NFL Insider Jay Glazer was the first to report that Ray Edwards is no longer an Atlanta Falcon.
Falcons are making a surprise move and releasing DE Ray Edwards, a big free agent pickup couple of years ago— Jay Glazer (@JayGlazer) November 13, 2012
This is huge, and it has also been confirmed on the official team website. Very rarely have any 8-1 teams cut a player who was supposed to be a starter and was making $27.5 million on a five-year contract.
Why Cut Him Midseason?
Ray Edwards had issues in the scheme and was underperforming. On the field, he was a non-factor as a pass-rusher and wasn't even earning playing time. Edwards had just 212 snaps over the first nine games. That was good for just 36.7 percent of the team's snaps.
The bigger problem is that on those 212 snaps, he had no sacks, just two quarterback hits and two quarterback pressures. Combine that with just seven stops on 112 snaps in the running game, and he was the worst-performing Falcons defensive end.
There is also an underground issue of Edwards being a bit of a party animal. He was too worried about his image off the field and would do modeling shoots (h/t weedone.com) and boxing matches.
Unfortunately, he didn't realize that the most important thing was football. There were questions as to whether he was hurting the locker room with his off-the-field shenanigans (h/t Alex Welch of Atlanta Field Report). With his on-field performance was being questioned as well, it was time for him to go.
How Does This Affect the Cap?
With Edwards signing a huge contract, this is the biggest question that people have. According to Spotrac, his cap numbers were as follows:
|Year||Base Salary||Signing Bonus||Option Bonus||Total Cap Hit|
|2012||$3,000,000||$800,000 ||$750,000 ||$4,550,000
Now this may look like a foreign language to most. So let's do some basic accounting here. The Falcons are only on the hook for $2 million of the 2012 base salary, as it was guaranteed for skill, injury and cap.
They are also forced to take the remainder of both the signing- and option-bonus moneys toward the cap in 2013 due to the post-June 2 cut rules. That means the Falcons save $1 million in 2012, $2.4 million in 2013 and $6.55 million in 2014 and 2015 towards the salary caps.
The Falcons could not trade Edwards at the deadline, though. The only reason why they could cut him now is that the post-June 2 rules allow for the cap to be pushed into the next year. Otherwise, the Falcons would have gone over the cap.
How Does This Affect the Scheme?
With the Falcons running more three-down linemen sets recently and with Kroy Biermann outperforming Ray Edwards, it was time for the Falcons to make the change.
The Falcons will continue to get even more multiple in their sets, as reserve defensive ends Cliff Matthews, Lawrence Sidbury and Jonathan Massaquoi can all play with a hand on the ground or in a two-point stance.
Expect a lot more of the "Big Tackle 3" set. The "Big Tackle 3" is nothing more than a modified 3-4 defensive set. The Falcons were having Jonathan Babineaux play in a 5-technique on the strong side, Corey Peters in a 1-technique on the strong-side and Vance Walker in a 3-technique on the weak side.
The set also had Kroy Biermann as the strong-side outside linebacker and John Abraham as the weak-side outside linebacker. Sean Weatherspoon and Stephen Nicholas played in the middle, and the Falcons had just their starting four defensive backs in on the sets.
Who Takes the 3rd and 4th spot in the Defensive-End Rotation Now?
Lawrence Sidbury is someone for whom Falcons fans have had high hopes. He's a 6'2", 266-pound player from Richmond who has been an effective pass-rusher in previous years when he's gotten playing time. The biggest question is whether he has the ability to drop into coverage.
Cliff Matthews is a top special-teams player for Atlanta this season. However, there is just as much of a question as to his scheme fit. The 6'3", 257-pound player from South Carolina has been excellent in multiple preseason games. If he can translate preseason success into regular-season success, he could end up improving the Falcons defense tremendously.
Jonathan Massaquoi was the Falcons 2012 fifth-round pick. Despite bulking up to 270 pounds for the combine, Massaquoi dropped back down to his more comfortable 260-pound weight in training camp. He could play both outside linebacker in a 3-4 set and end in the 4-3 sets. However, he is very raw, and it would be surprising to see him get a ton of playing time.
In the end, it looks like the two that will be seeing much more playing time are Sidbury and Matthews. Both players have been active on game days already for special teams, and both seem to fit the scheme much better than Edwards did.
This move could not only help the Falcons in the locker room but on the field as well. The Falcons defense will experience the very rare case of addition by subtraction. In the end, this just sends a message that my fellow Bleacher Report Atlanta Falcons Featured Columnist Justin Blanchard states best:
All cap numbers courtesy of Spotrac.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL Draft. He is also the Falcons analyst at Drafttek, runs the NFL Draft Website ScarDraft.com and hosts Kvetching Draftniks Radio.