The Ray Edwards DebateIt’s been no secret that Minnesota Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards has been the radar of at least the Falcons fandom for quite some time, and according to some sources the Falcons brass themselves.
We first broached the topic of Ray Edwards back in late January. At the time I was non-committal about the prospect of signing Edwards. I have a much more firm opinion about the prospect of the Falcons adding Edwards now, which I will share in a moment.
But first, I want to cite the discussion that has picked up in recent weeks about the possibility of signing Edwards. And I think that discussion is largely linked to the optimism that is emerging about the potential for there to be some semblance of free agency before the start of the season and a relative return to normalcy for the NFL off-season after the lockout ends.
The AJC’s Dawson Devitt wrote a very detailed piece discussing whether Edwards is a good fit or not in Atlanta. He raised a good point about the fact that Edwards is not just a third wheel, but a fourth wheel on the Vikings defensive line, playing opposite Jared Allen, and beside Kevin Williams and Pat Williams. Does this make Edwards look better than he actually is because of the talent around him? This issue is important, because the Falcons have made this mistake before. It happened in 2005 when the team signed Ed Hartwell. A young and upcoming linebacker that played beside the likes of Ray Lewis, Adalius Thomas, and Terrell Suggs in Baltimore. Injuries definitely limited Hartwell while he was in Atlanta, but even the rare times when he was healthy, he was fairly non-descript. The Falcons bounced him after the 2006 season, and he has yet to catch on with another NFL team since.
After Devitt’s article, danzinski, a writer for the fan-blog The Viking Age wrote a not so complementary response about Edwards. Here is the noteworthy excerpt:
Here’s what Dawson Devitt leaves out while discussing Edwards: The fact that he is a whining malcontent knucklehead who clashes with his teammates on the sidelines, rips his front office and does goofy off-season things like launch boxing careers. He also neglects to mention that much of Edwards’ reputation as a good pass rusher is based on one performance: His three sack playoff game against the Cowboys and their dismal offensive line…
I can understand outside observers looking at Ray Edwards and thinking he still has the potential to be a good if not great pass rusher. He has the speed and size, and at his age it can be argued that he’s just now entering his prime. Unfortunately I’ve watched Ray Edwards too long to buy into this assessment. Ray has physical tools but nothing between the ears. He is just not a disciplined enough human being to become the player his talent indicates he could be.
The problem with guys like Ray is they will always keep tantalizing you with their raw ability. Just when you’re ready to write them off they’ll have a huge game and make you think you were too hasty. Then they’ll vanish for five straight weeks and reconfirm your negative view of their dedication level.
If the Falcons want to take a chance on this guy, believing his best years are ahead of him, by all means let them.
And that was followed up by our good friend, Dave Choate at the Falcoholic calling Edwards the “free agency crown jewel” for the Falcons.
Well, here are my two cents finally…
I too am worried that Edwards is a product of his environment. Previously, I noted Edwards’ potential to be Abraham-esque for the Falcons. But at this point, there are too many red flags that indicate he will be more like Hartwell, as free agent busts for the Falcons. That’s not to say that I think if Edwards was a Falcon, he would be a complete waste or unproductive. But I’m not sure he’s really as big an upgrade as his potential price tag may entail. Is he a better option than either Jamaal Anderson or Chauncey Davis? Yes. But that really isn’t the goal. The facts are that on the majority of passing downs, the Falcons employ Abraham and Biermann. So the question really is whether Edwards will be a better pass rusher than Biermann.
I think the answer is yes. But I’m not sure he’s going to be so much better than it merits the Falcons guaranteeing him $20 or so million over the next several seasons.
Personally, I think Carolina defensive Charles Johnson is a much smarter investment. Johnson has shown steady progress each year in the league. He spent two seasons as a situational pass rusher for the Panthers behind Julius Peppers and Tyler Brayton, and was productive in those years (combining for 10 sacks). Then, this year with Peppers going to Chicago, Johnson emerged as the Panthers top playmaker with 11.5 sacks. He’s proven that he can handle the load by himself. It seems like a much smarter buy for the Falcons.
I would make the comparison that Johnson is like Lavaranues Coles, while Edwards is like Peerless Price. If you recall, back following the 2002 season, the Falcons were in a position to pick up a big-money free agent. Price was an unrestricted free agent, and Coles was a restricted free agent. The Falcons went with the guy with upside in Price, rather than the more proven candidate in Coles. Price proceeded to have two non-descript seasons in Atlanta, and was out of the league a few years after that. Coles had several productive years in both Washington and with the Jets.
Like Edwards, Price played for a Bills team that was loaded. He was the No. 2 behind Eric Moulds, and was playing in an offense that was geared towards his strengths, which was going deep. But going to a Falcon team that wasn’t designed that way, had a young, inexperienced QB in Michael Vick rather than Drew Bledsoe, and had no other Pro Bowl receiver to draw coverages, Price proved to be a mediocre starter at best.
The current talk of teams getting the right of first refusal in terms of their prospective free agents will make it that much harder for the Falcons to acquire someone like Johnson. The Panthers made a tough decision earlier this off-season to use the franchise tag on center Ryan Kalil rather than Johnson. It’s likely that the Panthers would be very poised to match up any offer made to Johnson by another team. On the other hand, it seems all signs point to the Vikings letting Edwards walk.
Which goes back to Dave Choate’s point that Edwards is more desirable than Johnson simply because the odds are higher that the Falcons can get him.
Do the Falcons have other options besides Johnson or Edwards? Jason Babin and Mathias Kiwanuka are also available. Babin was very productive last year, but offers similar things as Biermann, and is 31 years old. Kiwanuka has flashed potential, but hasn’t proven himself as a starter, and has been marred by injuries throughout his career.
Houston’s Mark Anderson had a very promising rookie season in Chicago where he had 12 sacks. But then he struggled for the next three years in Chicago, but showed some promise when he joined the Texans in the latter half of the season. With them moving to the 3-4, he likely will be available. He could be a cheaper alternative, although unlikely to be more than just a backup in Atlanta.
Another notable name is Detroit’s Cliff Avril. Avril is an undersized pass rusher, but has good quickness and speed off the edge. But he will be a restricted free agent with only three years experience, and the Lions tendered him at the 1st & 3rd round draft pick level, making him practically untouchable.
Ex-Bucs pass rusher Stylez G. White, but less enticing like Babin due to his advanced age (he’ll be 32 when camps start) and less than stellar production (averaged 6 sacks per year over the past 4 years) is probably not a significant upgrade to the roster.
Tennessee’ Dave Ball is coming off a 7-sack season, but he’s largely been a journeyman like his teammate Babin up to now. He also is 30 years old as well.
None of the other options really stand out for the Falcons. So it likely will come down to the team deciding between Johnson (if available) or Edwards. I think the preferred choice is definitely Johnson, but if Edwards is the only alternative, what other choice do the Falcons have?
Hope that players like Cliff Matthews and Lawrence Sidbury will make significant contributions? Hope that Kroy Biermann’s breakout year is 2011 rather than what was expected to take place in 2010? Hope that at age 33, John Abraham still has enough left in the tank for another productive year?
It should be noted once more that Abraham, Biermann, and Jamaal Anderson are all entering contract years in 2011. Even if Abraham has another productive year, it’s going to be hard for the Falcons to justify giving him a new long-term deal a year from now. Anderson is a nice role player and could return at a modest sum, but the Falcons will allow him to test the market, meaning his chances of returning are up in the air. Biermann stands the best chance of returning, but another underproductive year, and the Falcons probably won’t bend over backwards to lock him up long-term. So it’s possible that the Falcons are utterly devoid of the defensive end position in 2012. And they have no first round pick (due to the Julio Jones trade) to make up for it.
It seems that the Falcons will be forced to make a move when the time comes this off-season, not only to help them out this year, but for the long-term future of the position. With that in mind, Edwards does seem to be a nicer candidate. While he may not ever develop into the sort of premiere “No. 1″ defensive end that the Falcons might pay him to be, he’ll at least be something for the Falcons to hang their hats on in 2012 and beyond.
So in the end, what choice do the Falcons really have?