Falcons release receiver PriceBy Len Pasquarelli
ATLANTA -- He was neither peerless nor priceless and on Tuesday, when the Atlanta Falcons finally closed the books on one of the most ill-conceived moves in a long history of dubious personnel decisions, Peerless Price became team-less.
2004 SEASON STATISTICS
Rec Yds TD Avg Long YAC
45 575 3 12.8 50 103
Despite public pronouncements that the veteran wide receiver had improved his work habits and been a model citizen despite his demotion from the staring lineup at the outset of training camp, the Falcons released Price as they moved toward the NFL's mandatory roster limit that must be reached by Tuesday at 4 p.m.
The release of Price, acquired from Buffalo in 2003 for a first-round draft choice, has been the subject of considerable speculation here since the end of the '04 season. Team sources confirmed the jettisoning of Price who, in two seasons with the Falcons, caught just 109 passes for 1,413 yards and six touchdowns.
Those numbers were hardly sufficient for a player in whom the Falcons invested not only the first-round draft choice but also $12.5 million in bonuses and salaries.
One saving grace, but hardly a consolation they will easily reconcile, is that the current Falcons football regime of general manager Rich McKay and coach Jim Mora were not party to the acquisition of Price in the spring of 2003. Therefore, the tandem really had no loyalty to the six-year veteran.
Who will be Atlanta's most productive wide receiver this season?
In dealing for Price two years ago, the Falcons made the classic error of believing they could transform a No. 2 receiver into a "lead" wideout. In his tenure with the Bills, and especially his last two seasons with that club, Price benefited from playing with premier wide receiver Eric Moulds. With defenses directing most of their double coverage efforts at Moulds, Price posted a huge season in 2002, with 94 receptions for 1,252 yards and nine touchdowns.
Following that season, the Bills designated Price a "franchise" player, to retain his rights and be able to trade him. They found a willing suitor in the Falcons and in owner Arthur Blank, who signed Price to a seven-year, $37.5 million contract that included a signing bonus of $10 million.
In his first season here, Price had 64 receptions for 838 yards and three touchdowns. But in 2004, his numbers dropped to 45 catches for 575 yards and three touchdowns. It was obvious that quarterback Michael Vick had little faith in Price and that the wide receiver was frustrated at times, and did not work hard to get open. Some league scouts contended that, at age 28, Price, never as fast as some people claimed, had lost a step.
The Falcons used first-round choices in both 2004 and 2005, on Michael Jenkins and Roddy White, respectively, in an effort to upgrade the wide receiver position. Price was demoted behind Jenkins at the start of camp this summer and relegated to the No. 3 spot, working out of the slot. There have been recent rumors of unrest on Price's part, and the Falcons, rather than allow the problem to fester, opted instead to cut ties with him.
It is believed that several teams with needs at the wide receiver position will consider bringing in Price to audition. It might be difficult, though, for Price to find a franchise willing to pay him the $2 million he was scheduled to earn in 2005.
The Falcons will save the $2 million in base salary they would have paid Price this year, but the team will absorb a salary cap hit of $5.7 million in 2006.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here .