Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant has experienced it all during his six years as a professional football player. From the thrill of being selected twenty-second overall in the 2013 NFL Draft to landing on injured reserve in late November 2016, just before his team went to the Super Bowl. So if you think for a second that he’s phased by the armchair criticism he suffers through every season, then you’re sadly mistaken.
This week the Falcons will get Trufant back at practice. He had been sidelined by what the team called a “lower back strain.” (Put differently, he isn’t 23-years-old anymore.) He’s excited, the team’s excited, and you should be excited, too. There’s a regular season to get ready for, after all! But Trufant’s stock within the fan base as the regular season looms isn’t great. And no matter how much I scratch my head, I can’t figure out why.
The facts are the facts. Trufant has consistently played above-average football since the Falcons drafted him. I’m not crazy: Pro Football Focus’ analysis backs this up. (Trufant has never had a season rating under 70, their presumptive cut off for “above average.”) He should intercept a lot more balls and he’ll frustrate you on shorter routes, but the kid can still ball. Is he a top five corner? Well, no, but does he need to be? He’s certainly in that upper echelon of secondary-anchoring defensive backs, and the fact that he plays for the Falcons is a blessing. We can agree about that, cant we?
Look, I get it. Because he will turn thirty in September, there’s reason to wonder about Trufant’s longevity. But it’s time to stop acting like the defense doesn’t need him. It’s time to stop acting like he’s some sort of defective asset. He still led the secondary in passes defended (12) last season. Might the Falcons move on from Trufant before the expiration of his current contract? Sure. But that won’t make much sense before 2021, when the cap savings associated with cutting Trufant will finally surpass the dead money it’d require.
If we’re honest about the nature of the criticism Trufant endures, we have to talk about its origins. Picture a venn diagram. In one circle are the Falcons fans that want the team to move on from Trufant. In another, substantially overlapping circle are the Falcons fans that lost their gosh darned minds when the Falcons traded up eight spots to snag Trufant in 2013. I have no data to back up my thesis, but arguing that these Trufant haters are largely one and the same isn’t unreasonable.
It was always going to take a lot of money to keep Trufant in a Falcons uniform, if only because the market required it. And no matter what you think of Trufant, the Falcons have invested a lot in his future. They fully expect him to be productive into his early thirties. That’s a calculation they’ve run and they have confidence in the results. Why else would you hand Trufant a contract that, when it was signed, treated him like a top four cornerback? What’s more, if the Falcons are overpaying for Trufant, they are only overpaying slightly (by $2-3 million). Given how the modern NFL operates, the Falcons had to pay for his ceiling, not his floor. Some members of this fanbase act like he’s singularly responsible for the salary cap apocalypse when that’s just not true.
So do me a favor, Falcoholics. Even if you’re anti-Trufant, even if you think the secondary of the future is already on this roster, let’s stop writing off Trufant entirely. The Falcons need him to play his best football in 2019 and beyond, and there’s no reason to think he can’t do just that.