Falcons questions: Fixing five mistakes starts with Sam Baker

(Curtis Compton/AJC)

Thomas Dimitroff, Arthur Blank and Mike Smith face tough decisions. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

(This is the second in a series of blogs on some Falcons’ high-profile veterans and their uncertain futures with the team.)

Last week in the opener of this cyber mini-series, I looked at the possibility of the Falcons parting ways with Michael Turner, who despite finishing third in the NFL in rushing this season was showing signs of wear and might not be worth the $5 million in salary he is due next season. It stirred a lot of debate and, honestly, I was surprised by how many folks wanted him traded or cut.

Today, I’m focusing on five mistakes (or generally perceived ones). Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff hasn’t made a lot of them, but there are five high-profile ones (actually, four by Dimitroff and one by then-general manager Rich McKay). Dimitroff didn’t ask for my advice, but hey, I’m not charging or anything. This time, I’ll have a series of polls so you can weigh in with your votes on each player (I neglected to put up a poll on the Turner blog).

Since the Falcons’ No. 1 concern in my view is the offensive line, let’s start with  . . .

What to do with Sam Baker?

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What to do with Peria Jerry?

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Mistake No. 1: Tackle Sam Baker: In Dimitroff’s first draft in 2008, he traded two second-round picks (34th and 48th) and a fourth-rounder to Washington for the Redskins’ first-round pick (21st overall), third- and fifth-rounder. Baker was taken with the first pick. The thinking: He would be the left tackle to protect the blindside of the just-drafted quarterback, Matt Ryan. It’s

What to do with Dunta Robinson?

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What to do with Ray Edwards?

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hard to know how much of Baker’s problems have been because of back injuries but we know he hasn’t been good. He got beat out this season by Will Svitek. Baker has one year left on his contract at $2.576,250. With option bonuses, his cap hit next year actually would be $3.7 million. The Falcons can find a cheaper backup. Easy call: Cut him.

What to do with Ovie Mughelli?

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Mistake No. 2. Defensive tackle Peria Jerry: He was the Falcons’ first-round pick (24th overall) in 2009, getting a five-year, $10.35 million contract with $7.55 million guaranteed. He has two sacks in three seasons and, also partly because of injuries, he just hasn’t been good enough to make an impact and win a starting job. Jerry’s base salary next season is only $845,000, though he carries a cap hit of $1.95 million. Money’s really not the issue. It’s more like: How long can the Falcons wait? More than likely, they’ll see if they can do better in the offseason before making a decision. Tough call: Stall.

Mistake No. 3. Cornerback Dunta Robinson: He was signed in 2010 for six years, $57 million with $25.5 million guaranteed. As investments go, this would’ve been like if Arthur Blank expanded Home Depots to include a seafood buffet. Robinson never was known as a shut-down cornerback, but he certainly figured to be the best defensive back on the team and he hasn’t been (that’s Brent Grimes). He has a base salary of $6 million next season. I know. You think: Cut him! Not so fast. Of that $6 million, $5 million is guaranteed. Add signing bonus proration and these are your choices: $7.75 million to keep him, $$6.75 million to cut him. It’s not worth it. Painful call: Keep him.

Mistake No. 4. Defensive end Ray Edwards: He played better down the stretch but still wasn’t nearly the player the Falcons expected him to be or worth the five-year, $30 million contract. Edwards clearly was affected by his late-summer knee surgery, but to what degree? In many games he seemed to disappear. His alibi: He was doing what coaches asked him to do, which explains the low sack production (3½). If that’s true, we’ll see if things change under new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. But like Robinson, Edwards isn’t going anywhere. The Falcons would take a $3.55 million hit just to cut him and $4.555 million if he plays. Besides, it’s too early to jump ship. Easy call: Keep him.

Mistake No. 5. Fullback Ovie Mughelli. Actually, it was then-general manager Rich McKay, at the urging of Bobby Petrino, who gave Mughelli a six-year, $18 million contract in 2007. Can he block? Yes. Did it hurt the Falcons when Mughelli was injured this season? Yes. But $3 million a year for a fullback who seldom runs or catches the ball is absurd. The cap hit will be minimal if he’s cut. The $3,733,335 hit if he plays is crazy. There are cheaper blocking backs out there. Easy call: Cut him.

There you go. The cyber-floor is yours, and the polls are up.

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter (@JeffSchultzAJC). Friend me on Facebook (Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC).

324 comments Add your comment

Mike Hampton Owes Me Money

January 25th, 2012
1:15 pm

RISE UP!!!!!!!!

Mitchell

January 25th, 2012
1:19 pm

UGA>>>>>>>>>>tech

Snoop Naz Exp

January 25th, 2012
1:21 pm

As long as Samuel Jackson sticks around, everything will be fine.

Benny

January 25th, 2012
1:22 pm

I do not want us to cut Ovie

tgueboy

January 25th, 2012
1:25 pm

cut all on the,

tgueboy

January 25th, 2012
1:26 pm

Sad Sack

January 25th, 2012
1:26 pm

I like Ovie – maybe he would take a pay cut?

Jeff Schultz

January 25th, 2012
1:27 pm

Snoop Naz — Samuel L. Jackson is a keeper. But I think Falcons should also bring in John Travolta. Get a little Pulp Fiction thing going to shake things up.

SC

January 25th, 2012
1:28 pm

The problems in Atlanta is not the players it is the coaches. You have too play a player too his strength. Atlanta had the worse two OC & DC in the NFL this past year. I do think Sam Baker will be traded. PJ is a NT and he is in the wrong system over the years. Atlanta new DC will fix the problem and finally MR has a REALLY OC that will call the plays not MR. Atlanta must draft smart and think smart at this time

tgueboy

January 25th, 2012
1:29 pm

TD should be fired for these mishaps…. all of these guys were suppose to be the difference makers and they are all busts

tmc

January 25th, 2012
1:30 pm

tough decisions for all 5, but IMO Baker is the only sure thing cut. And you can’t use back injuries as an excuse because he had those same back issues in college. And was the reason his stock dropped as a senior. The Falcons new this and traded too much to get him… and then gave him to much money to boot.
If you can get production out of the others… that makes it a tougher call.
Baker couldn’t play tackle or guard, bye!

DaddyK

January 25th, 2012
1:31 pm

I said Baker would be a flop when he walked on the stage at draft day. I got to watch Baker prove me right for years and now he will be gone. I agree with Shiktz on these and think the Falcons have major changes to make…. Looking at you Matty Ice.

flagboy?

January 25th, 2012
1:31 pm

Falcons mortgaged the farm to get the J. Jones from Bama. . .and he’s good. . .but he isn’t worth what they gave up for him. So cut them all, but from where are the replacements going to come?

just sayin'

January 25th, 2012
1:32 pm

rise up is so lame…two years and no results…spring for something new….

Bubba Bean

January 25th, 2012
1:32 pm

It all starts and ends with the O and D line. Stopping short of bringing me and Haskel back- improve the lines.

mountain_jim

January 25th, 2012
1:34 pm

I think Dunta might actually become good with the next DC and some scheme changes to allow him to play more man coverage. I pretty much agree with Jeff’s calls here.

Zing

January 25th, 2012
1:34 pm

Never understood that Ovie contract… kept thinking in 07-08– is this guy some kind of under-the-radar superstar? Answer: Uh, no.

Sam Baker is terrible. Time to own up that you whiffed on that one, T-Dim. Cut him. Only too bad that you can’t retroactively cut him to pre-last season and dump him into a time warp.

cut 'em all...

January 25th, 2012
1:36 pm

the way to amplify a mistake is keeping them around and hoping that they will all of a sudden become the player’s you thought they were. Even undrafted free agents will more likely become top flight players before these guys.

LJ

January 25th, 2012
1:36 pm

Jeff, Yes do a pulp fiction scene that puts the “rise up” slogan to rest.

“Say ‘Rise up’ again. I dare you, I double-dog dare you” LOL

Ron

January 25th, 2012
1:36 pm

Before i address any of the players listed today i must say that trading Mike Turner is absolutely ludicrous!!! His numbers went down when Mughelli went out plus Atlanta’s o-line was suspect all season. If the Falcons let him go I promise you he will go somewhere else and lead the league in rushing. If Koetter knows how to do anything its run the ball plus this offense cant win without Turner.

Now Baker can be replaced for less. Mughelli will need to take a pay cut or be released. Edwards and Robinson were 2nd tier players signed for top-tier money but Robinson is too costly to release this season. If they can trade either player then do so but if not then keep both for another year.

I think Nolan can get more from Jerry than Van Gorder did. He can probably get more from Robinson and Edwards too but i would defer to Nolan in deciding which of these guys to keep or not. With the lack of picks due to the Julio Jones trade, they probably wont have much of an option but to keep all three.

ROD

January 25th, 2012
1:36 pm

Cut all of them, accept Ovie. You can’t find too many good fullbacks who can block in this league. Dunta can’t cover!!!! Peria and Baker are a bust. Edwards, I’m on the fence. I think he will be better with more of an off-season to heal more. I also think he will be a good fit under Mike Nolan. We need some more playmakers, PERIOD!!!!!

mark

January 25th, 2012
1:37 pm

Cut Baker no questions asked, cut Robinson suck it up take the hit find a FA replacement or see what Owens can do at corner. Nolan is going to play more bump and run and Robinson will have no part of that. Keep Jerry to see if he pans out at the money is good enough to see if he turns it around. Ovie is tough from a fan stands point b/c he is a good guy but from a money stand point cut him too much for a fullback. Cut or trade Turner, trade White.

Bill

January 25th, 2012
1:38 pm

The Falcons do not have a No.1 pick this April.They need to get tougher and more physical on both lines.They may be able to find a couple of economically smart choices to get in free agency.

LJ

January 25th, 2012
1:39 pm

Ron,

What you say about Turner is true; however, he has a history of disappearing vs. good teams. Now, perhaps that was Mularkey’s fault, or the OL, but I knew when he had that big game vs. Bucs in the finale that it was fool’s gold. If Turner is kept, he should be limited to red zone carries and 4th quarter closer. Similar to how the Cowboys used Marion Barber a few years back. If the defense is tired in the 4th quarter, there’s no way they want to see a FRESH Michael Turner running at them.

A pile of sh!t has 1,000 eyes

January 25th, 2012
1:39 pm

You think there’s anything left in Mike Kenn’s tank?

Najeh Davenpoop

January 25th, 2012
1:42 pm

Cutting players who didn’t play (Peria Jerry, Ovie Mughelli) will improve the cap situation, not necessarily the quality of the roster. The tougher questions relate to the supposedly cornerstone pieces of the team. Should the Falcons bring back Abraham and Grimes? Should they cut ties with Turner? Should they still trust that Ryan will become anything more than just a decent player?

Whopper Dawg

January 25th, 2012
1:43 pm

Interesting, by the end of the 2012 draft, TD will have had 5 drafts. In those 5 drafts, he will have had 5 first round picks. 2 of those picks should be cut. Discarded. Kicked to the curb. Not too good.

Now for the big money free agents – Turner – probably should turn the page on this one, but RBs don’t last forever, this one is a plus. TG – big win here, but it doesn’t take a genius to trade for a HOF, Robinson – forget about it, should be cut, Edwards – forget about it should be cut. So, he is batting 50% here and these are known entities. Not too good.

As for the rest of the drafts ex first round, his imminence has managed three other decent players, Lofton, Moore (if he isn’t hurt) and Peters.

And people wonder why we can’t get out of the first round.

JTH

January 25th, 2012
1:45 pm

This team sucks.

Too tough

January 25th, 2012
1:46 pm

Arthur…help us fans pleassssseeeee!~ Lets RISE UP ATL! All us fans have risen…now we need players that care, play hard all season long, and that wants to win more than grow their hair! Im just sayin!

wayne

January 25th, 2012
1:46 pm

If first or second round draft choices haven’t secured a starting job by year two, they should be cut unless salary cap prohibits. I would be willing to give Robinson and Edwards another year, with a new DC before forming an opinion on their abilities. The falcons seem to end up with a lot of injury prone players, needs to be fixed during draft process, then we don’t need to use that common phrase (we will fix it and move on) anymore during the season, it is my belief that the problems should be fixed by the time preseason games are complete.

BlacknRed

January 25th, 2012
1:46 pm

Jeff,

How much we would have to give up to get Trent Richardson, in the 1st round? Micheal Turner and Mughelli, would be good options, and may be another player?

Too tough

January 25th, 2012
1:47 pm

Jt

January 25th, 2012
1:48 pm

Jeff I am with you on each player. Going back to Turner- he MUST be kept. He is cheap. His problem is the lack of effective use- meaning that Snelling and Rogers should get more touches. Falcons need all three of them- I think cutting Turner would be a huge mistake. Baker must go. I agree about Peria Jerry- he and Edwards both need an opportunity to see if they may be more successful under a new regime. As for BVG, I cannot understand the logic of any defensive scheme which takes your best pass rusher (Abraham) and drops him into coverage. To me Dunta Robinson is a disappointment, but what is the alternative. Money has been laid out for him and when a team gives signing bonus and guaranteed salary, the longer you keep them the less the cap hit. He just needs to step hi game up-maybe that will happen under Nolan. But I say keep Mughelli- his blocking is praised by his rb’s and qb’s alike. They know. Also he is able to get a yard on 4th and one

JeanE

January 25th, 2012
1:49 pm

Time to cut Alligator Arms Baker. I agree on the rest although despite the fact that Ovie is expensive, I think he’s good and we suffered when he was out. I am not impressed at all with Dimitroff’s personnel moves. He & Smitty have 1 year to turn it around and make some progress or they should be out. I get sick every time I think about our postseason regression, it is disgusting. This team has no heart, no fire, nothing. I still think Tony is a top level player but he must be sick thinking he came here to win and look at us. I just think there’s some talent but the chemistry on this team is way off. There is none! I hope these coordinators came make the same difference that Harbaugh made in SF in one season.

Mediocrity continues...

January 25th, 2012
1:49 pm

Robinson and Baker are complete Jokes. Edwards was a serviceable run stopper at DE but ZERO pass rush from him.

Die Hard Falcon

January 25th, 2012
1:52 pm

Mr. Schultz–

I agree w/ your call on all but one, Ovie, I think he is important to our running game and the brass made it clear they still want to impose the running game moving forward. Especially on those 4 and 1’s (ouch).

I would’ve liked for them to have frontloaded more of the guaranteed money w/ DRob, but as the situation stands we have to keep him, no reason to pay 6.75million for nothing, perhaps the new scheme will provide better results anyway.
Edwards, I think is definitely worth 1 or 2 more seasons, especially considering we’re on the hook anyway, perhaps he’ll be more productive in the new scheme and a full offseason.

Schultzie — Any chance your future in this series includes Lofton, Abe, Grimes, Biermann, HD, etc? I know the Bird Cage had a thread about it, just curious to see your thoughts and any info on our FA’s moving forward. Also, do you know if we let Grimes walk, would we get a 3rd rd compensatory pick next year? Any talk about Franchising anyone (Lofton, Grimes) to keep them or use them as trade bait?

Thanks, Go Falcons!

Andy

January 25th, 2012
1:56 pm

Robinson is the most painful decision of all. What a terrible bust he has been but given the economics of it I guess you have to keep him. Can’t wait for him to be gone!

Ease

January 25th, 2012
1:58 pm

The reason the running game has been above average last several years has been because of Mughelli. Beast of a blocker. Plus he is another victim of the anti-screen pass mentality. Him in the backfield with any one of Turner/Snelling/Rodgers…is he gonna block or release? Another dimension to the passing game.

Trainwreck

January 25th, 2012
1:59 pm

I like your reasoning Jeff. I expect bigger things from Dunta and Ray this year. Baker & Jerry should probably go. Ovie is good and I like him, but that is a valid point about paying a blocking back all that money. 4 verticals doesn’t sound like a FB friendly offense to me.

Dirtybird 82

January 25th, 2012
2:01 pm

Trade White?? Are you crazy?! He had 1 bad season, which still produced 100 catches, 8TD’s, and close to 1,300yds. Next year you will see Roddy have a monster year with an offesive system that will allow him to make catches on the run and not having to stop and go all the time. Roddy and Julio, and hopefully Harry will be here too, will have big seasons. Watch!

jon

January 25th, 2012
2:10 pm

regardless of cap hit, I would definitley cut Robinson, he can’t cover my grandmother who is dead, lol. We were defintley hurt by Ovie’s injury but if the line can’t block it doesn’t matter. I remember when our Halfback in 98 got hurt and we survived (thanks to kowslowski)Sam Baker is definitley affected by injury, he was once the best on the line and you never heard his name. The defensive tackle is just a bust!

Jimmy Crack

January 25th, 2012
2:11 pm

Jeff, you’re on the money with all but Mughelli. Ovie is the preeminent blocking fullback in the league and has actually been highly productive in the short passing game despite the ridiculous aversion to screen passes that Mularkey professed. On this roster with all the bad money being spent, this is good money. The guy is a true beast and is feared by all NFL linebackers. Look at our short yardage failures this season. Do you remember those when he was healthy?

biff pocaroba

January 25th, 2012
2:11 pm

thomas the twerp is the problem,he is like jon schuerholtz was when he was with the braves ,always trying to prove they are the smartest guys in the room,and ending up making stupid trades thet mortgaged the future

Therut

January 25th, 2012
2:14 pm

I have a friend out there (at least one) who knows that I told him when we drafted Matt Ryan, that he would never be anything more than average. I watched him play against Ga. Tech in college and he did nothing to get my attention. bottom line, no mobility. Keep Edwards

Die Hard Falcon

January 25th, 2012
2:14 pm

I agree Dirtybird82–

No way should we trade White, he’s a top talent at WR position, I realize he had some mental mistakes which led to costly drops, but 215 catches in the last 2 years and over 2500 yds, it would be absolutely foolish to trade him unless we can get Jerry Jones to do another Roy Williams trade and give up a 1, 3, and 6 for him. White is solid, top 10 WR in the game, it would be dumb to trade him now, next year another year of Julio w/ a full offseason, we’ll have a beastly group

WJH

January 25th, 2012
2:14 pm

This is easy – cut baker and get some decent blocking, draft, free agent, what ever – get some blocking. I thing Jerry needs one more year. Ovie’s knees may have ended his career so listen to the doctors, if bad cut him. If ovie is cut keep Turner, if Ovie’s knees are good trade Turner for some blocking.

jon

January 25th, 2012
2:15 pm

… easy on the schuerholtz thing…. r we the team that was successful for 14 years without him?

Jimmy Crack

January 25th, 2012
2:15 pm

Got short yardage problems?

Can’t break through that clogged line?

GET OVIE ROOTER!

jgsbirds

January 25th, 2012
2:16 pm

what about moving dunta to safety? is there a free agent corner out there worth a look?

t_height

January 25th, 2012
2:17 pm

Trading Mike Turner would be crazy. If you actually watched the plays and not just the games you would see that the run play call usually were find a hole and hit it. There was never any plays with pulling guards and very few with the line know exactly who to block instead of just the person in front of them. These are reason why the team could never successfully get the short yardage needed.