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Falcons to clear almost $7M in cap space by cutting Derrick Shelby, Levine Toilolo

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Atlanta Falcons began the process of creating more cap space by informing tight end Levine Toilolo and defensive lineman Derrick Shelby of their releases, which will save nearly $7 million against this year's cap.

Toilolo, a 2013 fourth-round draft pick from Stanford, confirmed his release via Twitter.

The backup tight end had two years and $7.5 million left on the three-year, $12 million extension ($4.5 million guaranteed) he signed in March 2017. His release, designated by the team as a post-June 1 cut, saves $3.5 million against the cap rather than $2.5 million.

Meanwhile, the Falcons announced the release of the veteran Shelby, who signed a four-year, $18 million free-agent deal ($7.5 million guaranteed) after leaving the Miami Dolphins. It provides a cap savings of $3.25 million.

Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff hinted at some tough decisions coming up this week with the team trying to retool for a Super Bowl run. Toilolo had developed into a rather solid blocker but wasn't the red zone or downfield threat the Falcons need at the position. He started 12 of 15 games last season and caught 12 passes for 122 yards and one touchdown.

Meanwhile, Shelby wasn't a big part of the defensive line rotation with 30 combined tackles and one sack in 16 games, with 14 starts.

The Falcons are in the process of upgrading the tight end position, although they've expressed confidence in Austin Hooper coming off an underwhelming year. The team had a formal meeting with top tight end prospect Hayden Hurst from South Carolina during this week's NFL combine. There also has been talk at the combine of the Falcons possibly pursuing Carolina Panthers tight end Ed Dickson, who is headed for free agency.

In terms of how Shelby's release affects the defensive line, it really doesn't change the outlook. The Falcons entered the offseason intent on improving the interior pass rush. The first step was allowing two-time Pro Bowler Dontari Poe, a run-stuffer, to hit the free-agent market. Shelby had flashes but didn't provide consistent pass-rush help from the interior.

The Falcons will continue to find ways to be "creative" and create more cap space with free agency set for March 14. Signing one-time league MVP Matt Ryan to an extension is another part of the equation, with the quarterback set to count $21.65 million against the cap entering the final year of his deal. An extension could lower that number significantly.

The Falcons also are looking into extensions for nose tackle Grady Jarrett, left tackle Jake Matthews and free safety Ricardo Allen, while also expressing a desire to re-sign veteran kicker Matt Bryant.