Continuing a series started by mseward1, we take a look at some of the top free agents at positions of need for the Falcons as they head into the 2014 season. Few fans will argue that the offensive line was one of the worst in the league. While many would say that Tackle is our biggest need - with Baker and Holmes having performed poorly at LT almost all year - I think the biggest hole has been at Right Guard. Since the departure of Harvey Dahl (to the lament of many fans), this position on the line has seen the most instability and poor performance.
In 2013, we started the season with Garrett Reynolds as our interior protector. And while he was largely lambasted for his poor play, his PFF grades for the season were average. However, after a particularly poor game against Seattle, Reynolds was benched the following game for Peter Konz. Reynolds would start one more game before being relegated to the bench, followed by not being on the active roster for the last game, and unsurprisingly cut this off-season.
As bad as Reynolds appeared to be, Konz was demonstrably worse. As bad as Konz was at Center, he was a walking disaster at Right Guard. He only registered one game with a positive score (+1.2 against Washington) and registered a -3 or worse score three times in only 7 games at the position. Things got so bad, that the Falcons used the last two games of the year to see what they had in Harland Gunn (who incidentally performed better than Konz or Reynolds).
Regardless, it's unlikely the Falcons are going to turn the position over to Gunn and far less likely that Konz gets another shot at that particular position. With that said, let's look at some free agent options that should be able to help stabilize the revolving door that has been the Right Guard position. As mseward1 did, I'll list the player and their 2013,2012,2011 PFF scores next to each.
Geoff Schwartz (28) - 8th, 27th, N/A
At 28, Schwartz is not a young option, but he's one without a lot of tread on the tires. Stepping in for Asamoah during the 2013 season, he played very well at the RG spot registering a +18.3 overall PFF score, +6.0 in pass blocking and +9 in run blocking. Schwartz excelled in run blocking, something Falcons fans haven't seen in ages. He was also very solid in pass protection.
The only question around Schwartz is whether Kansas City will let him leave. Between Asamoah and Schwartz, it's clear that one of the two will hit free agency, but it's not clear who KC will focus on keeping - since both are free agents. Should the Chiefs decide to keep the younger Asamoah, Schwartz should be a priority free agent for the Falcons this off-season. He'd be an instant upgrade over anyone currently on the Falcons roster.
Jon Asamoah (26) - 20th, 10th, 17th
The other RG in KC was no slouch either. Asamoah is a bit younger than Schwartz at 26, but did lose his starting job to him by week 11. The benching followed a shoulder injury suffered by Asamoah and really isn't an indication of the quality of player we'd be getting. He is a very quick footed and powerful pass protector who is still very young. He finished the 2013 season with an overall PFF grade of +6.6, +4.6 in pass blocking and +0.5 in run blocking.
That said, if Asamoah is allowed to hit free agency, his stock will be slightly lower due to having been benched for the last few games of 2013, which could make him a good value. Additionally, Asamoah was drafted by Falcons Assistant GM Scott Pioli, so there's a very strong connection there that could bring him to Atlanta. If KC decides to roll with Schwartz as their RG, the Falcons should make a very strong push to bring Asamoah in. Like Schwartz, he'd be a huge upgrade over anyone currently on the roster.
Willie Colon (30) - N/A, 46th, N/A
At 30, Colon is likely in the last few years of his career, but his connections to Mike Tice make him a possible veteran option. He would likely be a short-term signing, and would probably be coupled with a day-2 draft pick at the Guard position. However, this veteran has had some good years in the league and could be a decent short-term option that can start on day one while the team eases a rookie into the starting responsibilities.
As you can see, the free agent options for Right Guard are not fantastic, though Schwartz and Asamoah are definitely players we can count on for the relative long-term. There are other options out there, but they carry bigger question marks than may be worth it. Given the relatively cost of finding a Guard in free agency (versus a tackle), the Falcons would be wise to make a strong run at one of these players to finally fix a position that has plagued the team for the last few years.