After six unsteady years, the Falcons officially parted ways with Robert Alford Tuesday night. The decision to make the cut before June 1st means the Atlanta will take a $1.2 million cap hit in 2019, but it’s far from the $9.1 million the Falcons would have owed Alford had they kept him.
His tenure in Atlanta will be remembered by a multitude of moments, some glamorous, some not so much. By year two, Alford became a full-time starter. Although, he did not get off to a glorious start. Early on in his career, he was known for being over aggressive, leading to too many big plays and pass-interference penalties. However, in 2016 it appeared he had turned a corner.
Desmond Trufant went down midway through the year with a season-ending shoulder injury. Most critics assumed that would be the end of the Falcons Super Bowl hopes, but Alford stepped up as the teams #1 cornerback, leading a starting group that consisted of second-year corner Jalen Collins and rookie Brian Poole. Of course, the Falcons would make the Super Bowl that season and Alford would come through with the most important play of the game for Atlanta.
— HDSportsClips (@HDSportsClips) February 6, 2017
That’s a moment that should have etched Alford in Falcons’ glory forever. Unfortunately, we know how that story ended, but that play remains one of the most memorable in the organization’s history. I don’t think there is a fan around who isn’t familiar with that indescribable burst of joy they felt when they saw Tom Brady fall helplessly at his feet. And this picture will remain iconic in the city of Atlanta till the end of time.
As fantastic as that moment was, 2017 was an even better year for Alford. It was easily his most consistent season, where he became a lockdown option and committed far fewer pass-interference penalties. His improved play over these two years was a primary reason for the defense’s rise into the top ten and why there was so much hope for this unit heading into 2018.
Sadly, those expectations never came to fruition. This past season was a mess for the Atlanta defense who lost both of their starting safeties before week three concluded. It also did not help the Falcons could rarely generate a pass rush, and Alford was often on the opponent’s top wide receiver. With that said, Alford still didn’t come close to living up to his contract.
For a veteran corner, he committed far too many of those same rookie mistakes that plagued him early on in his career. His five pass-interference penalties tied his career-high. And to put that in perspective, no other Falcons player was flagged for more than one pass-interference the entire season. The whole team only had ten pass-interference penalties combined, according to The Football Database, and two of those were offensive, meaning out of eight defensive pass-interference penalties, Alford had over half of them.
As a result, quarterbacks have been targeting Alford early and often. According to Pro Football Focus – since 2016 – he has forced the most incompletions of any player but also allowed the most yards and first downs over that period.
Since 2016, Robert Alford forced 64 incompletions (T-1st), but also allowed 2,751 yards and 134 1st downs (both led the NFL)
— PFF ATL Falcons (@PFF_Falcons) February 6, 2019
The best way to describe Alford may be as a playmaker who often was eager to make too many plays. All in all, he lived up to the billing of a second-round pick, giving Atlanta six solid seasons – five of which he was a full-time starter. But not many players, especially cornerbacks, experience a significant boost in play once they turn thirty, which Alford did last season. It should not take long for him to latch on with another team, but the Falcons absolutely did the correct thing in letting him walk.
Everyone in the Atlanta organization is on the hot seat, from the front office down to the players. There will be a lot of moving parts after a dreadfully disappointing 2018, and Alford was the first domino to fall. The Falcons will be looking to overhaul several areas on their defense in hopes it can return to the level of play they showed in 2017. By clearing up close to eight million, it makes it even more likely Grady Jarrett is back in Atlanta, which Thomas Dimitroff has said several times is the Falcons top priority.
In Alford’s place, 2018 second-round pick Isaiah Oliver should take over as the starting cornerback. Unless Atlanta decides to take one high in the draft again, which does not seem likely given the number of other needs the team has. Desmond Trufant will continue to operate as the other starting corner, and in all likelihood, Brian Poole and Damontae Kazee will be battling for playing time at the Nickel. The Falcons will also be monitoring the free agent market and draft prospects for a depth addition.