Dan Quinn didn’t try to hide anything when talking with 92.9 The Game about the Falcons offensive line as he heads into his fifth offseason as the Falcons head coach. It was essentially summed up in two sentences. “I’m comfortable at center and left tackle in the same way as you said. Past that, you scrub every bit of it,” said Quinn.
Center, Alex Mack was recently selected to his fourth straight Pro-Bowl and sixth overall. He will be 34 next year and still has two years remaining on his contract. Jake Mathews inked a massive five-year deal worth $75 million in total last offseason and responded by putting together perhaps his best season as a pro. It’s no shock that Quinn views these guys as a lock for next season, but will the Falcons really be looking to replace their other three starters in one offseason?
That’s going to be quite a task, but the Falcons have the necessary resources to address all three positions. Atlanta will head into the offseason with the most cap space they have had in a while ($40-$60 million depending on the cuts that are made) and more than their full allotment of draft picks. Even if the offensive line is not their only need – which it isn’t – the Falcons will have more than enough opportunities to correct this situation over the next six months.
Andy Levitre appears to have one foot out the door as he heads towards free agency. The soon to be 33-year old was a force when on the field in Atlanta, but that was the main problem, staying healthy. After helping the Falcons to the Super Bowl in 2016, Levitre ended 2017 with a torn triceps injury costing him to miss the playoffs and only played two games in 2018 after suffering the same injury. As they say, the best ability is availability, and it’s never easy to dole out money to an aging player coming off back-to-back season-ending injuries.
At the other guard spot, the Falcons have another intriguing decision to make with Brandon Fusco. Atlanta signed Fusco last offseason in hopes he could help patch up the right guard spot that haunted the Falcons in 2017. The reality was he didn’t provide much of an upgrade when he was healthy and then suffered a gruesome season-ending ankle injury midway through the season. The Falcons owe Fusco $4.85 million next season and can save over $3 million by cutting him. I’d say it is more likely than not he finds himself cut before 2019.
That leaves two guard spots open going into next year, which should undoubtedly be the top priority on the Falcons offensive line. Guard is the position that has been the crux of this group for the past two seasons. Dan Quinn says the Falcons will continue to utilize the outside and inside zone runs which require athletic offensive lineman. That’s exactly what Atlanta needs to be focusing on this offseason – youth and athleticism.
Unfortunately, the 2019 draft does not feature many quality offensive guard talents. There is nothing close to a prospect like Quenton Nelson to be found, so if the Falcons want to scour for their next starting guard, it might be best to wait until the later rounds or draft a tackle prospect and try and transition him to guard. Of course, Atlanta could always go the free agent route to sure up the position. As our own Davonte Hughes suggested, Billy Turner for the Broncos and Mitch Morse from the Chiefs are to two potential veteran options.
At right tackle, things are a little trickier. Ryan Schraeder was abused at the position often last year but has been a quality contributor over his years with Atlanta, starting 69 times in the previous five years. He’s only 30 years old, and there are not many sought-after tackles set to hit the market this offseason. But what could prove to be even more problematic is Schraeder’s contract.
Schraeder is owed $7.75 million next year, and while he can be cut, the Falcons would still have to pay him $3.8 million. There aren’t going to be many acceptable tackles available cheap. If Atlanta wants to move on from Schraeder as they appear to, they would either have to accept investing a hefty chunk of change into the right tackle spot or a high draft pick. The Falcons may be better suited trying to see if Schraeder can have a solid bounce-back year, but that might not be a risk Dan Quinn is willing to take.
The trenches will be the focal point of this offseason. Fixing the defensive line/pass rush may even be a graver need than the offensive line. Although, molding the pass rush deals primarily with additions. The offensive line has a lot of moving parts. Several veterans that have been with the team for a while maybe moving on. Quinn and the rest of decision-makers are going to have to make some critical decisions for the Atlanta offense to revisit it’s 2016 peak.