More sacks equals more money — that’s the truth for defensive ends in the NFL.
Sacks are gold. They’re a commodity that teams covet, and short of interceptions or turnovers, sacks are devastating for opposing offenses.
So Ray Edwards wants to get a big contract this offseason. We don’t know exactly what he wants, just that he wants more than Brian Robison’s three-year, $14-million deal, with $6.5 million guaranteed.
What is Edwards’ ceiling though? Is the 6-foot-5, 258 pound defensive end capable of putting up double digit sack numbers year in and year out, like Jared Allen does on the right side?
Allen struggled last year out of the gate — he totaled only one sack during the Vikings’ first seven games. But Allen didn’t develop into a premier pass rusher over time, he’s always had a knack for it, even as a rookie-fourth-round pick he had nine sacks. Then five of the next six seasons, he posted 11-plus sacks — even last year with his struggles he reached that plateau.
Edwards got a lot of hype when he worked the Dallas offensive line in the 2009 playoffs and ended up with three sacks in Minnesota’s shellacking of the Cowboys. Then he tacked on another against the Saints, giving him four for the postseason. And the hype built.
This year, the Vikings whole defensive front seemed like it just couldn’t get to the quarterback in the early going. The new-century Purple People Eaters didn’t enjoy many sack lunches.
There was something different about Edwards, though. Allen struggled against double teams and he would get lost in the shuffle. Alternatively, Edwards got pressure on the quarterback and was right there so many times. There’s a saying: close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades — but does close show potential in defensive ends?
He finished 2010 with eight sacks, to complement his 2009 campaign in which he recorded 8.5 sacks. The two years before that, he posted five sacks each season. Edwards has certainly developed and grown as a player, but are these eight sack seasons going to evolve into 11, then 13 then 15?
It’s a gamble the Vikings might not be willing to take.
Last offseason, there were three high-price defensive ends that received big-money contracts on the open market: Julius Peppers, Aaron Kampman and Kyle Vanden Bosch.
Peppers, the gem of the group, was 30 years old, and averaged 10 sacks per season over the life of his career when he signed a six-year, $72 million deal with the Bears.
Kampman was also 30 and he averaged just fewer than seven sacks per season, with a drop off in his production later in his time in Green Bay when the Packers switched to a 3-4 scheme. The Jaguars gave Kampman a 4-year, $26 million deal.
And the Lions courted Vanden Bosch to come and make an immediate impact. He was 31 years old, averaged less than five sacks per season and received compensation similar to Kampman, a 4-year, $26 million deal.
Now take these three contracts as an example. The contract Peppers received was similar to the one the Vikings gave Allen a few years ago — they’re premier pass rushers. Remember, more sacks, more money.
Edwards is certainly not going to get that kind of money on the open market. And remember, the NFL didn’t have a hard salary cap last year due to the expiring CBA, although surely teams curbed spending expecting one to come with a new CBA agreement.
He will absolutely ask for more than what Kampman and Vanden Bosch received. Considering, on average, Peppers was paid $12 million per season, and the other two were paid more than $6 million, does that put Edwards somewhere in the $8-10 million range? In his mind, probably yes.
Not so fast Mr. Edwards. He’s a 26-year old defensive end, who is also quite the enigma. He has plenty of prime years left in him, and he has filled a role early on for the Vikings very well — be the fourth member of a dominant defensive line. Minnesota has this athlete on its hands who looks unstoppable at times but just can’t quite get there others.
What will he do when he’s not playing next to Kevin and Pat Williams and opposite Jared Allen?
If the double teams are shifted his way, will he disappear too?
Allen eventually fought through his troubles. He got his 11 sacks. That’s why Minnesota gave him a huge contract.
Having Edwards’ production and watching him blossom into a respectable threat was all the better because he was cheap. The Vikings may have to choose between keeping Sidney Rice or Edwards — that’s an easy decision for anyone who has watched the Vikings for the past few years.
Minnesota may have a contingency plan in place, and it was via the fourth-round again — I’m talking about a platoon between Brian Robison and rookie Christian Ballard at the position. That’s not ideal, but it’s cheap and could be effective.
Maybe some other team will see that potential, and pay Edwards what he wants. This year’s crop (which is still to be determined, thanks to the lockout) could potentially include Tamba Hali of the Chiefs, Cullen Jenkins of the Packers, Charles Johnson of the Panthers and Mathias Kiwanuka of the Giants.
Hali is the cream of the crop, he was a outside backer in Kansas City’s 3-4 and he finished 2010 with 14.5 sacks and he’s only 27 years old. Jenkins and Kiwanuka are in similar situations as Kampman and Vanden Bosch. And Johnson is a young player, like Edwards, who has shown at times he can sack the passer — Johnson had seven sacks last year. Edwards is somewhere in the middle of that group.
Ultimately, what’s Ray Edwards going to get paid this offseason? I’m not sure.
Usually the bottom line is simple — more sacks, more money. But if Allen is playing at a high level, do the Vikings need to put more money into the defensive end opposite him? Edwards’ potential complicates matters, or his lack thereof. This should be an easier decision.
If only Edwards had more sacks…