In their 'Around the League' segment NFL Network took a look at the salary cap situation of the Atlanta Falcons heading into training camp. With under $3 million remaining before the Falcons hit the ceiling it's understandable to look at who they might part ways with, but I'm not sure I agree with their conclusion.
Writer Brian McIntyre suggests that outside linebacker Stephen Nicholas could be a camp casualty as a result of his injury in 2011, coupled with a $2.3 million cap figure. Upon looking further at the cap figures I'm not so sure I agree with this assessment, and I have three good reasons:
1. Lack of surety at linebacker
Yes, Nicholas is coming off an injury, which makes his situation very shaky. However when healthy he's the most reliable thing the Falcons have right now next to Sean Weatherspoon. I understand McIntyre's point about the Falcons relying more heavily on the Nickel in 2012, but if there's one thing new defensive coordinator's need it's reliability, and letting go Nicholas puts that in jeopardy.
2. Bigger fish to fry
The two players who leap out at me when looking at possible camp casualties is DT Vance Walker, who carries a cap figure of roughly $1 million less than Nicholas. Depth on the defensive line is important, but not as vital as a reliable linebacker when you have two unproved commodities at MLB.
3. Making the push
It should be no surprise that the Falcons are pushing their chips to the center of the table and making a huge run over the next two years. Michael Turner, Tyson Clabo, Tony Gonzalez-- these guys aren't getting any younger, and the time to strike needs to be now. Throw in Asante Samuel and Dunta Robinson, you have a scenario where Atlanta need to get this done now. Cutting Nicholas at this time is counter-productive, unless you think you can get a replacement via trade, and that's very unlikely.
I don't doubt some work is to be done on the cap front. Atlanta are dangerously close to the ceiling, and don't have much room to wiggle in case of injury. However, I can't help but feel that it would be the wrong move to cut Nicholas before his contract comes to a close. He's still reliable when healthy, and at 29 he still has a little left in the tank.
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