The Falcons released linebackers Ed Hartwell and Ike Reese today. Both players were significant free agent signings for the team in 2005, but for various reasons did not live up to expectations.
Hartwell, a pickup from Baltimore, was attempting to emerge from the shadow of Ray Lewis in Atlanta. But injuries and merely adequate play prevented that. Hartwell missed a total of 19 games the past two seasons due to several different injuries. In his 13 appearances, he recorded only 62 tackles. It was a notable drop from his production as Lewis’s teammate in Baltimore, having recorded at least 94 tackles in each year as a starter with the Ravens.
Hartwell signed a six-year contract worth $26.25 million in 2005. According to Steve Wyche of the AJC, the Falcons opted to release Hartwell under a new rule in the CBA, which allows teams to cut players prior to June 1, with the same cap ramifications as a post-June 1 release. That means, the Falcons can defer the majority of his remaining signing bonus (roughly $5 million) as dead money in 2008, as opposed to 2007. Although by the same rule, the Falcons will have to carry the weight of Hartwell’s $2.88 million base salary until June.
Reese was originally signed to compete for a starting job at strongside linebacker and upgrade the teams’ special teams unit. Reese earned a Pro Bowl bid as a special teams player with the Eagles in 2004. However, he lost the starting job to Demorrio Williams in 2005. In two seasons with the Falcons, he recorded a total of 23 tackles on special teams.
These moves open up roster space at linebacker, which now could become an area of focus in the draft or free agency. It’s likely that the starting trio of Keith Brooking, Demorrio Williams, and Michael Boley that has been seen for the majority fo the past two seasons will remain intact for 2007. Hartwell’s release opens up opportunity for 2005 third round pick Jordan Beck to earn more playing time. However, the team will likely look to upgrade depth on the outside with Reese gone.