The Falcons were so intent on having three starting-caliber cornerbacks entering the season that they went out and traded for Asante Samuel to pair with Grimes, who is carrying a $10.2 million franchise tag, and Dunta Robinson. Grimes and Samuel started Sunday's game against Kansas City, but Robinson played extensively as the nickel back.
With Grimes lost, Samuel and Robinson are the obvious starters. Samuel may not be the dominant corner he was early in his career, but he's still above average and Robinson is talented, although he hasn't always played to his potential. Still, the Falcons have two starting-caliber cornerbacks.
The problem is, they need three in coordinator Mike Nolan's scheme. It's not easy to go out and find a cornerback that good right now. Even if there was a quality replacement out there, the Falcons only have about $1 million in salary-cap room, so they likely would have to restructure contracts. I'm sure the Falcons will look to see what comes available, but the chances are better, the new nickel back will come from the current roster.
“It’s the next-man-up mentality,'' coach Mike Smith said. "That’s the way you have to approach it. There are a number of guys who have play time on our roster right now. It’s something that as a coaching staff we’ll put together what we feel is the best plan in terms of how we will configure out nickel package. That’s the biggest thing we’ll have to do.”
But the problem with the next-man-up mentality is that the next two guys in line have been with the Falcons and never have really blossomed. They have Christopher Owens and Dominique Franks, who haven't prospered in the past when given playing time at cornerback. Franks was even released at the end of the preseason, but was re-signed. The Falcons also are carrying Robert McClain this year, but I don't know that he's ready for extensive playing time.
The Falcons likely will throw Owens out there and hope the light suddenly comes on and he performs better than he has in the past.