Primarily because of cap restrictions, the Falcons have never been major players in free agency during the Thomas Dimitroff era. That’s probably a good thing because Dimitroff doesn’t have a fantastic track record of spending his money wisely in the free agent market. He’s been much more effective in drafting young talent. I recently made a list on the five best free agents Dimitroff has signed. That list was less than impressive. This list is a much more abhorrent one on the other end of the spectrum.
5. Dunta Robinson
Robinson wasn’t a terrible player for the Falcons. He just didn’t live up to the billing of the six-year, $57 million deal the Falcons gave him in the 2010 offseason. Robinson arrived in Atlanta after six years with the Texans, leaving Houston as their all-time leader in interceptions but that was not the player the Falcons got for the next three seasons.
While he was a bruising hitter in the secondary, coverage is what matters for a corner, and Jackson was inconsistent at best in that area. The result was him being cut in the 2013 offseason. The Falcons were forced to eat money in the process, but it still turned out to be the correct decision. He would go on to sign with the Chiefs the next season, only played in eight games and never played in the NFL again.
4. Paul Soliai
The Falcons broke their trend of being frugal in free agency during the 2014 offseason, signing a number of free agents, including a few high-priced ones. Paul Soliai was one of those marquee free agents, who was brought in to fill run lanes and take up blockers so that the linebackers could roam freely.
Soliai had a decent first season in Atlanta, combining for 29 tackles, six tackles for loss and a sack while doing his aforementioned duty of taking up blockers. However, his 2015 was not nearly as productive, and the scheme change from Mike Smith to Dan Quinn decreased his overall value. The following offseason, the Falcons parted ways with Soliai.
He was due to make nearly $7 million in 2016, the third highest on the entire team behind Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. The two sides attempted to work out a restructure, but nothing came to fruition. He joins Dunta Robinson in the category of decent who players who were paid far too much for their production and wound up forcing the Falcons to take on dead money. Soliai was more of a miscast rather than a bad player.
3. Tyson Jackson
The Falcons assistant general manager Scot Pioli doubled-down on Tyson Jackson when the Falcons signed Jackson to a five-year, $25 million contract in the 2014 offseason. Pioli, who came from Kansas City, drafted Jackson with the third overall pick in the 2009 draft. It’s safe to say Jackson never lived up to that pick in Kansas City, providing them with a solid option in run defense but never developed into the pass rusher they hoped he could become.
A trend that has been a part of the Falcons organization for a decade now; they needed more pass rushers. Jackson was never going to be that, making this signing perplexing to begin with.
Jackson never recorded a single sack in a Falcons uniform and was cut after three seasons with the team. While he was a decent run stopper, he was a below average player in Atlanta and extremely underwhelming considering he was among the top earners on the defense. After being released by the Falcons, Jackson never played in the NFL again.
2. Steven Jackson
Michael Turner was perhaps Dimitroff’s best free agent signing, totaling over 6,000 rushing yards and 60 TDs in five seasons with the team from 2008-2012. Nonetheless, it was clear at the end of the 2012 season that he was running out of gas. Rightfully, they decided to go another direction but signing a long-time veteran never panned out the way they imagined.
Jackson was ravaged by injuries in the 2013 season. He managed to start in 12 games, battling nagging issues the entire time and was incredibly ineffective. That year he ran the ball 157 times, averaging 3.5 yards per carry for a total of 543 yards. Hopefully, you did not take Jackson in the first round of your fantasy draft as I did.
The Falcons gave Jackson another opportunity to start the next season, and while he was healthier, he was still ineffective, rushing for 707 yards in fifteen games. The best thing he did for the organization was tutor Devonta Freeman as a rookie, who became the starter the next season and reached his first Pro-Bowl.
1. Ray Edwards
This is the obvious choice to land number one on this list. Coming off some stellar years with the Vikings, where he totaled 21.5 sacks and 61 QB hits from 2008-2010, the Falcons were hoping the addition of Edwards would add significant juice to their porous pass rush. It did no such thing.
Edwards was underwhelming in his first season in Atlanta, combining for 33 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 10 QB hits. But those numbers look splendid compared to the following season where Edwards only played in 9 games, had zero sacks and only two QB hits. The pass rushing specialist the Falcons thought they were getting turned out to be a total fraud, and it wound up hamstringing the team who desperately needed players who could sack the quarterback.
Edwards signed a six-year, $30 million contract. He only served two years of it, causing the Falcons to eat nearly $5 million in dead money. It’s disappointing because if the Falcons had gotten what they paid for out of Edwards, there is a great chance they would have been Super Bowl champions in 2012.