Falcons: Two veteran guards expected to be available that should interest Terry Fontenot

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The Falcons are returning four starters from the offensive line, Alex Mack being the only departure. That continuity is important in the NFL as the offensive line is a unit and works best when communication is second-nature between them. Still, James Carpenter was a below-average starting guard last year, and Atlanta could use an upgrade. According to Jason La Canfora at CBS, the Giants are trying to move Kevin Zeitler, and the Jaguars are trying to move Andrew Norwell. Given their hefty contracts and the league’s shrinking salary cap, it’s likely they’ll be released.

As I’ve said before, this offseason will see a seismic shift in talent across the league as teams will be releasing contracts deemed unfit for the shrinking salary cap, and these are just two examples. Over the next week and a half, expect many more substantial names to hit free agency, and Atlanta would be wise to be carefully inquisitive of these players, especially Zeitler and Norwell.

Zeitler was selected in the 2012 NFL draft (27th overall) by the Cincinnati Bengals, where he spent the first five years of his career before signing with the Cleveland Browns in free agency following the 2016 season. The soon-to-be 31-year-old was then traded from Cleveland to the New York Giants in 2018 for Olivier Vernon. The former Wisconson Badger is entering the final year of his contract and would cost New York $14.5 million against the cap, which will likely turn into the Giants saving $12 million in cap space by moving on from him. Zeitler isn’t being released because of poor play; in fact, he’s still performing at an above-average level and is by far the best lineman on New York’s roster.

Norwell is more likely to be cut than Zeitler, as I could see the Giants extending the latter being that he is the only reliable starter on the line. Norwell received first-team All-Pro honors with the Panthers, which he parlayed into a five-year, $66.5 million contract with Jacksonville in 2018. He’s been a reliable presence for the Jags, but the former Ohio State Buckeye hasn’t matched his production to his contract — likely leading to him being released. The veteran has a cap hit of $15 million in 2021 and $16 million in 2022, and cutting him would leave manageable dead cap hits of $6 million in 2021 and $3 million in 2022.

Both would be an upgrade over James Carpenter, who has long been suspected of becoming a cap casualty. A back-loaded multi-year deal seems like the best course of action when trying to provide an immediate upgrade and lower the cap hit.

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