5 Players the Atlanta Falcons Should Release Before the 2014 Season
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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
The Atlanta Falcons will face some key decisions at the conclusion of their regular-season schedule in two weeks.
Chief amongst Atlanta's concerns will likely be figuring out how to rejuvenate its offensive and defensive lines after both units had poor showings during the team's woeful 2013 campaign.
However, before the team can add new players via free agency and the draft, it must first assess its own roster in an effort to determine which players should be a part of the team's plans moving forward into what will be a crucial 2014 campaign.
With that in mind, here are five players who we believe should be released before the start of the 2014 season in order for this team to compete again next year.
We'll begin the conversation within the secondary.
Asante Samuel, Cornerback
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Asante Samuel's days in Atlanta were probably numbered once the team doubled-down at cornerback with Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford in the 2013 NFL draft.
With the team out of playoff contention, Samuel has given way to Alford in the starting lineup, and it's starting to look like Samuel could be the odd man out at cornerback.
Samuel will be 33 when the 2014 season starts, and he's due a base salary of $3.5 million next season. Does it make sense to pay that kind of money to a 33-year-old backup?
Probably not if you consider that Atlanta has more pressing needs along the line on Samuel's side of the ball.
A cornerback group headlined by Trufant, Alford and either a re-signed Robert McClain or a Day 3 draft pick (or a combination of both) should be preferable to committing that kind of money to Samuel.
Stephen Nicholas, Linebacker
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Stephen Nicholas and fellow linebacker Akeem Dent lost their spots in the linebacker rotation when undrafted free agents Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu took advantage of their own opportunities and established themselves as legitimate NFL players.
Worrilow leads the team in tackles, and Bartu has proved to be more reliable in pass coverage than Nicholas.
Meanwhile, Nicholas has just 20 tackles in what's mostly been limited special teams duty this year. Nicholas did force a key fumble against Washington last week, but in all likelihood that play was too little, too late for the seven-year veteran.
Nicholas is owed approximately $7.5 million in base salary over the next two years, and he'll turn 31 this offseason. Atlanta can probably find a better way to use that money than spending it on a backup linebacker.
Steven Jackson, Running Back
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We speculated about Jackson's future with the team earlier in the season, and we'll continue to speculate now with two games left on the schedule.
While Jackson has shown some flashes of playmaking ability since coming back from his thigh injury, the reality is that he was brought in at a time when the team was expecting to make an immediate Super Bowl run in 2013.
Given his age and the number of miles on his legs, it's tough to imagine that Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff envisioned Jackson as a long-term solution at running back.
Even when you give Jackson concessions for the poor run-blocking he's had to deal with, anyone who's seen him play this year can objectively say that he's on the back end of his career.
Since the team is likely to scrap the "10 yards away from a Super Bowl" line of thinking that seemed to motivated its offseason decisions last year, it would make sense to move on from Jackson and bring in a younger, faster back who's better suited to play in what's going to be a different Atlanta offense without Tony Gonzalez as one of its focal points.
Garrett Reynolds, Right Guard
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Reasonable Falcons observers may disagree about how big the team's need at offensive tackle is, but the overwhelming majority of this team's followers ought to recognize that the team needs to make a significant investment into a quality right guard this offseason.
Given the revolving door that Atlanta has used at this position over the past few games, we think it's safe to say that the Falcons' honchos recognize the need to improve at this spot as well.
Garrett Reynolds has been given enough opportunities to seize the spot, and he hasn't gotten the job done. Justin Blalock will almost certainly be back at left guard, and we don't see the team giving up on 2012 second-round pick Peter Konz just yet.
Since Joe Hawley appears to have earned a new contract after taking Konz's job at center, Konz will probably enter next year as the top backup at both center and guard.
If Atlanta makes the correct decision and spends a draft pick on a guard in the first three rounds (or signs a quality veteran free agent), Reynolds should be the odd man out.
Travian Robertson, Defensive Tackle
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The Falcons have played plenty of young players along the defensive front in recent weeks, but Travian Robertson still hasn't seen much time on the field.
When former Falcons defensive tackle Vance Walker signed with the Oakland Raiders in the offseason, many Falcons fans expected Robertson to fill Walker's role in the defensive tackle rotation.
Instead, Atlanta has used backup defensive ends Cliff Matthews and Malliciah Goodman inside at tackle in subpackages while Robertson has been inactive for a lot of the year.
With Atlanta's top three defensive tackles all headed into free agency, you would think that this would be a time for the team to see what it has in Robertson.
If Robertson has truly been a healthy scratch so many times on the active roster during this horrendous season, he probably doesn't deserve to take up a roster spot in 2014.