Falcons: Free-Agent interior offensive lineman targets left on the market

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After the recent signing of Fabian Moreau, Terry Fontenot has stayed true to his word and addressed the roster’s holes through free agency. Coming into the offseason, the Falcons had glaring holes at running back, tight end, linebacker, safety, corner, and interior linemen. A couple of weeks into free agency, and Fontenot has signed running back Mike Davis, traded for tight end Lee Smith, signed linebackers Barkevious Mingo and Brandon Copeland, signed safety Erik Harris, and now added Moreau. The only hole he has yet to address is the interior offensive line — the starting guard and center spots.

There have been reports suggesting that Atlanta is in the market for a center. This isn’t saying Hennessey can’t be the starter, but it seems Fontenot wants to bring in someone to compete at the very least. Trading for a veteran center is on the table as Fontenot struck a deal to acquire veteran tight end Lee Smith, but starting quality centers might be harder to acquire than 33-year-old blocking tight ends. The Titans’ Ben Jones could be made available depending on the offer, but Fontenot might be hard-pressed to give up any draft capital for what would be a one-year rental. Here are a few centers and guards still left in free agency that align with Fontenot’s other signings’ characteristics, one-year bargain deals.

Austin Reiter, C

Austin Reiter was the 12th ranked center according to PFF last year and was an integral part of a championship team. Though a better pass blocker than run blocker, he would be an immediate upgrade over Hennessey. PFF projects Reiter to garner just under $5 million a year in his new contract, which is a reasonable price, though something like $3.75 million would make me feel better. The market seems inflated at the position, so Reiter will likely get more than $5 million.

D.J. Fluker, G

Fluker is searching for his fifth team in six years, but he is a mammoth of a man who excels in run blocking. His last couple of seasons have been average at best, and he surrendered 30 total pressures in 293 pass-blocking snaps this past year for Baltimore, but Arthur Smith’s offense protects its line with easy angles. Fluker could start at guard this moment and kick out to right tackle in a pinch. PFF projects the former Alabama tackle to garner somewhere around $1.75 million on a one-year deal, which is the only type of deal Fontenot seems interested in this offseason.

Lane Taylor, G

Taylor was set to start the year as the Packers’ starting guard, but an injury cut his season short. Something that doesn’t bode well in Arthur Smith’s offense is negatively graded run-blocking, but the former Oklahoma State Cowboy is an above-average pass-blocker. He’s a high-character individual, which aligns with the culture Fontenot and Smith are building. PFF projects Taylor to sign a one-year deal worth $1.5 million. Everything about this potential signing follows the same style of the Falcons other free agents, except Taylor is coming off a season-ending injury — thankfully, it was early in 2020.

Austin Blythe, G/C

Austin Blythe would be a cheaper option than Reiter, but he might be a better guard than center. His run-blocking in recent years has been a rollercoaster; however, Fontenot could bring him in as competition for the open guard and center positions. PFF projects Blythe to receive a $2.75 million a year deal, which is a little high. Though his consistency is questionable, he provides competition at center and guard, where he can play both as a low-quality starter — something of a two-position stop-gap.

Ben Garland, G/C

What makes the most sense to me is bringing back someone like Ben Garland, who can give an offense consistent play in the run game at center and guard at an affordable price — PFF projects a one-year, $2.25 million deal. The former Air Force Falcon isn’t as old as most 33-year-olds because of military commitment and is a consistent run blocker at any position along the interior offensive line — something of extreme value in Smith’s offense.

Trai Turner, G

Trai Turner isn’t the type of free agent Fontenot has been attached to, but he is a couple of years removed from being one of the best guards in football. Injuries and poor play have derailed that lofty ascension, but the former LSU Tiger is a viable option as a stop-gap guard. PFF projects Turner to receive a one-year deal worth $5 million, which would be a hard-no at that price. If the market continues to be tough on him, Turner could come back down to earth and sign a more reasonable one-year prove-it deal after a disastrous PFF grade of 34.8 last year that ranked 90th out of 92 qualifying guards.

Nick Easton, G/C

Nick Easton is a veteran guard/center who played a valuable role for New Orleans — a Terry Fontenot connection — in solidifying their offensive line, starting 15 games over the past two years. The former Minnesota Viking is the perfect combination of “affordable” — PFF projects a one-year deal worth $2.25 million — and “good enough.” He could provide depth at center and also start at left guard if Matt Hennessey pans out. However, the concerns with Easton start with his health. I wouldn’t be shocked if he retired this offseason. Three concussions in one year typically will cause rash decisions, but per his pressure-percentage-per-block rate, he is very serviceable.

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