The Falcons suffered through lousy play at left tackle. Sam Baker was bad and then hurt too seriously to play, while Lamar Holmes mixed glimmers of hope with his own lousy play. Certainly the weakness there hurt the entire offensive line, and by extension, the entire offense.
Fixing that will be a top priority for the Falcons in 2014, and new offensive line coach Mike Tice in particular. Only the team knows exactly what's being planned to patch the tire, so to speak, but fans are sharply divided on exactly what the solution looks like. I've pulled together three possible scenarios, in declining order of likelihood.
Start Sam Baker
This is the easy and obvious solution. A healthy Sam Baker is a slightly above average left tackle, as 2012 attested, and the Falcons already have enough money sunk into the long-time starter that this move makes sense fiscally.
The problem is that no one knows if Baker will be healthy or not. I've been wary of his ongoing issues for a while now, given that back and lower body ailments can be chronic for a big dude who weighs over 300 pounds. The hurting version of Baker gives you below average left tackle play for a sizable price tag, and yanking Holmes in and out of the lineup at left tackle is nobody's idea of a solution if that happens.
The bottom line here: If Baker is truly healthy, he probably opens the 2014 season as the starting left tackle. If there's even a whiff of a lingering injury concern, the Falcons may move on to the next solution.
Draft A New Left Tackle
Jake Matthews has been the popular top ten tackle for months now, a potentially dominant left tackle at the NFL level with great bloodlines and excellent technical skills. Greg Robinson out of Auburn is the guy who is getting a ton of buzz right now after an excellent BCS Championship, and he certainly has elite upside as well.
One of these two tackles is likely to be available when the Falcons get their pick to the podium in early May. Rookie left tackles don't exactly have a sterling track record of success in the NFL, so you would have to understand that struggles are not just a possibility but a given. At the same time, you can lock up a guy for four-plus years who may turn out to be a big improvement over Baker down the line.
This isn't as likely as simply giving Baker the job, but if the Falcons aren't solid on Lamar Holmes at right tackle, they could draft Matthews or Robinson and give them a chance to do work at RT and serve as a left tackle insurance policy for Baker. If there are no impact defenders available who blow the Falcons away, it's a distinct possibility that Matthews or Robinson ends up in a Falcons jersey.
Then there's the least likely option.
Dip Into Free Agency
Several realities are working against the Falcons getting a left tackle in free agency. The first is the prohibitive cost of left tackles on the open market, which leads to a solid tackle like Baker getting big money. The second is a dearth of quality options outside of Eugene Monroe. The third is Thomas Dimitroff's history with the offensive line in free agency.
That last one is a real sticking point. There are reasons to believe the Comrade will violate his own code of free agency ethics and look for solutions on the offensive line, but they're likely to be much cheaper solutions targeted at solving the gaping holes at right guard and (potentially) center. Left tackles are big, splashy signings, Baker's already the owner of an unwieldy contract and there are potentially strong fits in this draft if you really want to address the position. Unless something changes drastically or the Falcons manage to deal Baker—unlikely, to say the least—don't expect this to happen.
Your thoughts on how the Falcons will address left tackle?