Thomas Dimitroff has been on the job as Atlanta’s General Manager for a decade now (time flies, doesn’t it?). That’s more than enough time to look back and assess the job he’s done with player personnel.
I recently wrote an article ranking the five best free agent signings the Atlanta Falcons have made under Dimitroff’s watch. Today, I’ll take a look at the dark side of the moon so to speak (no, I’m not talking about Pink Floyd, but I wish I was) by ranking Dimitroff’s five worst free agent signings (in fact, I’ll actually be listening to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” album while making this list).
Before I begin, here are a few ground rules for this list. I’ll be looking at the contract the player was given as well as the impact (or lack thereof) which he made on the field for the Falcons. You can expect to re-live some disgusting contracts in the coming moments. Players who were already on the team but given undeserved contract extensions (looking at you Sam Baker) aren’t eligible for this list; this is free agent signings only. Every free agent signed from 2008-17 is eligible.
In truth, it was a lot easier to compile this list of Dimitroff’s five worst free agent signings than it was to carve out his five best free agent signings. The Falcons’ GM and his front office have done more harm than good when it's come to signing free agents in the last decade, versus the draft where the opposite may be true.
5) Dunta Robinson (2010) - 6 year/$57 million ($22 million guaranteed)
I know what you’re going to say: Was Dunta Robinson really that bad for the Falcons? He contributed three seasons of overall solid play in Atlanta. Robinson wasn’t the worst free agent when it came to on the field performance for the Falcons, but the colossal overpay Dimitroff made for his services just can’t be ignored. In the end, that massive contract (and the fact that he didn’t come close to living up to it) is what gave Dunta Robinson a spot on this list.
The 2009 Atlanta Falcons had a definite weakness at the cornerback position. That weakness reared its ugly head throughout the year and resulted in a bottom five finish in passing yards given up on defense. Dimitroff was under pressure to improve the position and was taken for a ride by Dunta Robinson’s agent as a result.
Robinson was coming off of a rather successful six-year run with the Houston Texans when he hit the open market in 2010. His peak season, however, had been his rookie year all the way back in 2004, when he recorded six interceptions, 19 pass deflections and three forced fumbles. Despite the fact that he was coming off of a rather pedestrian 2009 season, Dimitroff still paid him as if he was a shutdown corner when it was evident that he was not.
Robinson was an enforcer in the secondary, known for his big hits (although his propensity to never wrap up and always go for the crushing blow infuriated the fanbase to a certain extent). Coverage was what was lacking in Robinson’s game, as he just wasn’t that good at it. In 2011, Pro Football Focus graded him out as the 105th best CB in coverage out of 109 qualified candidates. Then in 2012, he gave up a 102.4 quarterback rating on 504 passing snaps (PFF). PFF shouldn’t be taken as gospel, but their grades are at least worth analyzing, and they do speak volumes.
The $57 million raw salary number Robinson received remains the biggest contract Dimitroff has ever given to a free agent (this does not include resigning his players). The $22 million in guaranteed money is the second largest figure Dimitroff has ever given to a free agent (Alex Mack). Robinson played out half his contract, before counting as a $3 million dead cap hit in 2013.
4) Jon Asamoah (2014) - 5 years/$22.5 million ($8 million guaranteed)
The 2014 offseason was easily the worst one in Dimitroff’s entire tenure as Falcons’ GM (when it came to free agency). It was an offseason in which he had a good bit of cap space to work with (over $28 million) and struck out over and over again.
One of the big swings and misses that offseason was former Kansas City Chiefs Right Guard Jon Asamoah. This signing made sense at the time: Asamoah was just entering his prime and playing a position of great need for the Falcons. He was a former third-round draft selection of Atlanta assistant GM Scott Pioli as well, so there was some familiarity.
Jon Asamoah had a very good year in 2014 and may have even been the team’s best offensive lineman that season. He was worth the first year of the contract he received, but things came crashing down in a hurry soon after.
New head coach Dan Quinn bringing Kyle Shanahan in to be his offensive coordinator proved to be a death sentence to Asamoah’s prospects of remaining a Falcon. At nearly 340 pounds, he was not fluid enough to play in Shanahan’s zone blocking scheme, which requires offensive lineman to pull and get to the second level consistently. Asamoah was put on IR before the start of the 2015 season and was subsequently cut after agreeing to an injury settlement with the team.
Jon Asamoah played out just one year of the five-year contract he received from the Falcons. As a result, the Falcons had to pay out $4,268,750 of dead cap from his contract in 2015 and then $3,900,000 of dead cap in 2016. Asamoah would prove to be too heavy to play for any other team following his release, and in the end, the Falcons would end up paying him more money not to play for them than they had given him to actually play.
3) Steven Jackson (2013) - 3 years/$12 million ($4 million guaranteed)
Atlanta didn’t have much of a run game in the Mike Smith-era best 2012 season. They made it to the NFC Championship despite the weak ground game, as it was clear that the great Michael Turner didn’t have any tread left on the tires at that point. The 2013 offseason signing of Steven Jackson was met with widespread excitement, as he was supposed to be that final missing piece of Atlanta’s championship puzzle.
The problem was that the Steven Jackson who showed up in Atlanta ended up having even less tread on the tires than Turner had in that 2012 season.
Jackson played 12 games in the 2013 season and accumulated 543 rushing yards and seven total touchdowns on 3.5 yards per carry as the team’s feature back. A year later, Jackson started 15 games and ran for 707 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 3.7 yards per carry, once again operating as Mike Smith and Dirk Koetter’s feature back. Atlanta went a combined 10-22 in those two seasons.
As you can tell by looking at the numbers, Jackson was not a good running back for the Falcons. His sub-4.0 yards per carry mark was hideous, and his presence kept a promising young Devonta Freeman on the bench throughout the 2014 season. You can point the finger at blocking to a certain extent, but the stats do tell the story here.
Steven Jackson was a complete negative on the field throughout his Falcons career, and for that reason, he finds himself in the top 3 of this list. Dunta Robinson and Jon Asamoah each signed much worse contracts (from the team’s perspective) but the two of them at least made a positive contribution to the team at one point or another, Jackson did not.
2) Tyson Jackson (2014) - 5 years/$25 million ($11 million guaranteed)
The peak of the aforementioned terrible 2014 free agent signings was no doubt Tyson Jackson, a former third overall pick of Falcons’ assistant GM Scott Pioli.
Jackson was a perfectly competent run defender and was a rotational piece on the defensive line for the three seasons he spent in Atlanta.
The problem with this signing was the signing itself. The Falcons were sorely lacking a pass rush, having recorded just 32 total sacks in 2013 (29th in the NFL), and Dimitroff went out and spent big money on a run stopper. Jackson was not worth the money he earned, either. He was a below-average player who was being paid like one of the best players on defense.
The Falcons would go on to record just 22 sacks in 2014 (30th in the NFL), showcasing how foolish it was not to address the need of edge rusher in the previous offseason. Jackson was frequently moved from DT to DE and back throughout his three seasons in Atlanta (spending the 2015 season almost exclusively at DE), but his lack of speed completely handicapped his ability to be effective. He would record just 28 tackles and zero sacks as an Atlanta Falcon.
Jackson would account for a $1,600,000 dead cap hit in each of the 2017 and 2018 offseasons, meaning that the Falcons are still paying him right now to not be on the team.
1) Ray Edwards (2011) - 5 years/$27.5 million ($11 million guaranteed)
Once upon a time, a 14-year-old me was on an eight-hour flight from Frankfurt to Atlanta, and I couldn’t stop smiling because the day before it was announced that the Falcons had signed pass rushing specialist Ray Edwards to a long-term contract. If I were to somehow go back in time and tell myself how that signing would turn out, that plane ride would be a lot more excruciating.
Edwards recorded 16.5 sacks with the Vikings over the course of the 2009 and 2010 seasons and looked like a pass rusher who had things figured out when he went into the 2011 offseason as a free agent. He was certainly paid like it by Thomas Dimitroff, who gave him a lavish long-term deal to be the devastating pass rusher on the opposite side of John Abraham, something the team had sorely lacked for years. It was actually considered somewhat of a bargain at the time he signed, given the dollars.
The Ray Edwards experiment ended up being a complete disaster. He played in just 25 games with the Falcons (about a season and a half worth) before getting cut. The “pass rush specialist” everyone thought Dimitroff had signed recorded just 3.5 sacks in his time as a Falcon. Not only was Edwards ineffective, but (and this is maybe the worst part) he looked flat out uninterested when he was on the field most of the time, as if he was just there to cash his check.
Atlanta cut ties with Edwards following the 2012 season, just two years into his five-year deal. The move resulted in a very uncomfortable $4,650,000 dead cap hit in the 2013 offseason, which was compounded with the poor signing of Steven Jackson to waste a lot of money.
Edwards’ contract itself wasn’t as bad as the contracts Dimitroff gave to Dunta Robinson and Paul Soliai and his total dead cap hit wasn't as bad as Jon Asamoah's. However, the long-term deal he was given combined with the fact that he contributed next to nothing for the Falcons makes putting Ray Edwards at the top of this list a no-brainer.