ATLANTA -- Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Reeves sought Sunday to even the score on one of his draft-day misjudgments while cutting his losses on another.
In trading O.J. Santiago to the Dallas Cowboys for undisclosed draft choices, Reeves cleared the way for Reggie Kelly to take the starting job at tight end.
"We had tried to sign O.J. and hadn't been successful in doing it," Reeves said. "He's going to be a free agent next year, and we felt like that was going to be the best move we could make for us."
The move came about two hours after the Falcons released Michael Booker, the cornerback Reeves selected No. 11 overall after swapping draft choices with Seattle in 1997. The Seahawks used Atlanta's spot to take cornerback Shawn Springs, who recently played in his second Pro Bowl.
"Definitely, anybody is tough (to release) when you draft them," Reeves said. "When you get a high draft choice your expectations of them and their expectations of themselves are extremely high.
"When we made the deal for Ashley Ambrose, it made it extremely difficult from a salary cap standpoint for Michael unless he played extremely well."
Booker was one of nine players cut as Atlanta trimmed its roster to the NFL-mandated 53. Trading Santiago left the Falcons with 52 active players, which clears room for them to trade for a capable defensive lineman.
The Falcons, who open the regular season Sunday against San Francisco, have major concerns with their pass rush and reportedly are trying to reacquire Lester Archambeau, who signed as a free agent with Denver six months ago.
Brady Smith, the starting right end, has missed nearly two weeks with a pulled groin. The Falcons played starting tackle Travis Hall at left end last week, as Patrick Kerney played his second straight game at right end. Ed Jasper, who started at left end two weeks ago but returned to tackle last week, is nursing a sprained right ankle and knee.
Backup end Pellom McDaniels is out for the year after blood clots were discovered on his lungs last week. He was placed on injured reserve Sunday along with end Emil Ekiyor, linebacker Marcus Buckley and center Matt O'Neal.
Along with Booker, the Falcons waived receiver Ronnie Harris, offensive tackle Jose Portilla, safety Omar Brown and defensive end Sam Simmons. Four rookies were cut -- cornerback Anthony Midget, a fifth-round selection, receiver Mareno Philyaw, a seventh-round pick, kicker Jake Arians and defensive tackle Adriano Belli.
Booker, whose salary calls for $1.82 million this year, was primarily used on third down and in nickel coverage situations.
"We just felt like we had four defensive corners, Eli Williams and Darrick Vaughn along with Ashley Ambrose and Ray Buchanan, that we felt were better," Reeves said. "We decided to go with four instead of five and let (Booker) and Anthony Midget both go."
On draft day last year, Reeves was confident enough the Falcons would contend for a second consecutive NFC title that he traded Atlanta's No. 1 pick in 2000 for Baltimore's second-round spot in '99.
The Falcons used that move to select Kelly, who was listed by some NFL draft experts as the fifth- or sixth-best tight end coming out of the Southeastern Conference that year.
Reeves' decision backfired when the Falcons finished 5-11 and gave Baltimore the No. 5 pick overall.
Booker sealed his fate Thursday night in Jacksonville by getting beaten badly by Alvis Whitted on a fly pattern in the third quarter. Whitted's 68-yard touchdown reception came only one play and 30 seconds after the Falcons had gone up 17-3.
Booker started only 10 of his 42 games, his best season coming in 1998 when he finished with 47 tackles and 10 passes defended. He has six career interceptions.
Santiago started all 41 games he appeared in for the Falcons after the former Kent standout won the job as a rookie coming out of training camp in 1997.
After catching 27 passes for 428 yards and five touchdowns in 1998, Santiago caught only 15 for 174 yards and no touchdowns last year.
"O.J. has started ever since he's been here with us," Reeves said. "Dallas is a good organization for him. Reggie is ready. He's played well enough."
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