The Atlanta Falcons announced the release of veteran running back Michael Turner, defensive end John Abraham and cornerback Dunta Robinson on Friday.
"As a football coach it is never easy to cut any player, especially veteran players who have been valuable members of the organization," Falcons head coach Mike Smith said in a statement released by the team. "The guys we released today have contributed to the success that we have had over the last five years, and we greatly appreciate their efforts."
Turner's release is not unexpected. The Falcons signed Turner to a six-year, $34.5 million contract as a unrestricted free agent in 2008 and, over his time with the Falcons, he has rushed for 6,081 yards, coming within 550 yards of becoming the franchise's all-time leader in rushing yards. Turner is the Falcons' all-time leader in rushing touchdowns (60) and total touchdowns (61) and that success, in part, led to his release on Friday.
During his Falcons' tenure, Turner triggered $1.4 million of a possible $1.5 million in base salary escalation for the upcoming season. With Turner turning 31 in February, and seeing that his yards per carry average dropped by nearly a full yard in 2012, the Falcons were not going to bring him back at a $6.9 million salary with an $8.9 million cap number.
Robinson was another free agent addition, signing a six-year, $57 million contract with the Falcons in 2010. Robinson has been a three-year starter for the Falcons, but has just four interceptions in 48 games. Robinson turns 31 in April and was entering the back-end of his contract, which had three seasons and $29.5 million remaining, including an $8 million base salary and $9 million cap number in 2013.
The release of Abraham comes as a bit of a surprise as the Falcons had an ineffective pass rush in 2012, producing just 29 sacks during the regular season. Abraham had 10 of those sacks and had six of the team's 15 forced fumbles. Abraham's solid season triggered a $1 million escalator to his base salary and by releasing Abraham, the Falcons will save $6.5 million in cash and $5.75 million in cap space, which could be used to pursue a (slightly) younger pass-rusher, such as Osi Umenyiora, a 31-year-old who lives in the Atlanta area in the offseason and will be an unrestricted free agent on March 12.
Combined, Turner, Abraham and Robinson represent $18.65 million in gross cap savings. When you factor in the three contracts that will replace them in the "Top 51" cap accounting, the net savings is $17.43 million, giving the Falcons an estimated $22.78 million in cap space.
In addition to the cap space, the three transactions will free up $21.4 million in cash for the Falcons this offseason, which could be used to retain tight end Tony Gonzalez, cornerback Brent Grimes and safety William Moore.
More news from the Yahoo! Sports Minute:
Other popular content on Yahoo! Sports:
• One thing to know: Restructuring deals may not help much
• Ken Griffey Jr. surprises heartbroken fan
• Jeremy Clements confirms remark that resulted in NASCAR suspension was racial
• Rory McIlroy walks off course at Honda Classic