The Falcons parted ways with former All-Pro cornerback Casey Hayward last week in a somewhat surprising move.
There were many that expected Hayward to be a cap casualty; hell, I wrote about it in January, but there was reason to keep him around.
Firstly, there was a point during the 2022 campaign in which Cornell Armstrong and Darren Hall were starting games for the Falcons. Thrust into the lineup due to injury, the pair had mixed results, but Armstrong and Hall aren’t exactly the ideal starting duo.
The club did go out and bolster the position group, signing Mike Hughes to a two-year deal and acquiring Jeff Okudah via trade, but a defense can never have enough corners in this league.
On the other hand, it was expected to a certain degree. With Dean Pees retiring, Atlanta hired Ryan Nielsen to take over the defense, and with a new coordinator comes a new scheme, which meant Casey Hayward might not be in the plans.
Moreover, despite being a solid starter, he missed 11 games and will be 34 years old this upcoming season. The financials of his deal also gave the Falcons a reason to part ways with him. Atlanta realized $5 million in cap savings alongside just $2 million in dead money, per OverTheCap.
Still, I am skeptical of the timing and current cornerback situation. It makes the trade for former No. 3 overall pick Jeff Okudah even more important. He’s the pre-draft favorite to assume the starting role opposite AJ Terrell, with Mike Hughes manning the slot.
Atlanta better hope a change of scenery benefits the Ohio State product. Okudah has struggled with injuries for much of his career, which is why I expected Casey Hayward to remain on the team.
However, a new aspect of the release revealed a different perspective on the move:
This is a potentially important caveat with the Falcons releasing Casey Hayward today.
He was released with a failed physical designation.
He was out for the season last year after injuring his pec.
— Michael Rothstein (@mikerothstein) April 21, 2023
If the Falcons planned on cutting a highly respected veteran, it would’ve happened earlier, in my opinion. The failed physical designation tells me that if he were healthy, Hayward would still be on the team. I also think that fact leaves a reunion in the realm of possibilities. Hayward could get healthy and sign a deal following the NFL Draft if the Falcons don’t land a high-profile cornerback.
Photographer: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire
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