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  • Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer Close
    • Covered Bears for seven seasons at Chicago Tribune
    • Also worked at Chicago Sun-Times, Fresno Bee
    • Honorable mention, Football Writers Association of America for enterprise writing, 2002

The Atlanta Falcons on Tuesday released starting cornerback Robert Alford after six seasons.

"We thank Robert for all that he brought to the team during his six seasons in Atlanta," general manager Thomas Dimitroff said in a statement. "He was a significant contributor to our defense and we have a great deal of respect for him. We wish Robert all the best going forward."

Alford thanked the team in a tweet.

Alford, a second-round draft pick in 2013, had two years and $17 million left on his contract. He signed a four-year, $38 million extension ($21 million guaranteed) in December of 2016. Releasing Alford provides a $7.9 million savings against the 2019 salary cap.

The Falcons appeared destined to part ways with Alford after he struggled in coverage and with penalties during the 2018 season. Despite those issues, Alford expressed confidence in his ability, saying an early-season ankle injury affected his performance at right corner.

"I feel like I'm top 10 [cornerback] in this league," Alford told ESPN in December. "Last year, I was doing my thing. Came into this year, I did my thing. At the end of the day, I just have to get back to my style of play and make those plays that the team needs me to make that I've been making in the past.

"I haven't made those plays this season, but we have [two] games left. All I have to do is show my worth and go out there and ball my tail off."

In the end, the Falcons told Alford it was time to move in another direction.

Alford started 76 of 88 games with the Falcons, playing 4,904 defensive snaps. He finished his Falcons stint with 291 tackles, 10 interceptions, 59 pass breakups and two defensive touchdowns. Alford probably was best known for intercepting New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in Super Bowl LI and returning the interception 82 yards for a touchdown.

With Alford gone from the starting lineup, the Falcons are likely to look to 2018 second-round pick Isaiah Oliver in a starting role next season. Oliver saw some valuable playing time late in the 2018 season, rotating in for both Alford and starting left cornerback Desmond Trufant.

The Falcons seem likely to stick with Trufant, who still has four years and $44.75 million remaining on his contract. Drafting a cornerback doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility, either, as the Falcons try to fix the defense with head coach Dan Quinn taking over as defensive coordinator. Quinn fired defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel.

The Falcons' secondary is expected to be much improved next season with the return of Pro Bowl strong safety Keanu Neal (ACL) and free safety Ricardo Allen (Achilles) from season-ending injuries.

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