The sudden waiving
of Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Darius Johnson caught many, including myself by surprise Friday morning. While it was certainly a possibility that Johnson would not make the Falcons roster
, expectations were that he would at least have the opportunity to compete for the position during the course of training camp. Following Friday’s first practice of training camp, head coach Mike Smith expressed no comment
when asked what prompted Johnson’s release.
ESPN’s Vaughn McClure provided the most clarity we have to date, indicating that Johnson told people that he had enough with football and planned to begin coaching at his alma mater of Southern Methodist University.
Reports surfaced recently that Johnson had also been arrested in late May on DUI charges in Fulton County, although McClure’s insight seemingly nixes the idea that it was a significant factor in his departure from the Falcons.
If McClure’s report is true, Johnson’s career as a Falcon lasted just one season. He was an undrafted free agent last season, impressed enough during traininng camp to make the team’s practice squad and was elevated from that unit to the active roster when injuries sapped the Falcons of depth. Johnson managed to work his way from the team’s fifth option at wide receiver to their third by year’s end, finishing the season with 22 catches for 210 yards and a touchdown in 10 appearances and two starts.
Johnson’s departure increases the chances that one of the team’s many undrafted rookies could make the roster. Former Toledo product Bernard Reedy was very impressive during OTAs in May and June.
Not only did the team make several new additions to the roster but the Atlanta Falcons also parted ways with some long-time veterans on Tuesday to start free agency. The team announced that tight end Tony Gonzalez and safety Thomas DeCoud were officially released, moves that were long expected to be made.
Gonzalez had announced his intentions to retire prior to last season and had made good on those plans this offseason when he was hired by CBS Sports to become an in-studio analyst for the network this fall. But because he had not yet filed his retirement papers, the Falcons were forced to cut him in lieu of paying him an option bonus this week.
DeCoud’s impending release had been reported two weeks ago due to a portion of his salary becoming guaranteed if he was on the roster as of March 15. DeCoud was drafted by the Falcons in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft, and became a regular starter at free safety the following season. He managed to start 78 games over five seasons with the Falcons, collecting 14 interceptions. He earned a Pro Bowl bid in 2012 with a team-high six interceptions, which was also the second-most among safeties in the NFL that year. But DeCoud’s play took a notable dip last season. Premium website Pro Football Focus rated him as the 83rd best safety in the league last season out of 86 players graded.
The Atlanta Falcons announced this evening that running back Jason Snelling has opted to retire
from the NFL after seven seasons as a pro. Snelling spent the entirety of his career with the Falcons after being a seventh-round pick in 2007. Only fellow ’07 draft selection Justin Blalock along with 2005 selections Jonathan Babineaux and Roddy White have longer tenures with the team.
Snelling turned 30 this past December, finishing a career in which he appeared in 96 games with six starts. His career marks of 363 carries and 1,420 rushing yards ranks 19th and 20th, respectively, on the team’s all-time list. He also caught 168 passes for 1,249 yards, and combined for 17 total touchdowns during his career.
Snelling played both running back and fullback during his time in Atlanta, serving as an injury fill-in at both positions throughout his career. His best season came in 2009 when he replaced an injured Michael Turner as the team’s lead rusher for the final six games. He finished that season with a career-high 613 rushing yards.
A notable special teams player as well, Snelling recorded 39 stops over his career in that capacity and led the team with 18 special teams tackles in 2008.
Snelling dealing with the possibility of life after football was hinted when he decided not to travel with the team for an away game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers following an arrest in November. Snelling cited personal issues as the reason for his absence at the time.
He was entering the final year of a three-year contract he signed in 2012. His retirement frees up $1.375 million in 2014 salary cap space per Over the Cap.
It was announced Tuesday that Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez would get the chance to play in the Pro Bowl after his final season in the NFL, as a replacement for San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, who pulled out from the contest. Gonzalez will be the lone representative of the Falcons to play in Sunday’s all-star game in Hawaii, after being voted as an alternate. Gonzalez was selected to ‘Team Rice’ on Wednesday night in the game’s new format of a live draft.
The new format has two respective captains, Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders, select their teams regardless of conference affiliation over the course of two nights. Gonzalez was selected by Rice’s team alongside other skill position players on Wednesday night. He will play alongside Jimmy Graham at the tight end position on a team that features quarterback Drew Brees, running back LeSean McCoy and defensive end John Abraham among others.
This will mark Gonzalez’ 14th trip to the Pro Bowl, tying the NFL record alongside offensive lineman Bruce Matthews and defensive tackle Merlin Olsen. He has made the Pro Bowl four consecutive seasons, with his the only time he did not make the Pro Bowl since 1999, being his first year in Atlanta in 2009. He was also honored as part of the All-Decade team of the 2000s, which was announced in 2010.
Gonzalez plans to retire this offseason after 17 years in the NFL, playing his last five with the Falcons, after beginning his career with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1997. Gonzalez ranked second on the team in receptions (83) and receiving yards (859) but led the team with 8 touchdowns. He finishes his career ranked second all-time in career receptions (1,325), fifth in yards (15,127) and sixth in receiving touchdowns (111). For tight ends, he ranks first in each category. He also finishes his Falcon career ranked fourth in receptions (409), eighth in yards (4,187), and tied for fifth in receiving touchdowns (35) on the team’s all-time list. His career mark in receptions tops the team’s all-time list of tight ends.
Gonzalez will be eligible to be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2019, and is widely expected to be a first-ballot entree.
Allen and I discuss the G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time): Tony Gonzalez, in ourr tribute to his career as an Atlanta Falcon. We reminisce about our first reactions to the trade that went down in 2009 that brought Gonzalez from Kansas City to Atlanta, our favorite catches and plays over the years, and debate which of the past five seasons was Tony’s best in Atlanta. We also discuss the chances of whether Gonzalez decides not to hang it up and what is the next step for him in retirement. We also discuss the future of the Falcons own tight ends, and whether Levine Toilolo has shown enough to carry the mantle. Afterwards, we get into our ‘Around the League’ section where we discuss the first weekend of playoff action with a good bit on the dramatic Colts-Chiefs matchup, as well as previewing and picking games for this upcoming weekend’s playoff action. This episode does contain some NSFW language!
1 hour, 10 minutes
Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Pro Football Spot. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.
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Long-time Falcons center Todd McClure is set to retire on Thursday per an AJC report, following a tweet from former Falcon receiver Brian Finneran yesterday of McClure’s intention. McClure will hold a press conference and file his retirement papers according to the AJC.
McClure is the longest-tenured Falcon currently on the team, first joining the team as a seventh round draft pick in 1999. He would miss his rookie season with an injury, going down with an ACL tear on the opening day of training camp. But he would return and land the starting center job midway through his second season and never relinquish it. Over the course of the next 13 seasons, he would log 195 starts, missing only 4 starts from 2001-12. Before missing time at the start of the 2011 season, McClure had made 144 consecutive starts without missing a game. His 198 total appearances are fourth most in team history, and his 195 starts are the third-highest.
Consistently undersized as far as NFL centers go, McClure learned to be effective with leverage and intelligence. He anchored offensive lines that for three consecutive seasons (2004-06) finished atop the league in rushing yards, and ranked fourth in 2002. During the time when the Falcons were quarterbacked by Michael Vick, McClure routinely called out the team’s protections. That intelligence and experience helped a young Matt Ryan, who has since become the 9th-least sacked quarterback in NFL history.
The Falcons will likely employ a competition between Peter Konz and Joe Hawley at center to replace him in 2013. Hawley started three games in 2011 as a replacement for McClure.
Tom Ziemer of the Wisconsin State Journal reports that running back Aaron Stecker has decided to retire. Stecker, currently unsigned as an undrafted free agent was signed by the Falcons midway through the 2009 season.
He played in nine games, rushing 5 times for 15 yards and adding 5 receptions for 34 yards. Stecker finishes up a ten-year NFL career, where he began with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2000 before signing with the New Orleans Saints in 2004. He was most productive with the Saints, rushing for 1109 yards during his five-year stint there. He finishes his career with 1526 rushing yards on 386 carries (4.0 avg) and 8 touchdowns. He also added 166 receptions for 1175 yards (7.1 avg) and 3 more scores. A noted special teams player, Stecker also added 43 tackles in coverage in that realm and had 170 kickoff returns for 3934 yards (23.1 avg) and 1 touchdown.
Falcons long snapper Mike Schneck announced his retirement on Thursday, the eve of him becoming a free agent.
Schneck was signed by the Falcons in October 2007, and held down their long snapping duties ably until a back injury cost him the remainder of the 2009 season this past November. Schneck was an 11-year veteran playing the past three years with the Falcosn, following two seasons with the Buffalo Bills, and six seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was voted to the AFC Pro Bowl team in 2005 as a snapper.
Currently, the Falcons do not have a long snapper on their active roster. Joe Zelenka finished the season as the Falcons long snapper, but he too is a free agent.
Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk.com reports that Falcons center Jeremy Newberry is retiring. Newberry signed with the Falcons a month ago to add some veteran depth to the offensive line.
Per the report, Newberry’s knee had been bothering him since having surgery a few years back. But the knee had been getting worse and worse according to a league source.
It is possible the Falcons might re-sign center Alex Stepanovich, who the team released in order to make room for Newberry on the roster.
Earlier this month, a report appeared on ProFootballTalk.com reporting that the Falcons might move in a different direction from starting center Todd McClure due to his holding out from voluntary off-season workouts. Earlier today, Dan Parr of Pro Football Weekly indicated those reports are overblown.
Pro Football Talk reported that McClure is seeking a new deal and is holding out from off-season workouts and threatening retirement. It also indicated that the Falcons in response to McClure’s actions started looking at free agent centers including Jeremy Newberry.
Pro Football Weekly reports that while McClure is seeking a new contract, he is not expected to miss mandatory workouts later in the off-season and is not facing pressure from the Falcons for missing the workouts. Parr’s report indicates that the Falcons would like to add a young center via the draft to groom behind McClure, but are not considering to replace him in the near future. The Falcons also aren’t likely to give into McClure’s desires to have a new deal.
McClure signed a new five-year contract extension in December 2006 worth $10 million.
Brett Romberg, center was one of the two free agents signed this off-season as well.