Falcons, Edwards abruptly part ways

The Atlanta Falcons cut defensive end Ray Edwards, their top free-agent signing of the 2011 offseason, abruptly announcing the move shortly before 10 p.m. Eastern on Monday.

The Falcons gave Edwards a five-year deal reportedly worth $11 million guaranteed and $30 million overall in July 2011; however, he failed to produce on the field and seemed more interested in pursuits outside of football.

Edwards had not registered a sack through nine games for Atlanta this season and his snaps increasingly were being cut back. He played a season-low of 10 in Week 8 at Philadelphia and played the same number again in Week 9 in a win over Dallas. His snaps increased somewhat this past week at New Orleans when he played 20, which still only accounted for 32 percent of those on defense. In retrospect, it seems the Falcons played him more to see if he could produce in one final chance, which he did not.

The Falcons had experimented with defensive personnel in recent weeks, deploying three defensive tackles in a run-stopping formation, the kind that the physically imposing 6-foot-5, 268-pound Edwards ought to have been a part of but was not.

Coming off seasons in Minnesota in which he registered 8.5 and 8.0 sacks in 2009 and 2010, he was one of the top defensive ends on the market last summer and the Falcons had a big need for a pass-rusher. They could not afford the enormous contract that NFC South Division rival Carolina doled out to retain Charles Johnson so they settled for Edwards, who never lived up to his billing.

He totaled 3.5 sacks last season, giving him a total of 3.5 in 26 games with Atlanta, including last season’s 24-2 playoff loss to the New York Giants.

Earlier on Monday, he tweeted about being in the Winter 2012 issue of Men’s Book Atlanta. He has posed for numerous photo spreads as an underwear model, some of which have been posted on TMZ.com – the kind of Web site that the conservative-minded Falcons are not fond of finding their players on – and also pursued a boxing career during the NFL lockout in 2011.

The Falcons are tied for the best record in the NFL at 8-1 and are coming off their first loss of the season, 31-27 to division rival New Orleans. Perhaps head coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff wanted to send a message to players that they will not tolerate sub-par performance – even among players with big contracts.