Sackmaster John Abraham, it turns out, had plenty of gas left in the tank.
Perhaps, even enough to ride to Canton, Ohio, with a detour through the Arizona desert.
The release of Abraham and several other key veterans has contributed mightily to the Falcons freefall from Super Bowl contender to a 3-10 record and last place in the NFC South.
Abraham, who the Falcons released in March, has 11 sacks on a Cardinals defense that rattled the Falcons 27-13 on Oct. 27. The Cardinals are 8-5 and in the hunt for the playoffs.
Falcons coach Mike Smith said he spoke with the Abraham a couple of times after the team made their personnel decision. Before facing the Falcons earlier this season, Abraham said the team told him it was a "business decision." Based on the team's records, it appears that it was a very bad business decision.
"I don't believe that it was a mistake to get rid John," Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. "John has gone on to be very productive at Arizona this year. ...And he had done some very good things for us."
The Falcons signed former New York Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora to a two-year, $8.5 million contract. He has 6.5 of the Falcons' 27 sacks, which ranks 27th in the league.
"We are pleased with Osi's presence on this football team and his production will continue to rise as the season goes on," Dimitroff said. "Osi has lived up to our expectations, and I have no doubt in my mind that he's a double-digit sack guy. Unfortunately, we have not been in the best situations, as of late, (for him) to produce that way."
Abraham was due $4.25 million from the Falcons, but had a high cap number of $7.25 million. He turned 35 in May and played just two-thirds of the snaps in 2012, when he had 10 of their 29 sacks last season.
However, after suffering ankle sprain in the meaningless Game 16 of the regular-season, he was ineffective in the playoffs and didn't' register a sack.
While the Falcons were clearing room to take on Matt Ryan's six-year, $103.75 million contract extension, they had plenty of room to fit in a deal for Abraham. He signed a two-year, $4.6 million contract with Arizona, with another $1.4 million available through incentives.
It's reasonable to conclude that the Falcons thought Abraham was washed up. After thinking about retiring, he eventually got over the stinging release and moved on.
"Being in the league for 13 years, I think it was more about me doubting myself, which I don't do," Abraham said in an interview with The Arizona Republic. "But I did because I got cut (by the Falcons). It was a more personal thing than it was a physical thing because I felt I still could play. But a lot of times when people are saying something, you've got to look at yourself and see if it's really true." Abraham was named the NFC's defensive player of the week after dominating against St. Louis. In the 30-10 win over the Rams, he had three sacks, a safety, one forced fumble and six tackles.
"Anytime an organization is faced with making moves with starters, it's not easy," Dimitroff said. "It takes a lot of creativity. It takes a lot of patience and it takes a lot of hard work from the organization's side to commit to the changes and there will be challenges along the way."
Here's a look at some of the other veteran moves by the Falcons' front office and how they have worked out:
Steven Jackson for Michael Turner:
It appears the Falcons got this one right. With several teams needing running backs, Turner remains unsigned. He did have a tryout with the New York Giants.
Jackson isn't exactly burning it up, but last week, he averaged 4.7 yards on 15 carries against the Packers. That was his most efficient production since he had 77 yards on 11 carries (7.0 average) in the season-opener at New Orleans.
Jackson was hurt on the first series in Week 2 against St. Louis, missed the next four games and has had lackluster production.
"Now, he's at a spot where he's running hard, he's running with authority, anger and competitiveness," Dimitroff said. "He brings an element of swagger to that offensive run game that we need. Over the last few games, he's really kicked it into high gear."
Lamar Holmes/Jeremy Trueblood for Tyson Clabo:
While Clabo is not turning in a Pro Bowl campaign with the Miami Dolphins, the Falcons should have been more certain that Holmes or Michael Johnson were ready to play.
Johnson was injured in training camp, and Holmes, who played only seven snaps as a rookie, wasn't ready. He lost his job to Trueblood, who'd been cut by the Redskins.
Holmes has picked up his play while replacing Sam Baker at left tackle and may still turn into a player.
In retrospect, neither of the right tackle options stands out as a clear cut favorite. Clabo has given up 10 sacks, 11 hits and 28 hurries for the Dolphins. Trueblood has given up two sacks, seven hits and 24 hurries. Holmes has given up seven sacks, 11 hits and 44 hurries.
"Unfortunately for us, we had planned on having a real competition at right tackle with Mike Johnson and Lamar Holmes," Dimitroff said. "Then, when Mike got injured, it came down to Lamar. I believe we've had a chance to see Lamar as a first-year starter develop, and he's had to develop quickly."
Peter Konz for Todd McClure:
This one has failed miserably with Konz losing his starting job to the scrappy Joe Hawley.
The thinking made sense. The Falcons wanted to get bigger, stronger and more athletic up front. They needed McClure out of the way for the young guy to develop in order to get some value from their 2012 second-round pick.
Konz is bigger than McClure, but the knock on him was his strength coming out of Wisconsin.
He spent too much time in the backfield and on the ground while starting nine games at center. He was moved back over to right guard, where started 10 games as a rookie.
"There's no question that we've had our challenges at the center position for a number of reasons," Dimitroff said. "We believe that Peter is a good and evolving offensive lineman, whether if it's at guard or at center. His natural position has always been at center."
Desmond Trufant for Dunta Robinson/Brent Grimes:
Robinson has played 167 snaps for the Chiefs, but was beaten out by Marcus Cooper. He was active, but didn't play in last week's 45-10 pasting of the Redskins.
Grimes has recovered nicely from Achilles surgery. He has played 922 snaps for Miami and has four interceptions. Miami made a one-year, $5.5 million gamble on Grimes and it's paid off.
The Falcons got a cheaper replacement in Trufant, who has a bright future. He signed a four-year, $8.16 million contract.
"It was unfortunate that we weren't able to keep a player of Grimes' ability here in Atlanta," Dimitroff said. "He's gone down there and has done a nice job. We feel as an organization have improved our youthful depth. We like how our corners are doing. They are progressing very well.
"They have an element of swagger and confidence about them that is very rare in first-year corners."
(c)2013 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)
Visit The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.) at www.ajc.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services