Falcons still need to address the offensive line in free agency ahead of NFL draft

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Terry Fontenot has done a masterful job budgeting with his free-agent additions this offseason, routinely signing reliable veterans to team-friendly one-year deals. The draft is about a week away, and Atlanta’s roster is rounding out, though a few positions could use some addressing. Among the many, I think EDGE needs some help, but even more so, the offensive line has to add more depth.

As of now, the starters from left to right would likely be Jake Matthews, Matt Gono, Matt Hennessey, Chris Lindstrom, and Kaleb McGary. With new offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford in the fold, I believe this can be a serviceable group that can expect a third-year jump from McGary and a more sizeable second-year leap from Hennessey. Regardless, Fontenot would be wise to bring in a capable starter for depth purposes as injuries are inevitable.

Austin Reiter, C

Reiter would effectively replace Hennessey at center, which makes this signing unlikely even though he was the 12th ranked center according to PFF last year. Another reason the fit is questionable is his prowess as a run-blocker. Excelling as a pass blocker and struggling in the run game doesn’t seem like Arthur Smith’s cup of tea. PFF projects Reiter to garner just under $5 million a year in his new contract, which is reasonable, but Fontenot won’t pay that price.

Ben Garland, G/C

Bringing Garland back could kill two birds with one stone. He is someone who can give Smith consistent play in the run game at center and guard at an affordable price — PFF projects a one-year, $2.25 million deal. He isn’t as old as most 33-year-olds in the NFL due to his military commitment. This seems much closer to the type of free agent Fontenot has brought in. Able to play multiple positions, reliable, and relatively cheap are all hallmarks of this year’s Falcons free-agent class.

Nick Easton, G/C

Easton is a veteran guard/center who has a connection to Fontenot, starting 15 games over the past two years in New Orleans. His PFF projection of a one-year deal worth $2.25 million is manageable since he could provide depth at center and guard. The Houston Texans have reportedly offered him a contract, but he’s weighing his options. The hesitation stems from his health, and I wouldn’t be totally shocked if he retired this offseason. Three concussions in one year typically will cause lifelong effects, but per his pressure-percentage-per-block rate, he is very serviceable.

Joe Looney, G/C

Looney, like most veterans, is probably waiting for the draft to decide where to sign, but he could still provide depth at both center and guard. He has successfully filled in at multiple positions over the past few years for the Cowboys, and his locker room presence has been praised as a valuable asset.

Tyler Shatley, Brett Jones, and Tony Bergstrom could be some other targets, but I believe Fontenot is likely done in free agency until he sees what the draft brings him. If the Falcons draft three offensive linemen, expect no more additions to the group. But on the other hand, if Fontenot doesn’t come away with at least one, expect at least one signing via free agency.


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