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Taylor Gabriel, Kemal Ishmael set to hit free agency

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It’s a shame, but it’s logical.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier today, Thomas Dimitroff said that Dontari Poe will make it to free agency, meaning there’s approximately a 0% chance he returns to Atlanta. It appears that Taylor Gabriel and Kemal Ishmael will also hit the open market, and that means both may be headed elsewhere.

That’s sort of jarring in a lot of ways. Gabriel was a vital cog in the high-powered 2016 Falcons’ team attack, and while he was much less vital to the offense in 2017, it’s not like he doesn’t have speed and talent. Ishmael, meanwhile, has been a key reserve and special teamer for years now, a role he’ll fill somewhere else as the Falcons likely move on. When you like players and find value in them, as we did with both of these guys, it’s tough to let go.

Yet it’s a sensible enough approach. With Ishmael, it’s about filling the reserve roles with players of a similar cost who might fit the defense a bit better than Ish, a physical player who didn’t have great coverage abilities. With Gabriel, it’s about not paying up for a slot receiver when there’s some options the team likes in the draft, and Turbo is sure to get $3-$4 million per year somewhere once he hits free agency.

Atlanta is at the point in their particular franchise-building approach where they are not going to pay market value, or more, for players they don’t feel are essential. That’s painful here because Poe was a mighty useful player, I genuinely like Turbo and Ishmael, and all three players had real roles on the 2017 team. This team has shown a knack for making the right personnel decisions, however, and they undoubtedly need to keep getting younger and cheaper as key players like Grady Jarrett and Deion Jones edge closer to free agency.

We’ll hope both players somehow find their way back, but if not, we wish them well. Expect the Falcons to go dumpster diving to replace Ishmael’s special teams/reserve linebacker role, and expect a Day 2 or Day 3 draft pick to take over for Gabriel.