ATLANTA — When it came time to make the tough call on releasing Roddy White, the Atlanta Falcons didn’t ask the popular wide receiver about reworking his contract.
This decision was at least as much about performance as about money.
The Falcons released White, the leading receiver in franchise history, on Wednesday following his least productive season in a decade.
White’s role in the offense declined in 2015 under first-year coach Dan Quinn and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
The Falcons announced the release of White, 34, in a statement which included glowing compliments from team owner Arthur Blank, general manager Thomas Dimitroff and Quinn.
White holds the franchise records for most catches, receiving yards and touchdown catches. The 2005 first-round pick from Alabama-Birmingham soon became one of the team’s biggest stars and most popular players.
Blank said White “is one of the greatest players to ever put on a Falcons uniform.”
“Even more importantly, he is a man of tremendous character that I and my entire family have profound personal affection and respect for,” Blank said, adding White will “forever be part of the Falcons family.”
The move clears about $2.36 million in salary cap space for 2016.
White was only fourth on the team with 43 catches last season, his low total since 2006, his second season. As his production declined, Atlanta fans cheered even louder for his catches, often chanting “Roddy! Roddy!” as they sought to help him return to his top form.
Julio Jones is now established as the top receiving target for quarterback Matt Ryan, and 2015 fourth-round pick Justin Hardy could be targeted for a more prominent role this year.
Quinn said in a telephone interview White was out of the country and was informed of the move in an exchange of voice mail and text messages.
“We’ll talk in person,” Quinn said. “We just didn’t get to do it today.”
Quinn said instead of waiting for White’s return for a personal conversation, he wanted to announce the move before the free-agent period begins on March 9. He said the team did not approach White about restructuring his contract.
“We’ve got lots of options both in free agency and in the draft to add to our team, specifically at receiver, and that’s where we’re headed right now,” Quinn said.
Quinn said he didn’t think White was surprised to be released.
Blank said the decision to release White “was ultimately driven by the need to address some key areas on our roster and ultimately to meet that commitment.”
Improvements at linebacker and the interior offensive line are among the team’s top offseason priorities. Now, wide receiver becomes another priority.
White, an All-Pro in 2010 and four-time Pro Bowler, set Falcons records with 808 catches for 10,863 yards and 63 touchdowns. He had six straight seasons with more than 1,000 yards receiving, 2007-12.
White met with Quinn during the 2015 season as he sought to clarify his role in the offense. He said he came away from the meeting satisfied with what he heard, though there was no sustained spike in his targets.
Dimitroff called the release of White “one of the most difficult decisions I have been a part of in my years of football.”
“We have a tremendous amount of respect and gratitude for what Roddy has meant to this community and organization,” Dimitroff said. “He is a great teammate and one of the all-time great Falcons. We thank Roddy for everything he has meant to this organization and we wish him success as he continues his career.”
Quinn said he believes White can still play in the league.
“I do think because of what he stands for as a player and competitor that he can still play,” Quinn said.
Even so, Quinn added: “I do not feel he was under-utilized” in 2015.