Osi Umenyiora moves to reserve role in Atlanta

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When defensive end Osi Umenyiora would have one of his periodic episodes of venting his frustrations with the Giants, his chief complaints were a salary he felt was below his productivity and the lack of a starting job.

Umenyiora signed a two-year, $8.5 million contract with the Falcons in the offseason and moved right into a starting role, leaving Umenyiora with little to complain about when the season got underway. Things have changed as the season unfolded, however, and the 4-10 Falcons have decided to bring Umenyiora off the bench with Jonathan Massaquoi taking Umenyiora’s place in the starting lineup.

Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan explained the move as one to keep Umenyiora as fresh as possible and pointed to Umenyiora’s play against Washington in Week 15 as a sign that things are working pretty well.

“I thought he did an outstanding job in the game when he did go in,” Nolan said, via Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com. “He was fresher. He was better prepared for the third down because of that. You know, when you play every down, it can wear on you. Whatever’s best for them to perform at the highest level is what you want to do, and I think that did help him perform at a high level. I mean, he got the only sack we had in the game. It was a sack-fumble as a matter of fact, and we a got a touchdown out of it … the offense did.”

Nolan also credited Umenyiora, who has 7.5 sacks this year, with being a strong leader for the team’s younger players, but the outcome of the Falcons season makes him less than a sure thing to return next year. He’s set to make $3.5 million and count $4.75 million against the cap, which is hardly unmanageable but still may be more than the Falcons want to pay for veteran leadership on third downs as they try to put together a team that gets them back to the playoffs.