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D. Orlando Ledbetter

Here’s the deal on the Thomas DeCoud dilemma

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110801 Flowery Branch - Atlanta Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud flies to block a ball in a simulated punt drill during the first padded practice at training camp in Flowery Branch on Monday, August 1, 2011. His days with the team could be numbered.    Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

110801 Flowery Branch – Atlanta Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud flies to block a ball in a simulated punt drill during the first padded practice at training camp in Flowery Branch on Monday, August 1, 2011. His days with the team could be numbered. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

Safety Thomas DeCoud is a member of the Atlanta Falcons. You know, today.

He may be released in the near future.

He may not be released in the near future.

When the team was asked to clarify his status they stood by their longstanding policy not to address “rumors.”

There is a lot of speculation surrounding DeCoud because of the dip in his play last season. We’ve been reporting since January that he was a potential salary cap casualty.

The Falcons could elect to part ways with cornerback Asante Samuel (saving $4.5 million), safety Thomas DeCoud ($4.2 million), running back Steven Jackson ($3 million), linebacker Stephen Nicholas ($3 million) and defensive end Osi Umenyiora ($3.5 million).

General manager Thomas Dimitroff calls them “salary-cap casualties,” and it’s a league-wide practice. Here’s what he had to say after the team released Michael Turner, Dunta Robinson and John Abraham last season on March 1.

“I believe in the NFL today, so-called cap casualties are an issue for every team unless you’re at the top of the heap with $30 million to $40 million dollars available,” he said. “It’s something that we will get into as we continue to analyze and re-evaluate this roster as it stands.”

The Falcons have already cut veterans Asante Samuel, Stephen Nicholas and Garrett Reynolds. Jackson and Umenyiora are returned although coach Mike Smith said, “never, say never” when asked about Jackson at the combine.

They have made the previous moves because they have identifiable replacements.

Rookie Robert Alford passed his cornerback test last season and will enter next season as the incumbent at left cornerback.

Undrafted rookie linebackers Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow led the team in tackles last season and made Nicholas expendable.

When the Falcons signed right guard/right tackle Gabe Carimi, Reynolds was expendable.

The Falcons can start talking to free agents on March 8 and will try to upgrade the free safety position. A couple of potential unrestricted free candidates are Buffalo’s Jairus Byrd and New Orleans’ Malcolm Jenkins. The bidding may get high as Buffalo wants to keep Byrd. Also, the Eagles are reportedly interested in Jenkins, the former Ohio State standout. The team is not happy with former Detroit safety Louis Delmas’ injury history.

Free agency starts on March 11.

A major part of DeCoud’s contract becomes guaranteed on March 15.

So, the Falcons have between March 8 and March 15 to land one of the free agent free safeties. If they are successful, DeCoud will likely become the next salary cap casualty.

If they don’t land one of the free safeties, there is the option of keeping DeCoud and drafting his eventual replacement. There is no a potential replacement on the roster after Zeke Motta suffered a neck injury last season.

DeCoud, 28, would save the Falcons $3 million (which would be shifted to the new safety).

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