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Falcons will cut Derrick Shelby, free up $4.5 million in cap space

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Shelby was a solid player, but the Falcons need more cap space.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

We just learned that the Falcons are going to cut ties with Levine Toilolo to save $2.5-$3.5 million, depending on how they designate him. Now we’re learning that defensive lineman Derrick Shelby will be gone, too, and the Falcons will save an additional $4.5 million by doing so.

Shelby was a well-regarded signing by the Falcons who lost much of his 2016 season to injury, but he was healthy last year and provided mostly rock solid run defense for Atlanta. At his current price, though, and given that he frequently played fewer snaps than Vic Beasley, Takk McKinley, Adrian Clayborn, and Brooks Reed, this is not perhaps the most stunning cut the Falcons could make. They are losing a quality player, however.

Shelby finished the 2017 season with 16 tackles and a sack in 16 games, and will now try to land a multi-year deal with another team. He shouldn’t lack for suitors after last year, because even if his stat line was modest, he showed he can be a valuable piece of a defensive line rotation for just about anybody in the NFL.

This cut likely means that Brooks Reed is staying, and it increases the urgency for the Falcons to get a deal done with Adrian Clayborn, who is an impending free agent. Reed is a strong run defender who still flashes as a pass rusher occasionally, while Clayborn is at worst the team’s third-best pass rusher and a versatile, productive player. The Falcons will likely still add a mid-to-late round draft pick at defensive end unless they love 2017 UDFA J’Terius Jones. That’s still a strong group if they retain Clayborn, but they’re going to need at least one more body, and they’re already thinned out at defensive tackle at the moment. The next couple of months will be extremely interesting for Atlanta’s defensive line.

Some of the money freed up by cutting Shelby will go toward Clayborn and other free agents—the Falcons may very well try to address wide receiver, given the number of needs they’re being linked to in the draft—but the big ticket item on the Falcons’ list would appear to be a contract extension for Matt Ryan. If it’s structured well, it shouldn’t cripple the Falcons’ cap space, but they do need to fill their smaller holes and lock up their franchise QB, and the $7-8 million they’re freeing up now should help them in that regard.