It’s not the most fun part of the offseason, but every year, the Falcons make cuts. In a league where a single bad year can get you the axe and cap space is at a premium no matter how much it increases, good players (or at least formerly good players) are going to hit the bricks.
We’ll dive in on each of these players in the weeks ahead, but for now, here’s a look at some of big name potential cuts for this football team that you’ll want to monitor closely this spring and summer.
T Ryan Schraeder
Let’s take a moment and appreciate what Schraeder has accomplished as an undrafted free agent. He was a part-time starter in 2013 and 2014 before taking over full-time at right tackle in 2015 and not looking back. He put together a three season run as a terrific offensive lineman before the wheels came off in a major way in 2018, and for a dude who had to claw and fight just to make the team in the first place, that’s extremely impressive.
At minimum, though, the Falcons are likely going to approach Schraeder about a re-structure. By cutting him in 2019, they’ll save $5.2 million and suffer a dead cap hit of $2.5 million this year and $1.2 million next year, and that money could go toward other needs along the offensive line. Schraeder will be 31 this year, which is not necessarily a sign that his career is winding down, but he’s coming off a 2018 where he was benched for and outplayed by Ty Sambrailo, which is a massive red flag. Unless there was a lurking injury the Falcons are aware of and we aren’t, he feels like a mortal lock to be re-doing his deal or seeking a starting job elsewhere.
Who would replace him? Chances are good the Falcons will draft a tackle or lean on Ty Sambrailo for a year, though the latter will have to re-sign.
DE Brooks Reed
Reed has been a valuable rotational defensive end since joining the Falcons all the way back in 2015, but the returns haven’t been truly stellar. Reed is rock solid against the run but is an iffy pass rusher, and he’s heading into his age 32 season with seven sacks (and, to be fair, 18 quarterback hits) in his last three seasons. The Falcons can save $3.9 million against a dead money hit of less than $1 million if they part ways with him in 2019, and with the defensive end position delivering a couple of disappointing seasons in a row in general, they’d likely be wise to do so. Reed is a free agent in 2020, however, so it’s possible the Falcons keep him around as a veteran bridge regardless of what they do at the position.
Quite simply, they don’t have a replacement for him on the roster today, so we’ll see how free agency and the draft shake out.
DE Vic Beasley
I don’t think the Falcons will outright cut Beasley, but stranger things have happened. He’s staring at a fifth year option worth $12.8 million, an exorbitant total for a player who had one of the worst seasons of any Falcon in 2018. You keep waiting for things to click for Beasley, a tremendous athlete with great speed and bursts of impressive production, but he keeps getting washed out of plays and failing to make an impact as a pass rusher. If the team is serious about revamping both lines, they simply can’t pay Beasley that money.
That said, Dan Quinn had indicated they’d like to keep Beasley around, because he’s only 27 and he’s still shown flashes of being the player Atlanta hoped they were getting with a top ten pick. Axing him would save them nearly $13 million outright, but I expect the Falcons to try to talk extension with Beasley, getting him something incentive-heavy that lands closer to what Brooks Reed is making now than what Beasley himself is supposed to make in 2019. If that fails, don’t be stunned if the team moves on.
CB Robert Alford
There isn’t a more obvious cut candidate on this list than Robert Alford. Full stop.
Start with his 2018 season, which was his worst since probably 2013 or 2014. Alford still made plays—he’s too good not to—but in between there were stretches of awful coverage, paired with the penalties you can excuse when he’s playing well and are magnified when he’s not. Alford is going to be 30 heading into 2019, and the dropoff from a great 2017 to 2018 was so dramatic that you’re worried about his future if he wasn’t nursing a secret injury.
Even if Alford played reasonably well in 2018, though, his contract leaves him in danger. The Falcons can save $7.9 million against $1.2 million in dead money by cutting him this year, with $8.5 million in savings versus $600,000 in dead money in 2020. That’s easily the most the Falcons will be able to save by cutting a single player in this spring or summer outside of Vic Beasley, and Alford’s 2018 won’t help his case.
Finally, consider the team’s own rhetoric. The Falcons just drafted Isaiah Oliver in the second round, Brian Poole is an affordable restricted free agent in 2019, and Blidi Wreh-Wilson has been good enough in limited duty to return on another affordable, one year deal. Yet the team is openly talking about cornerback as a position they need to address. Given that Desmond Trufant’s contract and second half improvement make him virtually uncuttable heading into this season, there’s only one player in that cornerbacks corps who the team could be thinking about replacing with an early round selection.
Unless the team finds a way to work out a re-structure that dramatically reduces him cap hit, I think it’s basically destined to happen. I really hope Alford can catch on with another team and fare well, because I think up until last year he was chronically underrated and underappreciated in Atlanta.
The Falcons will still have Trufant, Oliver and Poole in place even if they don’t make any additions at the position, and it’s a mortal lock that they will add. They should be fine next year one way or the other.
K Matt Bryant
Every time we add Bryant to a list like this, it looks foolish in hindsight. This year, Bryant was good as ever when healthy, so there’s no real compelling reason to cut him.
That said, there are reasons he belongs on a list of potential cuts, even if I sincerely hope it doesn’t happen. The first is the Falcons signing Giorgio Tavecchio to a two year deal in 2018 and holding on to him even when Bryant was healthy, which is at least vaguely ominous. The second is Bryant’s 2018 injuries, which only cost him three games but limited him in at least one other. Given that he’ll be 44 years old in 2019, I doubt anyone in Flowery Branch is taking those injuries lightly.
The team would save $3 million or so against $1.3 million in dead money in 2019, and would save $3.5 million vs. $666,668 in 2020 if they were to move on. There’s no urgency to do so if the team believes Bryant will stay healthy and effective, and frankly he’s done nothing in recent years to suggest that he won’t keep kicking like the ageless wonder he is well into the back half of his 40s. It’s possible that Tavecchio is just hanging around as insurance until the start of the season for Atlanta, but I do know one thing: The Falcons aren’t going to hang on to two kickers again for the whole of the 2019 season.
You may ask where a handful of players are, including Mohamed Sanu. The reality is that Sanu is a very productive member of the offense, and while the Falcons will save $4.6 million by cutting him, they have little incentive to do so with a cap crunch not looming. That may change in 2020, when the team can part ways with Sanu (or re-structure him, if he’s amenable) to save $6.5 million, but I think he’s safe for this year. Others like Devonta Freeman and Desmond Trufant were laid low by injury or a shaky half year, but the team will actually lose money by cutting tem this year due to the structure of their deals.
Weigh in on this list and tell us who you think is mostly likely to stick around and go.