Joe Hawley's contract drew some considerable ire in its immediate aftermath Tuesday. Some questioned why the Falcons would spend so much. After all, he's only guaranteed to serve as a versatile center/guard backup, right? He might be more than that, but then again, he might not!
The specific details of his new deal are officially public knowledge. He's due $6 million over the length of the contract, with a cap hit of just $2 million this year. If he's a total bust in 2014, the Falcons can cut him, resulting in $1 million in dead money, because a third of the contract's value is the signing bonus. If the Falcons don't cut him, his cap number will double in 2015, coming in at $4 million. But is he worth it?
Hawley proved his worth last season when he stepped in as the starting center ahead of Peter Konz, who was shifted over to right tackle. The toughness Hawley displayed was a rare occurrence for an offensive line that got pushed around the majority of the season.
The question we're really asking is whether he's worth $3 million in 2014. Why? Because that's how much we have in the pot, no matter what; $2 million cap hit this year plus the other $1 million in signing bonus that'd be dead money if we cut him prior to the 2015 season. We have time to decide if he's worth the $4 million cap hit in 2015. Agreed? Good, glad we're on the same page.
As cap hits go, $2 million is decidedly average for a center. In fact, among existing NFL center contracts, Hawley's 2014 cap hit ranks 16th. What we really need to do is compare that number to his production in 2013, extrapolating what he's capable of in 2014.
Comparing Hawley to other centers is tough. He didn't even play 50 percent of the Falcons' offensive snaps as their center - that's because it took him a while to overtake Peter Konz. But among centers who played at least 25 percent of their teams' offensive snaps, Hawley ranked 20th in PFF's ratings. Mind you, those players ranked 1st through 19th logged considerably more snaps than he did. Overall, he graded negatively as a pass blocker (-3.5 or 26/35) and positively as a run blocker (1.9 or 13/35). He didn't give up a single sack (1 of 8 centers to do that) and was only penalized once. He did let Matt Ryan get hit 3 times and hurried 10 times, but that's not bad from a comparative standpoint.
As McClure points out, the bottom line is this: the Falcons are comfortable with Hawley as their center in 2014. Was he the best available option? No, but they probably believe, especially with the addition of Jon Asamoah, that he's a more than adequate option. They have bigger fish to fry. And again, whether he's worth the $4 million cap hit in 2015 remains to be seen, but if he isn't, the Falcons are only on the hook for an additional $1 million.
In short, his deal is a nice compromise, allowing the Falcons to bring back what they believe to be a known commodity. They may have slightly overpaid, but not by so much that it will affect the team's ability to make things happen. It affords Hawley the opportunity to earn a substantial raise, assuming he can meet or exceed expectations. Good all around, in my opinion.