(Updated: 6:11 p.m.)
When I spoke last week to Roddy White, he opened up about a number of subjects, including his role in the offense, his relationship with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and his future in Atlanta.
“It would be a tragedy if I had to leave,” he said at one point.
And then: “I’d bet every dollar I had that I’m going to be a Falcon.”
The first comment was sincere. The second was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, because White knew his exit from Atlanta was a realistic possibility, if not the betting favorite. That was confirmed Wednesday when the Falcons released him.
So there it is: The greatest wide receiver in franchise history could bet on himself but he could not bet on the Falcons’ organization – something we all realized last season.
White was on a plane to Belize when the Falcons made the decision. Coach Dan Quinn left him a voicemail, then the two subsequently communicated by text message. Surely, there could have been a better way for a franchise and one of its centerpiece athletes to end an 11-year relationship.
“Roddy is one of the best competitors and warriors I have ever been around,” Quinn said. “He was one of the first players I reached out to when I was hired here, and I want to thank him for his professionalism and leadership."
Yeah. Now move along.
Quinn arrived as a young assistant coach in San Francisco following the 2000 season, just in time to see the 49ers say goodbye to Jerry Rice. So he knows how this goes.
"That kept going through my mind. This is a difficult job sometimes," he said.
The Falcons tried to break this news as nicely as possible. Atop their official news release were the words: "THANK YOU, RODDY."
It sounded better than, “We don’t want you anymore.”
Or, “You make too much money.”
Or, “Please don’t humiliate us when you sign with Tampa Bay and play for Dirk Koetter and catch touchdown passes from Jameis Winston in games that could decide a playoff berth. Hello? Roddy? Are you still on the phone?”
Quinn said on a conference call he believes that White can still play in the NFL. He would not be surprised if he ended up with an NFC South Division rival, specifically Tampa Bay. (Now, that's something worth putting money on.)
"Any time you go through the process, you have to expect that, knowing somebody's history with a certain player," he said, referencing Koetter's previous tenure as the Falcons' offensive coordinator. "I wouldn’t be surprised if Roddy ends up on another club just south on I-75. If that happens, it happens not just with our club but other clubs."
White told me last week that he and his agent had been preparing for the possibility of free agency.
The Buccaneers are the favorites to land White but several other teams will pursue him. Why? Because he can still play. Because he’s leader. Because he is as tough a competitor as I’ve ever been around in sports.
I understand the NFL is business. I worked in San Francisco when Bill Walsh was preparing Steve Young to take over for Joe Montana, which didn’t go over real well with Montana … or his fans.
But this could have and should have been avoided. White can still be a productive player, notwithstanding how he was inexplicably cut out of Shanahan’s game plans next season. (The scheme made Leonard Hankerson a higher option in the offense before White. That worked out well. Or not.)
Quinn maintained that White "was not under-utilized" last season, as many others believe. But what would you expect him to say? "My offensive coordinator was wrong and we should've called Roddy's number more"?
This will create space in the salary cap. (White was due base salaries of $2.75 million and $3 million the next two seasons, with cap hits of more than $6 million each season. There will be a dead-money penalty.). The Falcons will tell you they can use to fill other positions of needs: center, defensive end, linebacker, safety … wide receiver. But it’s difficult to replace a player like White on the field or in the locker room.
White was baffled last week as to why the Falcons were letting him twist in the wind for so long. He also praised former Falcons center Todd McClure and said the Falcons never should have forced him into retirement, which White (and others) believe contributed to Matt Ryan’s subsequent slide.
McClure read the column and not surprisingly agreed with White's words. He then typed this message on Twitter : "This is where an organization should at least communicate with a man that has poured his heart into this franchise."
The Falcons finally communicated their decision Wednesday. Given how last season evolved and the delay in affirming White's return for 2016, nobody should be surprised by this.
But the Falcons have a long way to go to prove this was the right decision.
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