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Falcons may cut as many as a dozen players


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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Published on: 02/14/08

The Falcons' roster will undergo a radical change and those moves could come as soon as Friday.

Several veterans will be cut and there could be some surprises, according to interviews with NFL officials and player agents by the Journal-Constitution. The radical changes will come at nearly every position.

Brant Sanderlin/AJC

(ENLARGE)

Among the projected cuts is strong safety Lawyer Milloy. That would leave the team without either of last season's starting safeties.Among the veterans who could be released is strong safety Lawyer Milloy, said one NFL official. Such a move would strip the Falcons of their most respected leader and leave the team without either of last season's starting safeties. Free safety Chris Crocker's contract is expiring, and the Falcons don't plan to re-sign him.

The offense could be in for a complete makeover as offensive linemen Wayne Gandy, Kynan Forney and Todd Weiner, wide receivers Joe Horn and Brian Finneran, tailback Warrick Dunn and quarterbacks Joey Harrington and Byron Leftwich all have had their futures debated.

Five-time Pro Bowl linebacker Keith Brooking could be among those released to the defense.

"They have to figure out how big this is going to be because they still have to line up and play 16 games next season," the NFL official told the AJC about the upcoming roster overhaul.

There are a variety of reasons for the moves, including scheme fit, salary-cap ramifications, age, injury or giving veterans a chance to sign with another team that might be a better fit. With a new general manager and head coach, the personnel discussions that have taken place within the organization will result in the 2008 Falcons looking drastically different than the squad that finished 4-12 in 2007.

"We are just going to see how it all shakes out," said Butch Williams, the agent for tight end Alge Crumpler. "With so many new people in the front office and so many new coaches, it's hard to tell. We'll see."

Some agents anticipate their clients being handed their walking papers or being asked to alter their contracts. They request that if the Falcons cut their players it is done soon so they can begin working the free-agent market, which opens Feb. 29.

"If they do it, just do it quick," Williams said.

New general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith said they want to be strong up the middle, and many of the potential changes appear to be coming from tailback through safety.

Dunn, 33 and in the final year of his contract, counts $6.3 million against the salary cap. He might not be the proper fit for new offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey's scheme. Harrington or Leftwich, and perhaps both, could be released.

Forney is in the last year of his deal that pays him nearly $3 million. Gandy (36, coming off season-ending knee surgery) and Weiner, whose season-ending knee surgery might not allow him to be ready to start the season, could also be replaced.

Adding at least one defensive tackle is a priority, but it might not come at the expense of cutting players. Brooking isn't expected to play middle linebacker again for the Falcons and if he is back with the team, he probably would be moved to his natural weakside position.

If Milloy returns, it will be his final year and a replacement must be groomed. More immediate help is needed at free safety. Jimmy Williams might get a shot to compete for the starting job, but more help is expected to come via free agency or the draft.

Making sure there is enough incoming talent or talent on the roster to fill in for players also will play a huge role in who stays.

Though Crumpler is coming off a down season, was limited by knee problems and carries a $4.7 million cap charge, there simply might not be anyone on the team or available in the draft or free agency who would make cutting him worthwhile, the NFL official said.

"He's had a good experience in Atlanta," Williams said of Crumpler, a four-time Pro Bowler. "Subject to them doing something, we're status quo."

Staff writer D. Orlando Ledbetter contributed to this article.

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