The Falcons paid Edwards $27.5 million over five years ($11 million guaranteed) and brought him to Atlanta last summer to provide a 1-2 punch to John Abraham. They were supposed to be pass-rushing compadres united to disrupt opposing quarterbacks and solve the Falcons sack woes.
After just 3.5 sacks and 38.5 total quarterback pressures (a combination of hits, hurries and sacks) in 25 games, the Edwards acquisition may go down as the worst move general manager Thomas Dimitroff’s made since arriving in Atlanta in 2008.
On paper, signing Edwards made sense. In the two years prior to 2011, while with the Minnesota Vikings, he’d tallied 16.5 sacks. But as a full-time player last year in Atlanta, Edwards sacked opposing quarterbacks just 3.5 times.
Edwards attributed his lackluster performance to injury and difficulties picking up the scheme. Edwards landed in Atlanta fresh off knee surgery and struggled to recover as the season progressed.
And even though he struggled to get to the passer, the addition of Edwards had vaulted the Falcons run defense into a top 10 unit in the NFL. The Falcons seemed willing to wait for Edwards to return to form as a pass rusher if he was bolstering the run defense.
The team’s patience wore thin this season. The Falcons were no longer a top run defense (in fact, the team was located near the bottom in league rankings), and Edwards was still not getting to the quarterback.
After averaging 43.75 snaps per game last season, Edwards fell from favor under new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. Through nine games in 2012 he’d averaged 23.5 snaps per game. Over the last three games that had dropped to just under 14 snaps per game.
Edwards enjoyed the best game of his 2012 season when Atlanta traveled to Kansas City in Week 1. He registered one quarterback hit and two hurries, but only ever touched an opposing quarterback once more, a Week 5 hit on Washington Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III.
With seven games of total ineffectiveness in the pass rush and only eight tackles on the season, it’s easy to see why the Falcons cut ties with Edwards.
He was being phased out of Nolan’s new system. On passing downs, defensive end Kroy Biermann was on the field instead of Edwards. In run situations the Falcons have started using a defensive front that included three defensive tackles alongside Abraham or Biermann.
That spelled doom for Edwards.
As Biermann has already slid in and taken Edwards’ snaps, the role of backup and rotational player (head coach Mike Smith employs a defensive line rotation that can include as many as seven to eight players per game) is now seemingly open.
Defensive end Lawrence Sidbury shined last year with four sacks in limited action and may be able to step up again. Second-year defensive end Cliff Matthews is well liked by the current coaching staff. He’ll be given an option for more snaps as well. Neither has played much in 2012—Sidbury’s been on the field for 30 defensive snaps while Matthews has played 12, according to Football Outsiders.
The move to cut Edwards was a sound football move, even if signing him in the first place was not. The Falcons will be able to save some portion of the $27.5 million contract and start developing Sidbury, Matthews and even rookie Jonathan Massaquoi.
And Atlanta will reap those benefits without losing much—if any—productivity on the field.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.
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