Veterans cut before March 11 get a head start to free agency

The Falcons’ decision to sever ties with cornerback Asante Samuel has raised an important question that comes up every February.

Players who are cut can join a new team without waiting for free agency to launch.

Players with four or more years of service (known officially as “vested veterans”) can sign with a new team right away. Players with fewer than four years of service must pass through waivers.

For players with expiring contracts, it’s unlikely that they’ll be released before March 11. If a player is cut, his departure via free agency doesn’t count toward the formula for determining compensatory draft picks.

For players who remain under contract, the decision to sever ties before the start of the new league year on March 11 presumably arises from a desire to create cap space. The earlier the player is released, the more of a head start he’ll have when it comes to finding a new home.

So, basically, the Falcons did Samuel a favor, cutting him more than a month before the Falcons needed to pull the trigger — and giving him plenty of time to find a new team before the influx of free agents commences.