There was one very critical span of 24 hours that had major implications at defensive end for two NFC South franchises. As an abbreviated free-agency period opened, the Carolina Panthers went out of their way to keep one of their own.
Thoroughly convinced that the Falcons were ready to make a big play for Charles Johnson, a Georgia native, the Panthers knowingly and willingly overpaid to keep him. They gave Johnson a six-year deal worth $76 million, including $32 million in guaranteed money on July 29, 2011.
The funny thing is, I’m not sure the Falcons truly were interested in Johnson. It doesn’t matter now. The Panthers thought the Falcons were ready to pounce, so they threw a bundle of money at Johnson.
The very next day, the Falcons signed Edwards to a five-year deal worth $27.5 million with $11 million guaranteed.
Through a little more than a season and a half, Edwards gave the Falcons almost nothing. He had 3.5 sacks last year. This year, he lost his starting job to Kroy Biermann, didn’t produce a sack and might have been bringing some negative vibes to the locker room.
Was Edwards a bust? Absolutely.
Would the Falcons have been better off going out and signing Johnson, who has 8.5 sacks this season and had 9.0 last year? This may surprise you, but I don’t think so. First off, despite the numbers, Johnson hasn’t been a model of consistent production. Yes, he has five sacks in his past three games. But, prior to that, his only other sacks this season came in late September, when he recorded 3.5 against Atlanta.
Yeah, it’s possible Johnson could have the same or better numbers if he came to Atlanta. But there’s no guarantee of that. It’s possible Johnson could have been a bust for the Falcons and that would have been far more of a disaster than what happened with Edwards. Even if Johnson had come to Atlanta and produced, it would have taken a toll on the rest of the roster.
If the Falcons had signed Johnson, there are multiple players on the roster right now that they wouldn’t have been able to afford.
In hindsight, the decision to go with Edwards certainly wasn’t a great one. It didn’t bring any reward and it cost the Falcons $11 million in guaranteed money. But, relatively speaking, the risk on Edwards wasn’t all that huge. He didn’t help the Falcons a bit, but he didn’t totally tie their hands when it came to the salary cap.