After the NFL Players Union agreed not to delay the beginning of the new league year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it caused a flurry of transactions around the NFL, most notably in Atlanta. As free agency began, the Falcons were in salary cap hell, with reportedly $700,000 in cap room after the league set the salary cap at $198.2 million. It forced management to cut running back Devonta Freeman, cornerback Desmond Trufant, and offensive lineman Ty Sombrailo.
Freeman had three years remaining and $21 million on his contract. After rushing for 1,056 and 1,079 yards in 2015 and 2016 respectively, his production tailed off while suffering from injuries. In 2017, Freeman ran for 865 yards while tallying 4.4 yards per carry. In 2018, Freeman played only two games and ran for 68 yards. In what would be his last year with the Falcons, Freeman ran for 656 yards on 184 carries in the 2019 campaign. There will be about $6 million of dead money as a result of Freeman’s departure.
Meanwhile, in the seven years Trufant patrolled the Falcons secondary, he snagged 13 interceptions in 97 games. The Falcons cornerbacks are now Isaiah Oliver, Kendall Sheffield and Blidi Wreh-Wilson. It is likely the team will add another corner in free agency or the draft. The move saves the Falcons $4.95 million against the salary cap. Trufant had three years and $35.25 million left on his contract.
As for Sambrailo, his loss is not as significant as he’s been primarily a backup tackle for Atlanta. He had a cap hit of about $5.7 million this season.
The cuts will clear $14.75 million in salary cap space before Wednesday’s start of free agency. Following the cuts and recent moves to re-sign three players who were headed for free agency, the team will have about $9.9 million in cap space.
Also, tight end Austin Hooper signed a four year, $42 million contract with the Cleveland Browns with $23 million fully guaranteed. A great pay raise for the Stanford product, considering he was making $700,000 with the Falcons. Last year, Hooper career highs in receptions (75), receiving yards (787) and touchdowns (six) despite playing in only 13 games. He missed three games after spraining his MCL. Hooper’s new deal puts him on par with Kansas City’s Travis Kelce’s five-year, $46.8 million deal and the Eagles’ Zach Ertz’s five-year, $42.5 million contract. San Francisco’s George Kittle should reset the market when his deal comes up.
After Hooper signed with the Browns, the Falcons traded their 2nd round pick and 5th round picks in this year’s draft to the Baltimore Ravens for tight end Hayden Hurst. Hurst and a fourth round pick is headed to Atlanta. Hurst was a first-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens in 2018 and fell out of favor with Lamar Jackson as the MVP built a thriving connection with tight end Mark Andrews. Baltimore will get the 55th pick that Atlanta previously acquired from the New England Patriots when they dealt wide receiver Mohamed Sanu in October.
According to Jamison Hensley of ESPN, Hurst is an advocate for mental health and said during the offseason that depression led him to a suicide attempt four years ago. He has spoken at high schools and colleges in Maryland and his home state of Florida, discussing the need for the younger generation to address their mental health.
Finally have a second to take a breath and soak this in. Thanks to the @ravens for brining me in and giving me a chance in the league. Baltimore was always great to me and I’ve got love for the city, always. This is what we sign up for ! Let’s get to work @AtlantaFalcons #RiseUp— Hayden Hurst (@haydenrhurst) March 16, 2020