We’re in the dead period of football (you can read about how much I hate this period here), and with it, we don’t have much to talk about except for some speculation here and there.
I figured this would be a good time to look back on some moments in Falcons history and maybe relive them while we wait for football to come back.
That idea has given rise to a new series of “Throwback Thursday” articles I’m planning on writing throughout the dead period. Each week, we’ll re-live and discuss a certain moment in this franchise’s 52-year history.
You can find last week’s Throwback Thursday article, about Michael Vick, here.
The Falcons knew they had a superstar and a playmaker at the quarterback position in Michael Vick following the 2002 season. Coming off of a successful campaign where they made the playoffs as a wild card team and beat the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in that round, Atlanta was looking to capitalize on its success ahead of the 2003 season.
While Vick was a nightmare for opposing defenses to handle, he didn’t have a powerful arsenal of weapons with which to utilize his aerial attack. Brian Finneran was Vick’s favorite target in 2002, finishing with 836 receiving yards and six touchdowns. The team’s second-leading receiver was tight end Alge Crumpler, with just 455 receiving yards. In the 2003 offseason, the team made it a mission to go out and find a true No. 1 receiver for Vick to work with.
The Falcons decided to address the problem via the trade route and struck a deal with the Buffalo Bills to bring in Peerless Price, while they were also keeping tabs on Jets’ WR Laveranues Coles in free agency in case they couldn’t work out a deal with Buffalo. In exchange for Price, Atlanta gave away its 2003 first-round pick, which the Bills used to select RB Willis McGahee.
The excitement over the addition of Price couldn’t be contained, and with good reason. After three forgettable-to-average seasons to begin his career, Price exploded in the 2002 season: He had 94 receptions, 1,252 receiving yards and nine receiving touchdowns.
Price was always the No. 2 guy in Buffalo. However, he played the role of Robin to Pro Bowl WR Eric Moulds’ Batman (100 receptions, 1,292 receiving yards, and 10 touchdowns in 2002), and the Falcons figured that they could mold Price into a No. 1 receiving option after witnessing the stellar season he had just had.
The Price was ... wrong?
The Bills couldn’t afford to keep Price after 2002, so they applied the franchise tag to him and looked to make a trade. Atlanta obliged and invested heavily in Price by sacrificing the 23rd pick in the 2003 draft. They compounded their investment by giving Price a massive seven-year, $37.5 million contract, along with a $10 million signing bonus. Owner Arthur Blank had high hopes for his new dynamic QB/WR duo.
The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry, however. In 2003, Vick only played in five games due to a broken leg, and the entire Falcons offense suffered as a result. With backup QB Doug Johnson thrust into the starting role for most of the campaign, Price totaled just 64 receptions, 838 receiving yards, and three receiving touchdowns (on only seven fewer targets than what he saw in 2002), although he did lead the team in all three of those categories.
In 2004, the expectations were once again through the roof with Vick poised to play a full season. Peerless Price, however, shocked the Falcons with his poor play. He registered 45 receptions, 575 receiving yards and another three receiving touchdowns. His number of targets dipped from 141 in 2003 to 106, as it was clear that Vick didn’t trust him very much. Price didn’t do a good job of creating separation and didn’t work hard at getting open. He also looked like he had lost a step at age 28.
With wide receiver still a clear and obvious problem, the Falcons worked hard to address the issue. New GM Rich McKay spent first-round picks in both the 2004 and 2005 drafts on WRs (Michael Jenkins and Roddy White). Price was eventually relegated to the No. 3 WR role at the start of training camp in 2005 and was cut soon after.
The Falcons opted to part ways with Peerless Price just two years into a seven-year contract commitment. As a result, they had to absorb a massive $5.7 million dead money cap hit in the 2006 offseason.
Overall, Price totaled a combined 109 receptions, 1,413 receiving yards, and six touchdowns in his two years in Atlanta, as it quickly became clear that he was the beneficiary of Eric Moulds taking the pressure off of him in Buffalo.
Peerless Price would go on to play three more seasons in the NFL before retiring, following season-ending neck surgery in 2007. He continues to live in Atlanta Falcons infamy, as one of the franchise’s great mistakes.
Expect these “Throwback Thursday” articles to be recurring throughout the offseason, to reminisce about the team’s history and to give us some stuff to talk about. Don’t expect them to go in order, however. The next one could look back on a moment that occurred in the 90s or even a few years ago. Between you and me, I’m just making it up as I go along.