(Updated: 6 p.m.)
There’s going to be money for the Falcons to spend. But will they spend it wisely this time?
After announcing the release of wide receiver Harry Douglas earlier Friday, the team cut ties with guard Justin Blalock. Blalock has been the Falcons’ most solid and consistent offensive linemen over his eight seasons. But he struggled with back problems in 2o14 and, in the world of the NFL’s salary cap, became too expensive of a player to keep.
The release of Blalock, Douglas and running back Steven Jackson will create significant salary cap space for the Falcons and they were all players referenced in this column 10 days ago.
Consider the financial ramifications:
• Blalock, who had two years left on his contract, was due a base salary of $4.75 million next season and has a cap figure of $7.91 million (third highest on the team). The team will take a significant cap hit for his release because he received an $11 million signing bonus in 2011 that was prorated over the life of the contract.
• Jackson, who was released late Thursday, was due a $3.75 million salary in 2015l. Jackson had a pro-rated signing bonus so it’s believed the team will carry a dead salary cap hit of $1,166.668.
• Douglas was schedule to make $3.5 million next season. His exit does not come as a surprise. It was suggested here, because that’s simply too much money for a team to commit to a No. 3 receiver (behind Julio Jones and Roddy White), especially when the team has so many other needs. I thought the Falcons might deal Douglas, perhaps for a low-round draft pick, but there apparently was no market, probably because of the contract.
With Blalock, Jackson and Douglas gone, that’s $12 million off next season’s payroll.
UPDATE: The Falcons announced they also have cut defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi, but not for cap reasons. His contract called for a $660,000 salary next season. So the four released players brings the 2015 payroll deduction to $12.66 million.
Also off the books because of expiring contracts: linebacker/end Kroy Biermann ($3.050 million), end Osi Umenyiora ($2.5 million base; $4.75 million cap hit), linebacker Sean Weatherspoon ($2.831,250 million salary; $4,132,500 cap hit) and running back Jacquizz Rodgers ($1.431 millon). Weatherspoon is expected to be re-signed at a lower salary.
The Falcons almost certainly will add another wide receiver to replace Douglas, but it will be either late in the draft or a budget-friendly free agent.
I expect the team to be pretty aggressive in free agency, but I don’t expect them to go after Greg Hardy (character problems) or Ndamukong Suh (he would eat up too much cap space with so many needs to fill). Projecting players is a problem right now because some potential free agents will be re-signed, but here are some potential targets I like:
• Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul: The New York Giants are still negotiating with him. As Ledbetter wrote last week, Pierre Paul has 42 sacks in his first five seasons and “has the length, weight and the quick first step that new Falcons coach Dan Quinn covets in his pass rushers.”
• End/outside linebacker Jerry Hughes: He had 20 sacks in the last two seasons in Buffalo after only five in three years in Indianapolis. Caveat: It helped having Mario Williams on the other side.
• Outside linebacker Jason Worilds: Pittsburgh is expected to let him hit free agency. He has 15½ sacks in the last two seasons, the most of any Steeler.
• Linebacker/end Brandon Graham: Might be one of those players ready to take next step. Has been solid in Philadelphia.
• Tight end Julius Thomas: There’s some debate as to how much Peyton Manning turned Thomas into a star but there’s no question he would be a significant upgrade for the Falcons, as evidenced by their one post-Tony Gonzalez season. He’d help significantly in the red zone.
•Some recent ramblings from the digital jukebox
— AJC: Steven Jackson expected to be missing piece, but he wasn’t — MyAJC: Can Kevin Seitzer avoid being Braves’ next scapegoat — AJC: Freeman on ’14 roster: Heyward leading off not well-constructed lineup — MyAJC: By any name, Braves need a different Upton — AJC: How long should Braves give Upton to show improvement? — MyAJC: Braves have issues but McDowell not one of them — AJC: I still can’t talk to Roger McDowell without thinking of ‘The Second Spitter’ — AJC: Poll: Are expectations for Braves too low, high or about right? — MyAJC: Will Gonzalez be given some latitude during Braves’ rebuilding? — MyAJC: Falcons’ roster gutting could have big names — AJC: Data show Falcons got least (10-22) from most ($279.3 million) — MyAJC: Georgia shows why we still can’t assume success — AJC: Are Hawks getting Ray Allen? Odds site makes them favorite — MyAJC: Private agendas still at play in Hawks’ offices — AJC: Tiger Woods seems in danger of missing Masters (again) — AJC: Trade likely means Hawks are planning for something — MyAJC: Kyle Shanahan, the coach’s son, has absorbed a lot of jabs — AJC: Greg Hardy skates (and is he worth the risk for Falcons)? — MyAJC: Hawks’ deadline move wouldn’t hurt chemistry — AJC: Tech doing just fine, recruiting rankings notwithstanding — MyAJC: Dan Quinn’s ascent to top job was years in making — AJC: Forget trade talk — Dan Quinn wants Julio Jones on his team — AJC: Falcons need players but Dan Quinn is a good start — MyAJC: Tom Brady takes the air out of critics in Super Bowl