Justin Blalock's salary is a contentious issue for some Falcons fans. For whatever reason, some people think Justin Blalock is, on his own, usurping necessary cap space, robbing the Falcons of their ability to compete. For these folks this is true notwithstanding the Falcons' superfluous cap space. So let's renegotiate him. Immediately! Right? To be sure, I'm exaggerating, as I tend to do. But this is something worth considering. So let's break it down like MC Hammer before parachute pants became unpopular.
Blalock's contract is currently the 9th most valuable (in terms of total value) among NFL guards. In 2014, his cap hit will be $7.6 million, the 8th highest among NFL guards. In short, he's being paid like a top ten guard. But is he one?
Blalock's never been a strong run blocker, and it shows. You're all aware of that fact. Over the past three years, his run blocking ratings were -4.9 (2013), -7.7 (2012), and -6.8 (2011), 24th, 32nd, and 35th respectively. He's much better as a pass blocker. Over the past three years, his pass blocking ratings were 7.0 (2013), 1.2 (2014), and 8.6 (2011), 7th, 23rd, and 14th respectively.
Three things are true when you talk about Blalock. First, he's a very bad run blocker. Second, even on his worst day, he's an above-average pass blocker. Third, at his best, he's an elite pass blocker. If you don't agree those three things are true, then we're not going to see eye to eye about Blalock's worth. We just won't. Maybe you think you "have an eye for these things" or are just an NFL GM waiting for his (or her) shot. And that's fair. But in my opinion, for a team that relies heavily on its passing game, an offensive lineman whose strength is protecting a pocket passing quarterback is ideal.
You want to talk about expensive contracts? Let's talk about them. Chris Snee's cap hit in 2014 is $11.75 million. His 2013 season ended in early October, after he found himself on IR. His pass blocking ratings were 0.9 (25th) and -2.2 (33rd) in 2012 and 2011 respectively. His run blocking ratings were 10.0 (7th) and -3.3 (29th) in 2012 and 2011 respectively. Snee's contract is interesting because he got paid a lot of money for very little work in 2013. He's an elite player, and that's why he's paid so well. But compare his contract with Blalock, and while you're at, compare their durability.
Moving on, let's talk about Jahri Evans. His cap hit next season will be $11 million. He's a very good guard, but he's not markedly better than Blalock. Evans' overall PFF ratings in 2013 was 10.5 (13th). Blalock's overall PFF rating was 6.8 (16th). I can't deny that Evans is a great offensive lineman, but he's making a lot more than Blalock for somewhat similar production. Evans isn't the trainwreck Blalock is in the running game. In fact, he's a very talented run blocker. But from a penalty standpoint, he grades out far worse than Blalock. What does that mean? It means Blalock is the more disciplined player.
Lastly I want to compare Blalock to Logan Mankins and Ben Grubbs. They will have cap hits of $10.5 million and $9.1 million respectively in 2014. Their overall PFF grades in 2014 were 8.6 (14th) and 13.9 (7th). Their being paid consistent with their abilities, but they're also driving up the market value of all NFL guards. Shame on them!
In the interest of full disclosure, all the rankings I'm throwing around are specific to guards who played 75 percent of their team's offensive snaps. To that effect, like I've mentioned, Blalock is incredibly durable, and that's yet another reason the Falcons compensate him so handsomely.
Would I be more pleased with the Falcons if they'd drafted Evan Mathis (cap hit of $6 million in 2014 and an NFL best overall PFF rating of 46.7 in 2013)? Sure! But the Falcons have to compete, and letting Blalock go doesn't make them a better team. It hurts them, dramatically. At the end of the day, Blalock is making more than his market value, but not by much. And if the Falcons cut him, they'd lose $7.28 million in dead money alone. Yikes. If the Falcons could somehow drop his cap hit by $1-1.5 million, that'd be great. But if he won't allow for that, it's not prudent to part ways.