Now it starts to get juicy. Getting into the meat and potatoes of the Falcons, and one of the Falcons biggest weaknesses. First off let me just point out this little nugget I unearthed while doing my research. The Falcons offensive line troubles are even worse than we imagined. The Falcons currently only have 5 players under contract for 2016 who are any type of offensive linemen. Yes, I know, most of them were generally terrible anyway and we (the Cage at least) are hoping for big changes here. But the fact remains you’d typically like to go into camp with 16-17 or even more offensive linemen. So besides hopefully turning over 2-3 positions, we need bodies, lots and lots of bodies. With only 5 players here under contract, at least it’s not a major case of “who gets cut? who do we keep?”……
I’m formatting the offensive line a bit differently, kinda lumping them all together and not going through analysis on each player, mainly because it just isn’t worth the trouble to analyze a bunch of stiffs who won’t/shouldn’t be here in 2016 anyway
Part IV-Offensive Line
-Jake Mathews, Ryan Schraeder, Jake Long, Bryce Harris
Jake Mathews-under contract through 2017 season, $4,480,773 cap charge
Cut pre 6/1-$9,708,341 dead money, $5,227,568 cap charge NOT savings
Cut post 6/1-$4,480,773 dead money, $0 cap savings
Trade-$5,134,364 dead money, $653,591 cap charge NOT savings
Ryan Schraeder-contract expired, restricted free agent.
Bryce Harris-contract expired, unrestricted free agent
Jake Long-contract expired, unrestricted free agent
-Andy Levitre, Collin Rahrig, Chris Chester, Ben Garland
Andy Levitre-under contract through 2018 season, $5,375,000 cap charge
Cut pre 6/1-$4,125,000 dead money, $1,250,000 cap savings
Cut post 6/1-$1,375,000 dead money, $4,000,000 cap savings
Trade-same as pre 6/1
Collin Rahrig-futures contract, terms not available at this time
Chris Chester-contract expired, unrestricted free agent
Ben Garland-contract expired, unrestricted free agent
-Michael Person, James Stone, Gino Gradkowski
Michael Person-under contract through 2017 season, $1,166,666 cap charge
Cut pre 6/1-$333,334 dead money, $833,332 cap savings
Cut post 6/1-$166,666 dead money, $1,000,000 cap savings
Trade-same as pre 6/1
James Stone-under contract through 2016 season, $601,334 cap charge
Cut pre 6/1-$1,334 dead money, $600,000 cap savings
Cut post 6/1-same
Gino Gradkowski-contract expired, unrestricted free agency
Analysis: The Falcons offensive line was, well, mostly offensive for the season. Yes, the first 4-5 games, it looked like they had jelled together quicker than anyone imagined. Now it would appear that the defenses we played in those first few games were either (a)terrible, so we looked good (b)were over confident because they all knew what we hadn’t learned yet or (c)hadn’t jelled themselves yet. In any case, from about game 6 on, the offensive line got worse and snowballed out of control. Offside, bad snaps, holding, bad snaps, clipping, missed assignments, more bad snaps, completely whiffing on blocking assignments, and I’m not talking about got run over by a dlinemen, I’m talking start your backpedal and don’t touch a single defender without even so much as a courtesy “Look out Matt!” and did I mention bad snaps. The Mighty Quinn himself has said the “trenches” were going to be a major focus moving forward this offseason. Let’s hope he’s a man of his word. For 3 years now the average fan could see we needed offensive line help (some of us saw it coming much earlier than that). Bodies, good quality bodies is what we need here. And lots of them.
My Conclusion: “Now hear this! Those of you with a contract for the upcoming 2016 season, make damn sure you report to training camp on time, in shape, and ready to work your tail of to secure a spot on this roster. The rest of you, there’s the door. Good luck to you in your future in whatever field it might be! Schraeder, hold up a second, we’d like to talk to you.”
That’s right, everyone who has a contract is invited back. No cuts. Why? Because we need about 12 more offensive linemen just to get through camp, we start cutting any of the 5, yes FIVE, players under contract, and we’ll never reach the number needed. So, right now, Mathews, Levitre, Rahrig, Person and Stone make up your 2016 Atlanta Falcons offensive line. Matt Ryan, your insurance adjuster is on line 1. Obviously we need more, and some I have retained won’t make the cut. But we can make cuts later in camp to avoid cutting our noses off to spite our faces.
Ryan Schraeder will be invited back, sort of. As a restricted free agent, his contract negotiations for the 2016 season should be simple. There are 3-1 year tenders you can make to an RFA. Level 1, 1 year/$2.8+million. Level 2-1 year/$2.0+million. Level 3-1 year/$1.3+million. That’s it, you make one of those tenders, try to negotiate, or let him walk. I go with one of the 3 tenders. Now here’s the tricky part. Once you tender a restricted free agent, they are still able to negotiate with any team. If another team offers your RFA a contract, you have 10 days to match it or your RFA goes to that team. BUT, the Falcons would get compensation depending on what level they offered him. Level 1, if we let him go, we get that teams 1st round draft pick. Level 2, their 2nd round pick. Level 3, we get their draft pick equal to the round that player was drafted. If the player was an UDFA(like Schraeder), then you don’t get squat. So level 3 is out. I’d go with level 2. Though it’s unlikely someone would offer Schraeder a contract to lose a 2nd round pick, you never know. By starting at a $2million/year contract, the chances are an offer wouldn’t be so outrageous we don’t match it (if we so chose). Also, it gives us a lower starting point to start long term negotiations (if we so chose). Tendering him a level 1 gives us a greater reward should another team offer him, but I don’t see anyone giving up a 1st round pick for Schraeder and now we’re paying him $800,000 more than we need to and giving him a higher jumping off spot to start future negotiations with.
Jake Long would be my only other consideration to bring back. And, I’m sorry, I just don’t have the first hand knowledge on how his injuries are, or how they have/will continue to affect his performance level moving forward. But I’ll tell you this, if perennial all-pro Jake Long can come back at about 85% of what he was, I bring him back, at a modest contract and look at moving either Mathews to C, or Schraeder to G (where he has played in the past). I think Mathews could become just as good as C as he is an OT. But like I said, that’s a question that only the Falcons medical staff and coaching staff can answer with any certainty. I’m not counting on this happening.
With those moves, we would still need about 10-11 offensive linemen to go to camp with. We are set at our OT positions, but both OG’s and C are worse than a train wreck. Free agency is the first step. We can scrape the bottom of the barrel again and be in this same mess next year, or we can sign 1 or 2 or even 3, mid-to-upper level FA’s to get us out of this rut. The problem is, the best are usually kept by their current teams. So you need to be very careful who you shoot for. This current regime doesn’t have a strong track record when it comes to FA signings. Over spending here on a player that we end up cutting a year later could do more harm than good. I would make a serious play for JR Sweezy, OG from Seattle, but I wouldn’t go crazy. Start around $2.5 million/year with a ceiling of about $3.3 million. I wouldn’t go any higher than that. I’ve seen a lot of love thrown around for C Ben Jones (former UGA Dawg). I’d be happy with that, but once again, don’t overspend.
The draft is where we can find some other players. We need a C in the worst way, and I like the group of C’s in this year’s draft. Also, if we chose, we could pick up an OG in the draft. Besides the OG’s that are coming out, there are always a few college OT’s that project better to OG in the pros.
My choice? I try to find the best 2 OG’s and C I can in free agency. Not necessarily the best talent wise, but the best bargains. 2nd/3rd tier, modest contracts. Not bottom of the barrel like last season. Maybe, MAYBE draft a future prospect. But with only 4 picks(I don’t count 7th rounders for filling any gaps), if I can shore up both OG spots and the C spot in free agency, I concentrate my 4 draft picks on defense. Maybe Dimwit and Co. will surprise us and trade down once or twice accumulating extra picks and we can go after some olinemen for the future, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. The rest of the oline roster will be filled in with lower tier FA’s and UDFA’s. You never know what you might find. Another Schraeder perhaps?
Prediction: The Falcons front office won’t cut anybody yet. And probably re-sign a couple of players. Harris? Gradkowski? Garland? Then we will tread lightly into free agency. Let the first wave of mad spending go by and then start working on 2nd/3rd tier players. I see them either filling both OG spots or the C and 1 OG spot through FA and working the draft for the other. The only problem with that is, if you’re focused in on one position, the general practice is usually to panic and reach for a prospect that is not worthy of the draft position he was taken (can you say Dezmen Southward?).