Ray Edwards: From the huddle to the ring

Released by the Atlanta Falcons, former DE Ray Edwards is trying his hand(s) at boxing. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

“Problem player."

That's how Ray Edwards was branded after being released less than two years into his five-year, $30 million deal with the Atlanta Falcons in November. With the "locker-room cancer" label attached, Edwards knew it wouldn’t be easy to find more work in the NFL, even though his belief in his talents never faltered. So he turned to the only other thing he knew -- boxing.

“I’m 100 percent into boxing,” Edwards told ESPN Playbook. “Nobody’s called me; nobody’s called my agent. I’m moving on with my life because the NFL doesn’t stop for me. They will keep going.”

The Purdue product and former Minnesota Viking gave pro boxing a try during the NFL lockout in May 2011 with a decision victory over Tyrone Gibson and fought twice in 2013, with wins over Cory Briggs and Nick Capes.

It was the latter bout that garnered Edwards attention, though certainly not the kind he was looking for. The fight was suspicious, with Capes dropping like a sack of bricks from a punch that seemingly missed just 13 seconds into the bout. North Dakota fight commissioner Al Jaeger concluded it was a dive and suspended Capes, whose real name is Greg Scott.

The 6-foot-5, 258-pound Edwards swears he had no knowledge of the arrangement and “respects the game of boxing too much to do that.” With the incident behind him, Edwards (3-0, 2 KOs) continues his boxing career with a heavyweight bout Friday against journeyman Van Goodman in Hinckley, Minn.

“I want to be heavyweight champion,” said Edwards, who recorded 8.5 sacks in 2009, his best season. “Anything less than that, I failed myself, my trainers and all those who believed in me. I know it’s kind of early to say this, but I know how to think the game.”

Edwards isn’t the first accomplished athlete to give the Sweet Science a whirl. The following pro athletes have tried to cross over into boxing over the years, albeit with little success:

Tom Zbikowski

The most recent entrant into the NFL-to-boxing transition, the Indianapolis Colts safety had the backing of Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum. Unlike the others, Zbikowski had an amateur background, compiling a 75-15 record since fighting at the age of 10.

Zbikowski had his first pro fight in 2006 while in college at Notre Dame. After being drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in 2008, he gave up boxing to concentrate on football. When the NFL lockout struck in 2011, Zbikowski used the spare time to get back in the ring. He ran his record to 4-0 with 3 knockouts but wasn't overly impressive and hasn’t fought since 2011.

Kendall Gill

The 15-year swingman out of Illinois had a solid NBA career, highlighted by his 1996-97 season with the New Jersey Nets (21.8 points per game). When the former No. 5 overall pick retired at 37, he immediately turned to boxing to occupy his time. Gill, who is currently a Chicago Bulls analyst for CSN, competed in four bouts spanning five years, grabbing three wins by stoppage from 2005 to 2010.

He never fought anyone of note, with zero wins coming against a fighter with a winning record. Gill fought for the last time in April 2010, retiring with a record of 4-0.

Ed “Too Tall” Jones

The stalwart defensive end for the Dallas Cowboys abruptly retired in 1979 at 28 to pursue a career in boxing. The 6-9, 271-pound Jones feasted on journeymen, but each of his six fights was televised by CBS. After running his record to 6-0 with 5 KOs, the former No. 1 overall pick returned to the NFL for the 1980 season.

He went on to lead the Cowboys to the championship in Super Bowl XII and was named to three All-Pro teams, retiring in 1989 with 57.5 sacks (though the NFL didn’t recognize sacks as an official stat until 1982).

Mark Gastineau

The "New York Sack Exchange" member was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1984 after setting the single-season sack record at 22. The standout defensive end for the Jets retired following the 1988 season and laced up the gloves in 1991.

His boxing career was marred by controversy, though. Gastineau was accused of participating in fixed fights, the centerpiece of a "60 Minutes" piece that featured former opponents admitting they took dives. Then there was the time he scored a sixth-round knockout of Tim Anderson in 1992 only to have accusations swirl that Anderson was poisoned.

Gastineau’s final fight came in 1996, against another former NFL player-turned-boxer in Alonzo Highsmith, a bout Gastineau lost by second-round KO. Gastineau retired with a record of 15-2 with 15 knockouts.

Alonzo Highsmith

Highsmith, an All-American running back at the University of Miami, was selected No. 3 overall by the Houston Oilers in the 1987 NFL draft. His six-year career was marred by knee injuries, and he was forced to retire after the 1992 season.

He took to the ring and had some success against rather limited opposition. His career highlight was that second-round knockout of Gastineau in Japan in 1996, where he showed his superior skill and athleticism. Highsmith retired in 1998 with a record of 27-1-2 with 23 knockouts.