(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 . . .
• 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
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.
• 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