Steve Wyche - Staff
Saturday, March 4, 2006
As expected, the Falcons released veteran defensive end Brady Smith on Friday, leaving open the possibility of re-signing him once there is resolution to the NFL's collective bargaining negotiations.
The Falcons cut Smith to help clear space to get under the $94.5 million salary cap, set Wednesday night when it appeared that league owners and the players' union might not reach a new labor agreement that could have increased the salary cap to more than $100 million. Atlanta also adjusted the contracts of quarterback Michael Vick and backup tight end Eric Beverly to get under the salary cap.
Owners and union representatives continued negotiations on a collective bargaining agreement Friday in New York after extending the deadline for resolution until Sunday evening.
The Falcons would not disclose how far under the $94.5 million cap they are. They would confirm, however, that they would probably have to cut more players or rework more contracts in order to sign draft picks and be a modest player in free agency if a new labor accord is not reached.
The Falcons also hired Billy Devaney as senior personnel executive. Devaney, a 20-year NFL front office veteran and former director of player personnel with the San Diego Chargers, will serve as the top personnel chief to president and general manager Rich McKay.
Smith's possible return could have more to do with his health than the team's salary cap. Smith, who finished the season on injured reserve, is still recovering from a dislocated ball joint in his right foot that limited him to five games last season.
He also had neck surgery before the season that limited his availability in preseason, and he missed two early-season games because of a quadriceps injury. He was waived-injured, meaning he has recourse to collect some of the $2.5 million salary he was owed next season.
Smith is highly regarded by the coaching staff, and if he returns to full strength, Atlanta could try to re-sign him at a reduced rate.
Smith's release adds to the already obvious need for Atlanta to address defensive end through free agency, the draft or a trade.
The most attractive replacement could be New York Jets defensive end John Abraham, who had 10.5 sacks last season (1.5 against the Falcons), 20 in the past two and 53.5 in his six-year career. He has said he wants out of New York, and the Jets reportedly have had discussions about trading him.
New York placed a franchise tag on him to keep him off the free-agent market, but the move could allow the Jets to get something in return in a trade. The Jets need a quarterback, but the Falcons have said they won't trade backup Matt Schaub. A high draft pick --- the Falcons select 15th overall --- might also be enough to land Abraham.
Atlanta's prospects of acquiring Abraham or another top veteran rest heavily on a new labor deal, which would provide them the salary-cap space to award the type of big-dollar contract Abraham seeks.
Falcons officials would not comment about Abraham or other trade possibilities.
The Falcons also could draft a defensive end, with Penn State's Tamba Hali and Virginia Tech's Darryl Tapp, who is pegged more as a second-round pick, as options. Chauncey Davis and Jonathan Babineaux, a converted defensive tackle, started in Smith's place last season as rookies, and either could emerge as Smith's replacement.