There was a time not very long ago where you could have talked me into rolling with Ray Edwards & The Kids at defensive end. After all, I think there's promising young talent at the position, and guys like Lawrence Sidbury and Cliff Matthews deserve their shots.
At the beginning of the off-season, I happily predicted that El Sid would be the no-brainer starter if John Abraham walked away. But I've thought about it long and hard and come to an unpleasant conclusion: No one on the roster now is likely to solve this team's problem, and if Edwards has another lackluster season as a pass rusher, the Falcons are suddenly in huge trouble.
So the Falcons need a veteran pass rusher, one with the proven ability to get after the quarterback. They can re-sign Abe and try to squeeze one or two more elite years out of him. They could target a free agent like Robert Mathis or Cliff Avril. But it's clear that whoever they get, no matter how heavily they want to rotate in the young players with so much upside, they need an established presence.
It's more of a safeguard than anything else. I truly believe Edwards will improve this year, the combination of Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters will offer a little bit more heat and the linebackers will be asked to blitz more under Mike Nolan. All of that should make a difference, and if Sid could keep up last year's pace in more snaps, the Falcons might be fine. But it's been years since the Falcons had a truly fearsome pass rush, and I'm not sure this group as constructed is ready to provide that. The best passing teams in the league will continue to feast on the Falcons without it.
If you sign a guy like Mathis or Avril, you could use them often and still find plenty of room in the rotation with Kroy Biermann (if he's re-signed), Sid and Matthews. I'd be disappointed if those guys didn't get a chance, because both have the talent to be quality rotational ends, at minimum. I'm just not certain that they can approximate Abraham's value, and the line just doesn't intimidate me with that liability, however excellent it will be against the run.
You're welcome to disagree, of course. Do you?