The Atlanta Falcons got their roster back up to 90 players on Sunday by signing three free agents and cutting one player. The team announced that they signed cornerback Travis Howard, linebacker Terrell Manning and running back Evan Royster, while releasing offensive tackle DeMarcus Love. The Falcons’ roster had lowered to 88 players earlier last week when the team waived safeties Terell Floyd and Damian Parms.
Howard entered the NFL originally as an undrafted free agent of the Houston Texans in 2013 out of Ohio State. He failed to make the Texans’ roster as a rookie, but spent brief time on the practice squads of the New England Patriots and New York Giants before the year was up. The Giants brought him back on a futures contract in 2014, but he was placed on injured reserve early in last summer’s training camp due to a knee injury. He was subsequently released by the Giants this past March.
Howard was a two-year starter at Ohio State, collecting 81 tackles, six interceptions and 11 pass deflections in that span. Howard has the size (6’1″ 200 pounds) and length (32-inch arms) that Falcons head coach Dan Quinn prefers in corners in his defensive scheme. He’ll add depth at cornerback, where the Falcons are looking to improve competition in light of rookie cornerback Jalen Collins’ struggles.
Manning has bounced around the NFL, with the Falcons becoming the eighth team that has signed Manning since he entered the league as a fifth-round pick of the Green Bay Packers in 2012. Manning went pro early after his junior season at N.C. State, after recording career-highs of 76 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, three interceptions, eight pass deflections and four forced fumbles. A parasite caused him to have colitis, marring his first preseason with the Packers and he suffered a concussion in the regular-season opener that caused him to miss several games. He finished his rookie season appearing in five games for the Packers on special teams where he recorded three tackles.
The Packers cut him following 2013’s training camp and he spent the majority of the rest of the season on the San Diego Chargers’ practice squad. However, he did play in one game for the Chargers on special teams in 2013. After being released by the Chargers and spending a month with the Minnesota Vikings, Manning was scooped up by the Giants prior to 2014’s training camp. He did not make the Giants roster but his performance that summer got him opportunities on the practice squads of the Miami Dolphins and Chicago Bears in September and October. The Bears promoted him to their 53-man roster for three games and he spent a week on the Cincinnati Bengals’ practice squad before being brought back by the Giants to their active roster in late November. However his time with the Giants was cut short by an ankle injury that ended his season and the Giants subsequently cut him this past May.
For his career, the 25-year old linebacker has appeared in a total of 10 games with four different teams over the past three years and has just only gotten opportunities on special teams. His lone defensive snap came with the Giants in Week 13 of last year before he suffered his season-ending ankle injury. He should add athleticism and depth as the Falcons could use both at outside linebacker.
Royster is familiar with Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, having played under him for three years with the Washington Redskins. Royster was originally a sixth-round pick by the Redskins out of Penn State in 2011. As a rusher, he had his biggest impact as a rookie, finishing second on the team with 328 yards on 56 carries (5.9 avg). Most of those yards came in the last two games of the season which Royster started, collecting 245 yards on 39 carries (6.3 avg). Royster was expected by many to be the leading candidate to take over the starting spot in the competition between himself, Roy Helu, Tim Hightower and rookie Alfred Morris in the summer of 2012. However a knee injury prompted him to miss one game of action in that summer’s preseason, sidetracking those plans. Ultimately, Morris won the gig and finished with 1,613 yards that year. Royster managed just 88 yards on 23 carries that year, a distant third on the team behind Morris and Robert Griffin III. However, his 15 receptions did lead the team’s running backs.
The following year in 2013, Royster began the season on the team’s inactive list for three weeks but managed to subsequently appear in 10 games, most of it coming on special teams. He finished that year with just two rushes for no yards and one reception for three yards while adding four tackles on special teams before a high-ankle sprain put him on injured reserve in December. He was cut by the Redskins after last summer’s training camp.
Royster will turn 28 in November, but brings familiarity, experience and much-needed depth to the running back position for the Falcons. Antone Smith is the latest name added to the list of Falcons running backs out with hamstring injuries, suffering his on Friday night against the Tennessee Titans. The team is now without its top three running backs entering the summer as Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman have also been battling hamstring strains.
Love signed with the Falcons prior to training camp when the team was hurting for offensive tackle depth thanks to the injury to Lamar Holmes. However, Love was one of the few healthy scratches for the team in their preseason-opening win against the Tennessee Titans on Friday. Love entered the NFL as a sixth-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings in 2011, but never played in a regular season game with the team through 2013 when he was cut following a four-game suspension to open the season. He finished each of the past two years on the practice squads of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Denver Broncos before being scooped by the Falcons at the end of July.