The four most common critiques fans and writers make of the Falcons signing Ray Edwards, once they grasp what a championship-friendly deal he agreed to: he's a boxing aficionado, he's kind of a weird guy, he sometimes pouted at Purdue and in Minnesota and of course he got a lot of sacks -- he lined up across from Jared Allen, maybe the NFL's best pass rusher, and had two great tackles by his side.
Who couldn't pile up sacks with those guys tying up double teams?
To the first, we are appalled to learn a pro athlete spent his lockout time engaging in aggressive exercise. To the second, we're confident he'll enjoy Atlanta's structure just fine. To the third ... I'm pouting right now just thinking about Purdue and Minnesota.
And on to the latter we go. First, here are Edwards' career football stats:
The first thing that's always jumped out at me about Edwards is his consistent production. Four five-sack seasons and two eight-sack seasons, all in a row, plus backfield activity in his rookie year, in which he only got two starts. Not quite the same thing you see as when looking at Jason Babin's numbers, for instance.
Now factor this in: Jared Allen didn't arrive in Minnesota until 2008. Edwards' sacks per game and per start actually dipped a little bit. You'll also note Edwards changed positions upon Allen's arrival. If he's more comfortable at left end, that's probably good, since that's where he'll likely be spending most of his time in Atlanta.
And deeper we go!
I don't take any of the advanced stat sites as gospel, but when the various sites agree on something, it's probably worth listening to.
Advanced NFL Stats has various metrics that rank Edwards within the top 25 to 40 ends in the league. Not bad, not great, but right about where he should be as a highly sought No. 2 end. I understand the next one better than I do this one, so I wrote a lot more about that one.
Pro Football Focus broke down the number of quarterback disruptions (sacks, hurries and hits) each pass rusher accumulated per pass rushing snap in 2010, finding Edwards to be third in the league -- not even one disruption per game behind Charles Johnson, who's now making more than twice what Edwards is making. You'll note the Falcons now have two in the top seven.
It also includes a chart over the last three years, which has John Abraham No. 1 and Edwards No. 11. (And, yeah, Jamaal Anderson is near the bottom of both. Hell of an upgrade.) What's that you say? Abraham ahead of Allen, meaning offenses pay Abe just as much attention as they do Allen? Well what about the Vikings defensive tackles, didn't they help Edwards pile up sacks? More on that later.
I love that stat, and not just because it makes our new guy and our (well) old guy both look good. Going by nothing but total sacks is kind of like grading a baseball player's batting by nothing but total home runs. Forcing a quarterback into a bad throw could end up being even better than a sack, but let's count a hurry as a base hit. Putting the quarterback on his back is worth something, too, since no passer can look far downfield if he's keeping an eye on the pass rush.
Count a downed quarterback as a stolen base or something!
And depending on scheme, the rest of the team's defense and even the team's offense, some players are on the field more often than others. Some ends drop into zone coverage more often than others -- Abraham does -- which that stat corrects for. It's a great way to judge efficiency, not just bulk sacks.
PFF also used some sort of a system that factors in run defense, which grades Edwards as the No. 8 4-3 end in the league.
Check Football Outsiders' similarity scores for Edwards. 2001-vintage Jevon Kearse is about as high a compliment as you can pay a defensive end -- Kearse was wrapping up his third-straight Pro Bowl year before suffering a career-altering injury the next season. On that page, you'll also note Edwards has very good stop rates against both the run and pass, meaning he's solid at stuff besides harassing quarterbacks.
Cold, Hard Football Facts has a metric they call the Hog Index, which compiles key defensive stats into one. They rate Edwards as a player who contributes to such a stat. I do not understand this either. Here it all is before you.
Oh, and on defensive tackles. Jonathan Babineaux is as good as any defensive tackle in the league. He's led his position in sacks and in run defense during his career. He's Atlanta's most-underrated player. The notoriety of his counterparts doesn't quite amount to what Minnesota had in Kevin Williams and Pat Williams, but I'd put the Falcons tackle depth against anybody's.
Did the Falcons sign Edwards to be a one-man pass rush? No.
They're likely expecting to get a couple more years out of Abraham as Edwards takes over as the primary rusher, with Kroy Biermann stepping up to take a starting role. And in Atlanta's scheme, defensive linemen don't stay on the field for very long at once, since line depth is one of the team's strengths and coaches favor an active rotation.
If Edwards can keep his five-or-eight-or-so-sacks streaks alive, everybody will call this a brilliant value signing. I see no reason why he can't.