FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — The Atlanta Falcons started their youth movement Friday by ditching three key players from the most successful era in franchise history.
The Falcons released running back Michael Turner, defensive end John Abraham and cornerback Dunta Robinson, moves that were not unexpected given their age (all in their 30s) and hefty salaries.
Still, it was a stunning start to Atlanta’s offseason makeover, especially for a team that came up just short of the Super Bowl, losing to San Francisco in a thrilling NFC championship game. In one swoop, the Falcons let go their top rusher, their leader in sacks and a starter in the secondary.
“These are never easy decisions to make,” general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “A lot of thought goes into these type of decisions.”
The moves free up about $16 million in salary cap space, money Dimitroff intends to use to build a younger roster. Last year, the Falcons were one of the oldest teams in the league.
“They were business decisions,” he said. “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.”
Dimitroff said the moves had “very little” to do with whether Tony Gonzalez might return in 2013. The tight end indicated all last season that he was likely to retire but has not made a final decision. He said it would likely be well into the offseason before he makes anything official.