I had a brief conversation with former Appalachian State quarterback Armanti Edwards outside Bank of America Stadium earlier this week as he headed to his car, loading it up after the end of his third NFL season.
Edwards had the second biggest play of his NFL career on Sunday, taking a punt return back 69 yards in Carolina’s 44-38 win to set up a touchdown. That was the good news. The bad news was that New Orleans’ punter, Thomas Morstead, ran stride for stride with him during the last part of the play and pushed him out of bounds, denying Edwards what would have been his first NFL touchdown ever.
“It was nice getting another opportunity back at punt return,” said Edwards, who was the Panthers’ primary punt returner in 2011 but only returned two punts in all of 2012. “I saw a big crease. The guys were blocking for me. I hit the hole, but unfortunately I started giving out of gas later on in the return.”
So did he get a lot of teasing for not scoring?
“Everybody,” Edwards said, smiling. “Including the coaches.”
Edwards’ play was a fine moment in the Panthers’ season-ending win, but those have come way too few and far between in three years. No, he hasn’t had a chance to play much. But when he has you can count his big plays on your thumbs – the 69-yarder on Sunday and an 82-yard pass he caught earlier this season.
That’s it. Zero TDs and two game-changing plays in three years.
This season Edwards also returned 12 kickoffs – none for longer than 35 yards – and had four other catches besides the 82-yarder for a total of 39 yards. He also threw one pass, an incompletion. In other words, he was an afterthought. Again.
The new Panthers general manager will have a decision to make about Edwards, who is signed through 2013. Former general manager Marty Hurney gambled a future second-round pick on Edwards so he could take him in the third round of the 2010 draft, and so far that gamble has been a bust. Edwards is a fine young man and tries hard, but the conversion from quarterback to wide receiver has been painfully slow.
Edwards said he expects to be back with the Panthers next season. He’s under contract for one more year, and he comes relatively cheap by NFL standards (a $575,000 base salary in 2013). The Panthers probably can keep either Edwards or Joe Adams next season but likely not both – their skills are too similar.
“I’m just going to go into this offseason like I did the last one,” Edwards said. “Get better, improve on being an all-around receiver and hopefully I’ll get more playing time.”
As for his development over the past three years, Edwards said: “You look back from year one to now I’d say it’s been great. (In 2010) I couldn’t run routes, couldn’t get off the jam. Now I’m confident. I’m getting off the jam. I’m running any route.”
At 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, Edwards, 24, is one of the smallest players on any NFL field. Speed and elusiveness made him effective at Appalachian State – where Edwards was basically a smaller version of Cam Newton.
As for the future, Edwards knows that it is uncertain. He was remarkable in college, accounting for 139 touchdowns in college at Appalachian State and leading two national title teams.
Even his two biggest plays in the NFL come with an asterisk, a “Yes, but he didn’t score” caveat.
Ultimately, I don’t think Edwards will ever be an every-down NFL wide receiver. But it wasn’t Edwards’ fault that Hurney used up a future second-round pick on him.
I give Edwards credit for doing his best, acting like a pro at all times and persevering through three difficult years as a Panther. Although I once advocated cutting him outright, I now believe Edwards should be brought to training camp in July in Spartanburg and given one last chance to see what – if anything – else he can do.