When the Falcons signed former USFL Defensive Player of the Year Frank Ginda officially today, we knew they were likely cutting an inside linebacker to make room for him. The question was who, given that the team has several reserve options including former undrafted free agent Nate Landman, free agent signings like Tae Davis and Mike Jones Jr., and a veteran incumbent in Mykal Walker.
Unfortunately for Walker, he’s the choice, a thought I had entertained last night when the Ginda signing was first reported but ultimately dismissed. Last year’s opening day starter at inside linebacker next to Rashaan Evans, Walker lost that job partway through the year but had a mostly new-look defensive coaching staff to try to impress. With 20 games of starting experience and a history of putting in work on special teams, I had him penciled in as the team’s third inside linebacker. After an up-and-down preseason game against the Dolphins and the signing of Ginda, the Falcons are parting ways with him.
The #Falcons are waiving LB Mykal Walker, per source. He started 20 games over three seasons in Atlanta.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) August 13, 2023
The reason this is surprising is that Walker is a versatile option, one who has played more than one role at linebacker for Atlanta in his time here. He has had frustrating lapses in tackling and coverage at times as a starter last year in particular and was not exactly lighting the world on fire as a run defender, but he also made some big plays over the first three seasons of his career and is at least a capable reserve who could slot in behind Kaden Elliss or Troy Andersen in a pinch. Walker barely played on special teams a year ago, but was a major player for Atlanta in 2021 there, as well. For the team to cut him, they had to be ready to move on from him defensively (a tougher sell for me) and on special teams, where Davis, Ginda, and/or Landman will likely pick up the slack once the regular season hits.
Walker finishes his Falcons career with 20 starts, 187 combined tackles, three interceptions, and a sack. He had just played 24 snaps against Miami on defense and 11 on special teams, putting up four combined tackles, and observers at practice Sunday noted that he was not present there.
The Falcons clearly like Ginda and are hoping he’ll be a quality addition, but the depth behind two relatively unproven starters—Andersen is just in year two and Elliss just stepped into a real starting role last year for the Saints—is a bit concerning for Atlanta. Landman, Davis, Jones Jr., and Andre Smith have all primarily played special teams roles in their NFL careers, while Ginda simply hasn’t played much in the NFL at all. The fact that they’re willing to cut Walker with that picture tells you they really do not see him being a part of their future plans, which qualifies as a genuine surprise given the seeming lack of options. We’ll have to see who the team winds up rostering in the end, but their confidence in their current options and in Elliss and Andersen as starters would appear to be high.
We wish Walker well—he should land elsewhere without much trouble before the season—and hope that the Falcons can pull together a strong group of reserves behind Elliss and Andersen.