The Atlanta Falcons are in complete rebuilding mode, and they confirmed that Friday when they cut several veterans.
New general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith cut seven players, including longtime tight end Alge Crumpler, veteran offensive tackle Wayne Gandy, and defensive tackle Rod Coleman.
They were joined by quarterback Byron Leftwich (who played just part of one season with the team), cornerback Lewis Sanders, wide receiver Jamin Elliott, and linebacker Marcus Wilkins.
"This is a difficult day for the entire organization," Dimitroff said in a statement. "A number of these players have contributed to this organization on and off the field at a high level, and we greatly appreciate their efforts. These decisions weren't easy, but we felt they were necessary to build a team in the long-term best interest of the Falcons and its fans."
Crumpler was a five-time Pro Bowl tight end for the Falcons, with 316 catches for 4,212 yards and 35 touchdowns. He was hampered by a knee injury in 2007 but still caught 42 passes for 444 yards and five scores. Still in his prime at age 30, he should garner interest from other teams.
But the Falcons want to start over and get younger and healthier. Crumpler, Coleman and Gandy all are in their 30s, are coming off injury-plagued seasons and had relatively high cap numbers.
"Today, we accomplished what we wanted to accomplish as far as refining this roster," Dimitroff told reporters. "Today, our salary cap is just shy of $17 million [in] space. Will there be more moves in the near future or later? I can't answer that right now. I do know we will consider this process of evaluating the free-agent market as well as the draft dynamic and, at that time, we will re-evaluate if we need to make a move or not."
Owner Arthur Blank has said he wants to have $23 million for free agency, so there surely will be other moves before the player market opens Feb. 29.
Among the next round of releases could be running back Warrick Dunn and safety Lawyer Milloy, both 30-something starters. Also in danger are quarterback Joey Harrington, linebacker Keith Brooking, guard Kynan Forney and wide receivers Joe Horn and Brian Finneran.
The Falcons don't necessarily have replacements for most of these players. There is no tight end to replace Crumpler or left tackle to fill Gandy's spot. And the team still is unsettled at the most important position: quarterback.
With a new coach, new GM and a bunch of position openings, the Falcons are in total rebuilding mode.