The Falcons delivered us a mini-shocker Monday morning when ProFootballTalk broke that Atlanta would not be tendering Brian Poole allowing him to become a free agent. Poole worked his way to becoming the starting nickel corner on the Falcons defense since signing with the team as an undrafted free-agent in 2016. He helped the Falcons reach their first Super Bowl since 1998 in his rookie season and progress into a top-ten defense the next year.
However, 2018 was one to forget for the entire team, but specifically the defensive side. Injuries wrecked the secondary, as the Falcons lost both of their starting safeties in the first three weeks, and the corners were exposed after that. While Poole was the Falcons most physical presence at the position, his lapses in coverage were noticeable, which is why the team is opting to part ways with him after three seasons.
Poole’s release leaves the Falcons with two cornerback choices on the roster from last year – Desmond Trufant and Isaiah Oliver. While we know Trufant will be starting, there is little clarity after that, and a multitude of ways this could go.
Oliver, a second-round pick in 2017, is likely to take over the other starting cornerback role. His rookie campaign was underwhelming, but that was more because of his lack of playing time than anything. The release of both Alford and Poole shows the organization has full confidence in him playing a significant role in 2019.
The nickel position is where the real questions lie. Damontae Kazee proved to be a stud for Atlanta as a replacement safety. He had seven interceptions, and despite being smaller, showed he has no problem coming up and making tackles in the running game. Dan Quinn has also previously stated that Kazee would be an option to start at the nickel coming off his breakout 2018. With Allen and Neal set to return next season, he has to be option #1 to fill Poole’s vacancy.
The San Diego State product has plenty of experience playing cornerback in college. In his final two seasons for the Aztecs, he had 15 interceptions and three forced fumbles as a corner. Atlanta chose to transition him into a safety his first two seasons, which he was able to do seamlessly, so there is plenty of reason to believe he will be successful given the opportunity.
The Falcons could also look to target another cornerback in the draft or free agency. Considering Desmond Trufant is beginning to get up there in age, and Isaiah Oliver and Damontae Kazee have a combined two starts between them at corner, this is something that is going to happen. Look for Atlanta to make cornerback one of its priorities over the draft process once again this season.
Finally, do not count out a return of Brian Poole to Atlanta. Vaughn Mcclure of ESPN reported that the Falcons are interested in bringing Poole back just not for the price of the RFA tender. The tender is projected to be worth a little over $2 million
Source tells me the Falcons would like to bring Brian Poole back, but just not at the RFA tender amount. Low level tender projected to be just over $2 million.
— vaughn mcclure (@vxmcclure23) February 15, 2019
I have a feeling there is a team out there that would be willing to offer Poole that money, but it remains a slight possibility.
This move exemplifies the dissatisfaction Quinn and management had with the secondary even with all the injuries that took place. It would be astonishing if they did not add at least another body to the mix to ensure the same issues do not occur in 2019. But expect Trufant, Oliver, and Kazee to own the three starting corner spots by the time the Falcons head to training camp.