Following the 2018 season, Thomas Dimitroff made it his top priority to find some protection for Matt Ryan, neglecting almost every other need outside of the offensive line. They spent their first three draft picks on the O-line, taking Chris Lindstrom 14th overall and then trading their second and third-round selections to the Rams so they could snag Kaleb McGary in the first round as well. On top of that, the Falcons signed not just one, but two guards to multi-year contracts along with swing tackle Ty Sambrailo. Dimitroff overkilled the offensive line, which was needed. However – to this point – none of his acquisitions have proven to be worth it.
The consensus around the league is that Chris Lindstrom has the makeup to be one of the top guards in football. Unfortunately, he landed on Injured Reserve with a foot injury he suffered in Week 1, which led to the Falcons finding out first-hand that Dimitroff’s free-agent additions weren’t worth half of what he gave them.
Instead of spending the money required to bring in a starting-caliber offensive guard, Dimitroff decided to double down with his funds, signing two guys that never moved the needle. A recent article by Vaughn Mcclure of ESPN breaks down the Falcons GM’s thought process:
The Falcons strongly considered pursuing top free-agent guard Rodger Saffold, according to a league source, but weren’t going to pay one guy $11 million per year with money budgeted to pursue two.
This is one of the most frustrating things I’ve read regarding Thomas Dimitroff, and one of the many reasons why I have no idea how he’s made it this long with the organization. He’s shown an eye for talent here and there, but not anywhere near consistently enough to make up for these boneheaded decisions.
James Carpenter and Jamon Brown have been average at best since they entered the league. Nothing about their play in the past suggested they were going to be upgrades over what the Falcons had starting in 2018. And instead of finding a high-quality option in free agency, Dimitroff played the numbers game. It’s an absurd way to go about things, and it’s the primary reason why the Falcons are still looking to patch up their offensive line going into 2020. He simply went out and added bodies.
Atlanta cannot go into next season planning to start Carpenter or Brown. The former should probably be cut, with the latter sticking around only because his contract will not allow him to be cut. At best, Brown should be viewed as a backup, and if the Falcons have to rely on him to start at any point next season, Dimitroff will once again have failed at putting a formidable offensive line together.
Because of these two egregious signings, Atlanta has to find a starting left guard. With the Falcons being short on funds to spend this offseason and with there being limited quality options in free agency, Dimitroff will probably have to waste another early-round selection on the offensive line. So if you’re keeping track at home – in all likelihood – Atlanta will have spent at least four draft picks and signed at least three free-agents to multi-year contracts over the last two offseasons, with no guarantee that this unit will be better in 2020 than it was in 2018. That’s sickening.
Along with Chris Lindstrom, Kaleb McGary showed some promise as a rookie, like in his first performance against the Saints when he shut down Cameron Jordan. But for every game like that, there was also one where he looked like a first-year player that probably should have been taken in the later rounds.
Beyond second-year players developing, the Falcons also have to worry about Alex Mack. The aging center showed some signs of regression last year but looked much more like himself in the season’s second half. I don’t see Atlanta cutting him, as some have suggested. However, the Falcons need their 34-year-old center to be at the top of his game, or this line could be even worse next season. The same can be said – in regards to maintaining a high level of play – about Jake Mathews. Although, at 27 years old, he’s only entering his prime.
Atlanta’s offensive line does feature some potential. Chris Lindstrom has the makeup to be a stud if he stays healthy. Kaleb McGary could become a highly regarded left tackle. Alex Mack and Jake Mathews have been Pro-Bowl caliber players for years, and a rookie left guard might be the final piece this group is missing. But there are a lot of “ifs” – and in a sport where you should always be prepared for the worst – the Falcons will need almost everything to go right for their offensive line to be one of the more formidable units in the league next season.