The Falcons have cut veteran cornerback Asante Samuel and linebacker Stephen Nicholas, first reported by Fox Sport's Alex Marvez and later confirmed by the team. The waiver wire re-opened on Monday, which allowed the Falcons to make the moves.
Samuel is a four-time Pro Bowl and three-time All-Pro selection, but he had a poor season with the Falcons in 2013, his second year with the club. After posting 19 pass breakups and five interceptions in his first season with the team, Samuel dealt with injuries throughout last year's campaign and finished with just 30 tackles, three passes defensed and one pick.
Samuel was acquired from the Eagles for a seventh-round pick before the 2012 season. He served as a mentor to rookie cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford in their first seasons in the league, but both young players made Samuel expendable. He was set to make $3.5 million this season with $1.75 million in potential bonuses, according to Marvez. The Falcons are left with Trufant, Alford, Saeed Lane and Jordan Mabin at cornerback, following Samuel's departure.
Nicholas was set to make $3 million this season and was part of an underwhelming linebacker unit in 2013. He has played his entire seven-year career with the Falcons, but was demoted to a backup last year despite a litany of injuries to the linebacker group. He finished the season with 35 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.
Dumping Nicholas leaves the Falcons pretty light at linebacker entering the offseason. The lineup consists of Paul Worrilow, Sean Weatherspoon, Akeem Dent and Joplo Bartu. Weatherspoon is the team's top linebacker, but is coming off a season in which he missed nine games due to injury.
The Falcons saved $4.18 million by cutting Samuel and $2 million by dumping Nicholas, according to Over the Cap. That is a combined $6.18 million in savings for a Falcons team that could spend this offseason to improve their offensive line, linebacker and tight end positions. Prior to the move, the Falcons were just under the projected salary cap for the season.