This past week the Falcons announced they were cutting ties with veterans Stephen Nicholas and Asante Samuel. The release of Nicholas was something many predicted and indeed hoped for. The release of Samuel on the other hand has sparked debate among Falcons fans as many feel he still has something to offer and are uneasy about handing the reigns over to Robert Alford.
Asante Samuel signed with the Falcons in 2012 and it was hoped he would form a formidable paring with Brent Grimes. Unfortunately Grimes was injured game 1 of the 2012 season and the partnership ended there as Grimes was signed by the Miami Dolphins that off-season. Despite the injury to Grimes, Samuel enjoyed a good year in 2012, his most notable play arguably being his pick 6 in the fourth quarter to clinch the win vs Oakland.
2013 was a down year for Samuel. On the field he was largely inconsistent, giving up far too many big plays. However his biggest struggle was getting on the field at all. While he struggled with injuries in the first half of the season he was benched when he came back healthy in favour of giving rookie Robert Alford valuable playing time. While his play this season was sub par Samuel is still a decent corner. His play this year ranked him 57th of 110 corners (stats courtesy of ProFootballFocus). Despite this, releasing Samuel was still the right move for the Falcons as they look to rebound from a disastrous 2013 campaign.
Money: Samuel’s cap hit for 2014 is $5,250,000. That’s a big hit for a player who is one dimensional and whose talent and speed are readily in decline. If Samuel had been kept around it is no guarantee he would be the day 1 starter as Alford could very well have beaten him for the starting role during training camp. If Alford hadn’t beaten Samuel out in training camp then these a very big possibility he would have replaced him at some stage during the regular season. With Samuel’s starting position on the team in considerable doubt this year it would be a huge waste to spend valuable cap space on a player who would most probably rarely have seen the field.
Versatility: Aside from the money, Samuel’s one dimensional off coverage style of play was damaging to Mike Nolan’s defence. Nolan loves to draw up intricate blitzes and use multiple looks with his defence. To do this he needs players who are versatile, Samuel has and never will be versatile. He’s a zone coverage corner who relies on his instincts and play making ability. What Alford and Trufant are able to do is come up to the line and play man on man, press coverage which then allows Nolan to dial up various blitzes and use multiple looks and formations., something they could never do with Samuel. Samuel is also a huge liability when tackling or playing the run, he will often put his head down and simply throw a shoulder in an effort to make the tackle without having to wrap up. Teams have often excused Samuel for this because of his excellent play against the pass, but when his pass defence is declining it suddenly makes it very difficult to justify Samuel as a starting corner in the NFL. Versatility is key to the Falcons defence and getting rid of Asante definitely makes this team more versatile while also making them more aggressive and better against the run.
Declining Play: Stats don’t always tell the whole story but in situations like this they are very telling. In 2012 Samuel had five interceptions and 19 pass breakups. In 2013 he had one interception and three pass breakups. Samuel is 33 years old and his play is on the steady decline. For a team whose ambition this off season is to get more aggressive and more explosive on the defensive side of the ball keeping Samuel goes against all these. Samuel has been known as a gambler all his career and he has been known to be beaten deep on occasion. However this year, despite his limited playing time he was giving up big plays all too often.
While i do agree with the Falcons decision to cut Samuel i am still sad to see him go. The Falcons are losing another player who by all accounts was very much liked within the walls of the locker-room. Samuel also provided valuble leadership and was a fountain of knowledge for the Falcons young cornerbacks.. While his stay with the team was only short Samuel still provided the Georgia Dome with some vintage ‘deuce deuce’ highlights and it is clear from his release that he was a player who fans had formed a legitimate attachment to. I do believe Robert Alford will in time be a very good cornerback but personally I would like for the Falcons to add a veteran corner to this group who could step in and start if needed. As for Asante, it’s sad to see him go but it’s time to move on, thanks for the memories 22.