8-1 Falcons show they're not resting on success

Associated Press Modified: November 14, 2012 at 4:32 pm •  Published: November 14, 2012
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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — They sound like idle words, even for a team with the NFL's best record.

Everyone is being evaluated on a weekly basis. No one's job is safe. If someone isn't performing up to expectations, they can be replaced.

Well, the Atlanta Falcons weren't kidding.

Coming off their first loss but still cruising at 8-1, the Falcons made a bold move this week when they dumped big-money defensive end Ray Edwards. In less than two seasons with the team, he had done little to justify a contract that included $11 million in guaranteed money, so the Falcons decided to go in a different direction.

The message to everyone else is clear — don't get complacent.

"It's a wakeup call," safety Thomas DeCoud said Wednesday. "The message has been received."

While it might have been convenient to let Edwards languish on the bench, especially with the team playing so well, coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff decided it's never good to keep an underperforming player on the roster. Edwards had only nine tackles and no sacks this season, his starting job claimed by Kroy Biermann.

"I don't want to get into sending messages and what not," Smith said. "We evaluate every day. We evaluate after every game, from top to bottom. We talk about it all the time. It starts with me. This is a decision that we made. We feel like it makes our team better today and makes our team better in the future."

With Edwards gone, the Falcons will give more playing time to fourth-year player Lawrence Sidbury, second-year lineman Cliff Matthews and rookie Jonathan Massaquoi, who got his first playing time in last week's 31-27 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

In the meantime, all the younger players have seen the cruel side of the business.

"It's scary," rookie offensive lineman Peter Konz said, managing a weak smile. "It makes you think. But if you do the right things, get the job done on the field, you don't have to be too worried about it."

Edwards had not done much right since signing a five-year, $30 million contract with the Falcons just before the start of training camp last season.

After combining for 16.5 sacks in his final two seasons with Minnesota, he was supposed to team with John Abraham to give opponents a two-sided nightmare coming off the edge. Instead, after undergoing knee surgery during the lockout, Edwards struggled to regain his mobility and managed just 3.5 sacks in what turned out to be his only full season with the Falcons.

This season, things only got worse.

Biermann, the player Edwards was supposed to replace, was much more effective as a rusher and at playing the versatile role required by new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan (sometimes even dropping into pass coverage). Edwards started four games, but found himself spending more and more time on the sideline.

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