The Falcons were projected to compete for the Super Bowl LIII title in the 2018 season, but injuries robbed the team of key players on defense.
The unit failed to meet expectations, in part, because of injuries to strong safety Keanu Neal (missed 15 games), linebacker Deion Jones (10 games), free safety Ricardo Allen (13 games), defensive tackle Grady Jarrett (two games) and defensive end Takkarist McKinley (one game).
The reserves were not as talented, and the remaining starters did not step forward to pick up the slack.
The purge has started, as the Falcons moved on from starting right cornerback Robert Alford, nickel back Brian Poole and defensive end Brooks Reed. The team reportedly wants Poole back at a lower price, but he’ll likely get a substantially better offer on the open market.
Also, defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel was terminated at the end of the season.
Here’s the eighth installment of our unit-by-unit review of the 2018 team. Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at the safeties. Today, the cornerbacks.
Who: Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford, Brian Poole, Isaiah Oliver, Justin Bethel and Blidi Wreh-Wilson.
Contract/free agent situation: Alford has been released and Poole has been told he will not be tendered. Bethel and Wreh-Wilson are set to become free agents.
What they did in season: Trufant started all 16 games for the fourth time over his career. He still looking to return his level of play to 2015 when he made the Pro Bowl for the first time.
He finished with 66 tackles and had 12 pass breakups last season. He played more than 1,000 snaps, but did not have any interceptions.
Trufant is signed through 2022.
In what is not a surprise move, the Falcons released Alford. He was set to make $8.5 million in 2019. The Falcons will take a $1.2 million cap hit with Alford’s release, but create $7.9 million in cap space.
The current regime had been trying to replace Alford since they arrived and drafted Jalen Collins in the second round of the 2015 draft.
Collins was repeatedly suspended and was released by the team in 2017. He started in Super Bowl LI.
The Falcons want a bigger cornerback who doesn’t commit as many penalties as Alford, who led the team with 12 penalties last season.
Cornerback Isaiah Oliver, who was drafted in the second-round last season, is the heir apparent at right cornerback.
Damontae Kazee, who played free safety last season for the injured Ricardo Allen, will move to nickel back.
Alford, who was drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft, started 88 games and had 10 interceptions.
He returned an interception of New England’s Tom Brady for a touchdown in Super Bowl LI.
Poole, who has been the Falcons’ primary nickel back for the past three seasons, won’t receive a restricted-free-agent tender from the team.
Poole, who made the team as an undrafted free agent from Florida, played in 47 games and made 21 starts over the past three seasons.
He had 195 tackles and four interceptions.
Snap counts: Trufant (1,059), Alford (957), Poole (831), Oliver (240), Wreh-Wilson (30, Deandre Burton (five) and Bethel (0).
Monday: Defensive line
Friday: Special teams
Tuesday: Running backs
Wednesday: Offensive line
Thursday: Wide receivers
Friday: Tight ends
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