Atlanta Falcons' Michael Turner runs the ball up field during a game against the New York Giants at the Georgia Dome this season.
For a team that just missed the Super Bowl, the Atlanta Falcons are guaranteed to have a lot of new players next season.
Whether the changes will be enough to get the team over the hump remains to be seen.
The Falcons saved almost $16 million on the salary cap Friday by releasing three prominent veterans – running back Michael Turner, defensive end John Abraham and cornerback Dunta Robinson.
Now the team has money to spend, but a lot of holes to fill as well.
Even if tight end Tony Gonzalez changes his mind about retirement, it will be a very busy next few months for general manager Thomas Dimitroff.
Free agency begins soon, followed by the draft in April. The Falcons will need to be successful in both.
The release of the 34-year-old Abraham, the team’s only real pass rusher, appears to be the biggest risk. Dwight Feeney and Osi Umenyiora are free agents, but the Falcons won’t be the only suitors for the veterans.
Likewise, potential free agent like Steven Jackson or Reggie Bush could take the place of Turner, 31. Neither is assured of reviving the Falcons’ ground game, though.
Robinson, 30, is the most easily replaceable internally, but Brent Grimes must be re-signed after missing all of last season because of an Achilles injury.
“As a football coach, it is never easy to cut any player, especially veteran players who have been valuable members of the organization,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said.
Abraham, who re-signed last year as a free agent, spent seven seasons with the Falcons and had 68.5 sacks – 10 last year and a career-best 16.5 in 2008. The 13-year veteran made the Pro Bowl four times, the last in 2010.
Turner was a Falcon for five seasons and rushed for 6,081 yards and 60 touchdowns while making the Pro Bowl twice. But he was limited to 800 yards and a 3.6 average last season while sharing duties with Jacquizz Rodgers.
Robinson signed a six-year, $57 million deal with the Falcons in 2010 as a free agent, but the former Houston Texas never delivered the impact expected.
In addition to replacing Abraham, Turner and Robinson, the Falcons must re-sign safety William Moore and tackle Sam Baker. Plus, reworking quarterback Matt Ryan’s contract is on the docket.
The return of Gonzalez would be a hit to the salary cap, but one the team would gladly accept. The Falcons remain hopeful that the All-Pro will reconsider retirement.