Atlanta Falcons start Youth Movement by Dumping Three Stars

Atlanta Falcons v Green Bay PackersFor the past five seasons, Michael Turner has been an integral part of the Atlanta Falcons high-powered offense. Turner has rushed for 6,161 yards and 60 touchdowns with Atlanta, which makes it easy to see why he’s made the Pro Bowl twice during this stretch. However, Turner will be packing his bags and heading for another team along with fellow veterans John Abraham and Dunta Robinson.

These moves are part of what appears to be a big youth movement on the part of the Falcons. Furthermore, Atlanta will free up $16 million in cap space by getting rid of three of their most recognized players.

john-abraham-falconsTurner (31 years old) was set to earn $6.4 million next season, Abraham (34) was due $5.75 million, and Robinson (30) was going to earn $3.75 million. Previously one of the league’s oldest and over-extended teams, the Falcons now have a chance to become a younger club with much more cap space.

General Manager Thomas Dimtroff recently discussed the high-profile, yet not totally unexpected, releases with the media. He stated:

These are never easy decisions to make. They were business decisions. They were decisions made for us to continue to look at the direction of this football team. We have a number of positions that we need to hone in on, whether if it’s in the draft or potentially acquiring (players) in free agency. That’s all that I can really say at this point, because there are a lot of moving parts.

As Dimtroff mentioned, these weren’t easy decisions – especially considering that three key players are being cut from a club that made it to the NFC Championship game. Turner had the least productive season of his Falcons career, but still led the team with 800 yards and 10 touchdowns.

dunta-robinson-falconsAbraham has consistently been a great pass rusher for Atlanta with 68.5 sacks in seven seasons with them. He had 10 sacks last year, but didn’t play as much as usual in order to avoid injuries. Robinson has contributed four interceptions and 158 tackles in three seasons with the Falcons. But like Abraham, he took some snaps off to avoid injury.

Now that three three veteran starters are gone, Atlanta has some work to do in regard to replacing them. There are already various rumors floating about what the Falcons might do to fill these key positions.

As for running back, they have Jacquizz Rodgers, who contributed 362 rushing yards, 402 receiving yards on 52 catches, and two touchdowns. However, Rodgers’ relatively slight 5’6″, 196-pound stature makes it hard to give him a full workload. So there’s been talk of adding veteran Stephen Jackson (1,042 rushing yards, 10 TD’s) to compliment Rodgers.

Following his release by the Indianapolis Colts, Dwight Freeney is a definite possibility to take over for Abraham at defensive end. Freeney missed two games and only tallied 5 sacks last year, but could bounce back with a new team.

After letting Robinson go, the Falcons will probably rotate Asante Samuel, Robert McClain and Brent Grimes (if re-signed) in at the two cornerback spots.

NFL Power Rankings for Nov. 29th, 2012

One thing that we’ve been preaching about with the Houston Texans all year is how good they could be if Matt Schaub came alive. And the 31-year-old QB has done just that after throwing for 842 yards and six touchdowns in the last two games. He’s a big reason why the Texas are now firmly-entrenched as our number one team. As for where all the other top teams rank, check out this week’s NFL power rankings.

1. Houston Texans (10-1) – With Arian Foster heading a strong running attack, Andre Johnson showing a late-season burst, and Schaub getting unhinged, the Texas offense is finally looking as good as the defense. Houston gives the AFC a strong chance to end the NFC’s reign atop the league.

Last Game: 34-31 (OT) win over Detroit
Next Game: at Tennessee Titans

2. Atlanta Falcons (10-1) – For most of the season, Atlanta has headed our power rankings. However, the recent struggles by Matt Ryan – who has thrown six picks in the past two games – are somewhat alarming. It looks like Jacquizz Rodgers is finally overtaking Michael Turner in the Falcons’ backfield. Could make for an interesting twist in the offense moving forward.

Last Game: 24-23 win over Tampa Bay
Next Game: vs. New Orleans Saints

3. New England Patriots (8-3) – Is this the same team that lost a home game to the Arizona Cardinals earlier this year? Sure doesn’t look like it as Brady is dominating (like usual), and the Pats have two strong running backs in Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley. The defense has done a solid job at forcing turnovers too.

Last Game: 49-19 win over New York Jets
Next Game: at Miami Dolphins

4. San Francisco 49ers (8-2) – With Colin Kaepernick now named the starter for the second week in a row, it looks like he’s officially replaced a now-healthy Alex Smith at quarterback. He has just as good of an arm as Smith – if not better – along with decidedly-faster wheels.

Last Game: 31-21 win over New Orleans
Next Game: at St. Louis Rams

5. Baltimore Ravens (9-2) – Despite a number of key injuries on defense, the Ravens continue to find ways to win. Last week was a perfect example as Baltimore was down 13-10 and facing 4th-and-29 with under two minutes left in regulation. Joe Flacco found Ray Rice for a short pass, which Rice turned into a 29-yard play. Justin Tucker’s following field goal sent the game into overtime, where the Ravens pulled out the victory.

Last Game: 16-13 (OT) win over Cleveland
Next Game: vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

6. Chicago Bears (8-3) – After an incredible start, the Bears hit a stumbling block after losing in Week 10 and 11. However, they were able to right the ship after a big win over division rival Minnesota. But with RB Matt Forte out with an injury now, things won’t get easier for Chicago. Much like he did in Oakland, Michael Bush will now be carrying the running workload thanks to the starter being out.

Last Game: 28-10 win over Minnesota
Next Game: vs. Seattle Seahawks

7. Denver Broncos (8-3) – Despite facing one of the league’s toughest early season schedules, the Broncos have looked fantastic. Peyton Manning is his old self while both Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker have become star receivers.

Last Game: 17-9 win over Kansas City
Next Game: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

8. New York Giants (7-4) – It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see the Giants in the Super Bowl again this year – especially after what they did to Aaron Rdogers and the Packers last week. Rodgers had absolutely no time to throw thanks to a terrorizing New York pass rush. Depending on which Giants show up in the playoffs, they could make another big run.

Last Game: 38-17 win over Green Bay
Next Game: at Washington Redskins

9. Green Bay Packers (7-4) – While we want to rank the Pack lower after last game, it’s important to realize that it’s just one week. Before facing the Giants, Green Bay was rolling along on a hot streak. We still expect to see them fighting the Bears for the NFC North title moving forward.

Last Game: 38-10 loss to New York Giants
Next Game: vs. Minnesota Vikings

10. Indianapolis Colts (7-4) – The Colts make their first appearance in our top 10 after winning five out of their last six games. Can Indianapolis really run with the league’s best teams? The jury is out on this after a 59-24 loss to the Patriots two weeks ago, but they are still playing like a playoff-caliber team overall.