FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – It’s not often that a coach says that cutting a player who started 20 of his team’s last 25 games will make his team better but that’s what Falcons head coach Mike Smith said on Wednesday about defensive end Ray Edwards.
The Falcons parted ways on Monday with Edwards, who received a contract worth $11-million guaranteed in 2011 but made little impact on the field, recording only 3.5 sacks over those 25 regular-season games.
“It was a decision that we made that we thought is going to make our football team better today and in the future and that’s what you’ve got to do when you make decisions,” Smith said.
In Smith’s five seasons Edwards would seem to represent a rare, if not lone, example of a player who has started that many games and played that much – he played 20 snaps in Sunday’s 31-27 loss to New Orleans – and was cut in midseason.
Yet Smith denied that the organization was making an example out of Edwards, who totaled 16.5 sacks in the 2009 and 2010 seasons while playing for Minnesota.
“I don’t want to get into sending messages and whatnot,” Smith said. “We evaluate every day. We evaluate after games from top to bottom. We talk about it all the time and it starts with me.”
Whether or not players received the implicit message – that every player must be held accountable no matter the size of his contract or whatever his previous achievements might be – they were saying that the move did not catch them completely off guard.
“I don’t think it sends a message that wasn’t already across,” said defensive tackle Corey Peters. “We’re about winning games here. It’s in your best interest to do everything you can to help this team to get to that goal and, if not, they’re not hesitant to make decisions and make changes.”
Peters said coaches are transparent about informing players of where they stand.
“Well, I guess it was a little bit surprising, but I guess I can’t say it was a total surprise,” he said. “It is what it is. But we’ll move forward and we’ll adjust and we’ll try to continue to play good football….
“Like I said, I think that everybody around here knows that the only thing organization cares about is getting wins and moving towards doing positive things on the field, things that are going to help us win and if you’re not doing that, then everybody’s on notice that they’re going to looking for somebody else to do that.”
Several players cited the move as being emblematic of the way NFL teams conduct business and that the move might have come as more of a shock to younger players.
“It didn’t really shock me,” said veteran safety Dunta Robinson.
When pressed, veteran linebacker Mike Peterson conceded that coming from Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff, who are deliberate and studied in their actions and not inclined to make rash moves, the move was a little bit surprising in light of their previous history with the Falcons.
“Maybe surprising,” Peterson said. “Smitty, you know, he’s an even-keel guy so it may be a little shocker. Like I said earlier, they definitely believe in we’re trying to get better each position, each week.”
By cutting a player like Edwards, who played as many as 45 snaps in one game and as few as 10 in two others, a hole naturally has opened up for others players. Smith said that the candidates to take Edwards’ snaps start with Cliff Matthews but also include 2012 fifth-round pick Jonathan Massaquoi and Lawrence Sidbury.
Matthews has only been active for four games this season and has yet to make a tackle. At 6-foot-4, 268 pounds, he is almost the exact same height and weight as Edwards. He was a seventh-round pick in 2011 and was on the active roster all season last year but was never activated on game days.
Massaquoi, a Central Gwinnett High graduate who played at Troy, was active for the first time all season last Sunday.
Sidbury, a fourth-round pick in 2009, represents something of a puzzle. In his fourth season, he has shown promise, recording five career sacks over 46 career games. However, this season he has spent most of his playing time on special teams. He went one three-week stretch this season with only playing one snap total on defense.
“Those guys will get an opportunity to play,” Smith said.