While the football world were getting ready for Monday Night Football, the Atlanta Falcons tried to quietly release the news that they cut defensive end Ray Edwards, a rare free agency blunder by a team with a recent history of sage roster moves. In doing so they prudently admitted making a mistake by banking on the former Minnesota Vikings defensive end, but in its wake also raised a key question-- what if the Falcons found more money for Charles Johnson?
The Carolina Panthers' defensive end, and Atlanta native was linked to the Falcons all summer of 2011. It was clear Atlanta wanted to pair a big-name defensive end with an aging John Abraham, and it seemed like a simple decision for Johnson to get off a sinking ship in Carolina and compete for a championship. Then general manager Marty Hurney was so desperate to retain his star defensive end that he send a party down to Atlanta to meet with their free agent, and try to hammer out a deal.
Two days later Charles Johnson signed a 6-year, $76 million deal to remain with the Panthers.
In the says following Johnson quipped that the Panthers' offer 'blew Atlanta's out of the water', and in its wake the Falcons agreed to terms with Edwards. Viewed as the second biggest pass rushing prize, he came a lot cheaper at 5-years, $27.50 million, but the risk was there; was he a product of playing across from Jared Allen? Not even two-years later we have the answer.
Everyone knows what we say about hindsight, but had the Falcons front office found a way to get close to Carolina's number, there's no doubt Johnson would have head home to play for the Falcons. In nine games this season Johnson has 8.5 sacks, and five forced fumbles. Pro Football Focus grade him out as the second best 4-3 defensive end in the NFL, and one can only imagine how Atlanta's defense would look with Abraham and Johnson as book ends.
The front office should look at this scenario as a litmus test for future free agencies. Sometimes spending more out of the gate is vital to the result, especially when offered a home town discount.