The Bengals released Jamaal Anderson yesterday, a move that may be repeated more than once in the course of the upcoming season. The book is out on Anderson at this point: He never panned out as a pass rusher, but he's a stout run-stopper for a defensive end. He'll help in a rotation if that's what you're looking for.
Meanwhile, Ray Edwards lasted about a season and a half before bouncing out of Atlanta, never to return. He, too, was supposed to be a pass rusher but delivered more as a run-stopper.
What we have here are two guys who played for the Falcons at defensive end under two different regimes, but both ended up disappointing in remarkably similar fashion. Neither could rush the passer, and both were solid against the run. Given that one was a highly-touted draft pick and one was a highly-touted free agent, what the hell happened?
There's no easy answer, but there are possibilities that are instructive for the future, given that a draft bust or expensive free agent failure can damage the team in more ways than one. As I see it, there are two realistic possibilities here:
Random chance. You're going to bring in a lot of players, some of them touted, and some of those guys are going to flame out.
- A systemic failure to identify quality pass rushers and deploy them. This could and perhaps has extended across regimes, considering the best DE pass rusher the Falcons have turned out in the last several years has been John Abraham. All the draft capital the Falcons have sunk into the position has yielded...basically Kroy Biermann. Ouch.
The first one offends our sense of meaning for the universe and the second one is pretty unsettling, but you can probably combine them and come up with a reasonable answer. The Falcons have not shown a knack for finding and developing top-shelf pass rushers. In the Dimitroff era, it has been because they haven't been willing to sink high-round draft picks into pass-rushing defensive ends, preferring to try to build a useful rotation of players. They also missed badly with Edwards, of course.
What is clear is that the Falcons can't afford to miss this badly with, say, Osi Umenyiora or Malliciah Goodman. You give up assets, money or otherwise, to try to improve your pass rush. Too many misses wind up draining those assets while actively damaging the team's defense.
What do you think was behind Anderson and Edwards?