Keep in mind that not all players are immediately cut in February, as former tackle Tyson Clabo was released in April 2013. Atlanta tends to be unpredictable with their personnel and front office decisions, and that probably won't change after they hired former general managers Phil Emery and Ruston Webster.
This is my second year writing this piece, and last year, three out of my five selections ended up playing elsewhere or retired. If you want to fully know about a player's cap situation, my colleague Scott Carasik explained everything here.
Should he be released? Yes (if not willing to take a pay cut)
Will he be released? Yes
Despite all the promising reports coming out of both parties, it seems implausible that White remains on the team. The heart-and-soul of Atlanta stated publicly that he'd be a Falcon forever. It was only one month ago that he was adamant about not taking a pay cut. Do you base cutting him strictly off production, or do you keep him for leadership purposes? With a $6.1 million cap hit and not offering much as a starting wide receiver, it's hard justifying his place on the roster.
The passing attack suffered heavily from White's inability to create separation and Leonard Hankerson proving to be unreliable. Besides botched snaps and Matt Ryan's shoddy decision making, nothing hindered the offense more than lacking another receiving threat on the outside. White is capable of being effective on slants and other underneath routes, however, and run blocking. Productive games against Terrence Newman and Charles Tillman, who are the only remaining cornerbacks in the NFL older than him, doesn't warrant much praise. Unless his contract is reconstructed and White accepts a backup role, they have no other choice. Kyle Shanahan remaining as offensive coordinator doesn't bode well for his future either.
As everyone has heard before, the NFL will always be a business. Carolina releasing Steve Smith and Dallas releasing DeMarcus Ware were two moves that made you realize that the twin combination of age and money exceeds practically everything. Both players are still playing at a high level. Nobody can dispute how phenomenal Roddy's career in Atlanta has been, but the days of playing a rapidly declining receiver for 50 snaps a game are over.
Should he be released? Yes
Will he be released? Yes
The hard-hitting fan favorite is another probable cap casualty. Missing fourteen games over the past two seasons has damaged Moore's value considerably. He never lived up to expectations after receiving a five year deal in 2013. Turning 31 years old in May and becoming increasingly unreliable will likely force the front office to release one of their few defensive playmakers. When healthy, there is no denying Moore's ability as an enforcer. Atlanta's defense tends to play much better when their strong safety is flying to the ball and forcing turnovers. That hasn't been the case very often over the past two seasons.
Dan Quinn inserting Moore into the "Kam Chancellor" role was one of the more anticipated features of their new defense. Unfortunately, Moore looked a step slower at times and was taken off the field on third downs. His demotion seemed to occur following Benjamin Watson's breakout game, as he took the brunt of that debacle. Seeing Charles Godfrey playing over him late in the year was a bad sign.
This will be another tough loss for the locker room, as Moore has grown into a leader over the years. Leaders cannot be sidelined on a yearly basis, especially when being owed $4.5 million going into 2016. Similar to White, the former second round pick will always be appreciated. When Atlanta had their most successful seasons in 2010 and 2012, Moore was at the forefront of their success with a plethora of highlight reel plays. After seven seasons, a new enforcer is needed to play 16 games and give Quinn more speed in the secondary.
Should he be released? Yes
Will he be released? Yes
This is the second consecutive season that Jackson has been included on this list. After being grossly overpaid in 2014, it's no surprise that the former third overall pick hasn't exactly panned out. They didn't convert into a 3-4 scheme in 2014, despite having a roster full of defensive tackles and no capable edge rushers. By sticking with a 4-3 scheme, it made Jackson immediately expendable, but Quinn decided to utilize him on both sides of the base defense. That proved to be somewhat effective, as Jackson played a substantial role in Atlanta's run stopping success.
In a passing league, edge rushers are coveted more than almost any other position. Jackson will be owed $4.75 million next season and has already been guaranteed $9.5 million. On 987 snaps in two seasons, he produced one sack, two hits, and eighteen hurries according to Pro Football Focus. Everyone knew that generating pressure wasn't his forte. Opposing quarterbacks weren't remotely concerned when Jackson and Kroy Biermann lined up as defensive ends. The base defense can't continue to be hopeless on passing plays, especially when offenses used play action consistently and exploited Atlanta's slow front seven. Jackson is best suited as a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme. Jackson is simply too heavy to play on the edge and isn't capable of two-gapping effectively on the interior.
Should he be released: Yes (if not willing to take a pay cut)
Will he be released: Yes
The electrifying dual threat was derailed by a long-term turf toe injury, along with Kyle Shanahan not having any plans to use him as a wide receiver. Dirk Koetter utilized him as a wide receiver on a weekly basis in 2014. That made him valuable and worth paying three million a season. Hester was effective for three to five targets a game. His blistering speed paid dividends at various points for Matt Ryan. Shanahan didn't bother inserting him into the game plan, despite lacking playmakers that can stretch the field at wide receiver. That decision alone makes him expendable, especially at 33 years old.
Although the greatest returner in NFL history is slowly declining, his explosiveness hasn't vanished. That was evident against the Jets in preseason by breaking off a sixty-yard punt return. His ability as a returner shouldn't be questioned. How the coaching staff views him is the real problem. With Kyle Shanahan returning as offensive coordinator, it doesn't seem likely that Hester will receive any snaps at wide receiver, and paying three million for strictly a return specialist isn't logical. After exceeding expectations in 2014, Hester being released after one injury-plagued season is harsh, but the NFL can be a cruel business.
Should he be released: No
Will he be released: No
Soliai's release seemed inevitable going into this season. Following an underwhelming 2014 and being paid like a premier defensive tackle, most people expected the Falcons to move on from another free agent disappointment. Soliai crushed those critiques by playing at a high level. Besides Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, the "Super Samoan" would have been third on my Falcons list for defensive player of the year. His ability to take on double teams and overwhelm opposing guards became a weekly habit. The front office signed him to be an enforcer and provide "toughness" within a front seven lacking strength. Losing weight and the overall scheme change appeared to work wonders for Soliai.
Although he had a productive season, the front office can't look past his contract. At 32 years old, Soliai will be owed five million in 2016 with a cap hit of $6.83 million. That is a hefty contract for a player with limited upside. If Seattle releases Brandon Mebane, Dan Quinn could view him as an upgrade. There are several positions to elevate on both sides of the ball. Atlanta has an excellent combination of dependable veterans and promising stars at defensive tackle. Would they really want to create a gaping hole by releasing Soliai? In the end, Quinn will remain content with Soliai. Alongside Jonathan Babineaux, the emotional leader will continue to be a major influence on Ra'Shede Hageman and Grady Jarrett. It would look terrible if all four marquee signings (Soliai, Jackson, Hester, and Jon Asamoah) from 2014 didn't make it past two seasons. Soliai remains as a valuable contributor for at least one more season.