With new leadership, Atlanta Falcons fans realized changes would be coming to the organization this offseason. Even with the new NFL year still a few weeks away, those alterations have begun.
Last week, the Falcons announced the release of safety Ricardo Allen and defensive end Allen Bailey. These moves save the Falcons $10.75 million in salary cap space, but there’s likely more work to be done to get the entire roster under the cap.
In some ways, losing Allen is as symbolic as changing head coaches or general managers. While he never made All-Pro or the Pro Bowl, Allen was an intricate part of the Falcons run to Super Bowl LI. Coming from the Legion of Boom in Seattle, Dan Quinn wanted his own suffocating secondary, and he was building that with Allen and Keanu Neal.
But both suffered season-ending injuries in 2018 and were never really the same. While Allen rebounded to lead the secondary in tackles during 2019, he had just 25 combined tackles last season. He had nearly as many (17.0) tackles in just three games before injury in 2018.
With fewer impactful plays and a salary-cap crunch, releasing Allen was an obvious move — it’s trimming the fat off a roster that needs a youthful movement. But even though his play wasn’t dominant last year, Allen will be missed.
Allen was a four-time team captain and the Falcons’ Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee in 2019. And despite his shortcomings on the field, he’s not exactly old, as he doesn’t turn 30 until December.
In seven seasons, Allen amassed 340 tackles with 26 pass defenses and 11 interceptions while playing in 76 games. It may come in a reserve role, but Allen should continue to accumulate totals in the right situation this fall.
There’s too many moving parts to definitively name a favorite to land Allen in free agency, but he will likely be towards the top of the list for any team looking to acquire a veteran safety. As of the end of February, the most natural fit may be the Las Vegas Raiders.
The Raiders love Johnathan Abram, but veteran Jeff Heath is the only other safety set to be on their 2021 roster, as Daryl Worley and Erik Harris are free agents. Jon Gruden also loves veteran players, so it wouldn’t at all be a surprise to see the Raiders want a veteran alongside their emerging star, Abram. Las Vegas also has enough other needs that safety may not be a priority in the draft.
The New York Jets are a possibility as well. The Jets have the second-most cap space in the league, so they’ll be able to sign pretty much whoever they want. Safety is a need with three of theirs hitting free agency. It wouldn’t be shocking for Robert Saleh to seek adding a strong veteran leader such as Allen to the back of his defense.
Unfortunately for Falcons fans, although a long shot, New Orleans is a potential landing spot for Allen as well. The Saints have the least amount of cap space of any team heading into free agency, so it very well might not be possible for them to sign Allen.
However, three of their safeties are free agents. Whether it’s the draft or the bargain bin, the Saints are going to have to find safeties from some place. Maybe they’ll open enough cap space with releasing players to add a veteran presence next to Malcolm Jenkins.