FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — The Falcons struck one of the savvier deals in free agency Friday, all things considered. Signing Vikings DE Ray Edwards for five years and $30 million, with just $11 million guaranteed, according to ESPN figures, could be a masterstroke for general manager Thomas Dimitroff.
Only 26, Edwards, who's notched 16½ sacks the last two seasons, was one of the most promising pass rushers available. As in Minnesota, he'll play opposite another top-caliber right defensive end. The Falcons' John Abraham was wonderful last season, one of the NFC's best at his position.
Can Edwards get to that level? If so, Edwards' compensation looks very reasonable, given the premium for pass rushers. If not, the Falcons didn't exactly overpay in a market where teams have to reach a salary floor of around $119 million in 2011. I wasn't enthralled with Edwards as a free-agent prospect because I thought he would likely be signing to be someone's top pass rusher and for more money than he's apparently getting, but this looks to be a good fit.
Now that Dimitroff has added another talented player to his defensive line, it will be interesting to see the decisions he makes on the offensive line.
All five of the Falcons' first-team offensive linemen started all 16 games in 2010, which certainly didn't hurt Atlanta as it captured the NFC South and the No. 1 seed in the conference. However, starting OLG Justin Blalock remains unsigned and ORG Harvey Dahl agreed to a deal with the Rams on Friday, which is a blow. The Falcons agreed with Pro Bowl ORT Tyson Clabo on a five-year deal on Thursday night, keeping one key blocker in the fold. Clabo was expected to arrive at the team facility Friday night.
"I was excited probably more than anybody to get him back, because (it) makes my job easier to have an extra set of experienced eyes on the field," Falcons C Todd McClure said Friday morning. "He may see something that I miss. He helps me out a bunch. Talking with Matt (Ryan), he was pretty excited to see him get signed back, too. He said he starts feeling a little bit better in his ribs every time we sign one of our guys back."
Said Falcons head coach Mike Smith: "We want to put our best players out there on the field, and of course, in the past, Tyson has been a very, very good player for us. We certainly hope by the end of the week he's here with us."
Mike Johnson, a 2010 third-round pick, looks the favorite to step in if Blalock doesn't come back, with 2009 fifth-rounder Garrett Reynolds perhaps the front-runner to replace Dahl.
McClure, asked if there was a "concern" about new faces at guard, answered in the affirmative.
"That's a concern for me," the Falcons' longtime center said jokingly as reporters chuckled. "The comfort level goes down a little bit when you've got new guys beside you. Hopefully they'll get one or two of those guys back beside me. The least amount of fresh people you've got in there, the better it is. But I think they'll make it happen."
If it doesn't, McClure has confidence in Johnson and Reynolds.
"Those guys, they're very capable," McClure said. "They work hard. Obviously I'd like to have my guys back, but if not, I know we've got guys who can step in and play."
The Falcons kept their Pro Bowl right tackle, and they added a young and athletic pass rusher. A nice start to defending their NFC South title. Now, let's see how they decide to defend Matt Ryan, Michael Turner and Co.