When the Atlanta Falcons went 13-3 a couple of seasons ago and were looking at home field advantage throughout the playoffs, things were looking good as far as their chances to get to the big game. Then, some guy named Aaron Rodgers came in and went into video game mode en route to a 48-21 thrashing that was only that close because coach McCarthy called off the wolves.
The biggest problem in that game was every time the Falcons defense had the Packers in a 3rd and long situation, they couldn’t apply any pressure to Rodgers in the pocket. He had all day to throw the ball and even an average quarterback can beat you with that kind of time to throw. But a guy like Rodgers is going to embarrass you. Badly.
Whenever the Falcons did get some movement into the Green Bay backfield, Rodgers easily maneuvered away with his patent spin move and then broke the Atlanta defense’s back with another long 3rd down conversion. When the clock finally had mercy on them and the Falcons season come to a close, the team went back to the drawing board with a plan to improve their defense, namely the pass rush. Yet, their controversial decision to trade a fortune to move up and get Julio Jones in that next draft made many question their commitment to really improving their defense. John Abraham is an excellent pass rusher, but he can’t do it alone.
So, the team decided to dip into team owner Arthur Blank’s pockets and throw a five year, $27.5 million deal at Vikings free agent defensive end Ray Edwards to pair up with John Abraham. On paper, it looked like this was a win. Edwards was easily a better pass rusher than anyone they might have picked up in the draft, right? Well, 18 disappointing months later, instead of riding out the rest of the year with the underperforming player, the Falcons gave him his walking papers after the gut-wrenching loss to the Saints on Sunday.
In 25 games as a starting defensive end for Atlanta, Edwards accumulated just 3.5 sacks.
While I wasn’t necessarily surprised that Atlanta decided to release their biggest free agent flop in recent memory, I am surprised it happened in the middle of a season where the team is tied for the best record in the NFL. Sure, Edwards had become the invisible man out there, but you’re already paying him, why pay him just to go away? This seems like a decision that might have been made in camp, right? I mean, Ray was never going to be on the team in 2013 with his salary bumping up to $5 million next year. But this makes me wonder if he had acted out behind the scenes.
Perhaps Arthur Blank was just dissatisfied with his investment and the lack of effort out there and felt his poor play was hindering other younger and hungrier player’s opportunity. Edwards won’t be unemployed long. Some team will definitely pick him up at a much reduced rate. But the player who totaled 16.5 sacks during 2009 and 2010 for the Vikings next to Jared Allen is long gone. It makes you wonder if Allen should call him up for a royalty payment for getting him the contract Atlanta paid.
It just goes to show that on paper doesn’t mean anything. There are pass rushers that you know are just special. They show that flash and that work ethic of never giving up on a play. In a year and a half in Atlanta, I don’t think I ever saw one moment where I said “that’s why they’re paying the guy.” I can’t blame him, he did what he needed to do to get paid. It’s just clear to me now that he was never anything more than riding Jared Allen’s coattails. It isn’t the first guy this happened to and it won’t be the last. Scheme and surrounding personnel always must be added to the equation.
With two defensive flops in a row for Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff (Dunta Robinson being the other), the team having so much success this season is the only thing keeping questions about his scouting competency to a low roar. But if the team drops another egg defensively in the postseason this year, that roar could become deafening. No owner likes to have their money continuously thrown away like that.
Filed under: Atlanta Falcons