A year ago, the interior of the Falcons' offensive line was a persistent problem, particularly when Mike Person was called upon to snap the ball. That shouldn't be any issue any longer, not after the Falcons signed Alex Mack, who despite an average year in 2015 is likely be one of the best three centers in football. Here's the statement from Thomas Dimitroff:
“We knew we needed to add an established presence along our offensive line,” said general manager Thomas Dimitroff. “Alex is a three-time pro bowler and is an ideal scheme fit for our offense. We understand the importance of solidifying the center position and we have been able to do that today. We are pleased to be able to add Alex to our roster and believe he will be an anchor to our line.”
Ex-Cle center Alex Mack will average @$9.5m in Atlanta deal. Could have made 500k more on ave in Cleve. Atl OC KShanahan a factor for Mack.— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) March 9, 2016
Per NFL league source, #Falcons deal with Alex Mack is done. Both sides have agreed to terms. Matt Ryan has a new center— Zach Klein (@ZachKleinWSB) March 9, 2016
This is a coup, of course, even if it's an expensive one. Mack immediately upgrades inarguably the weakest position on the team's line last year, makes the guards around him better, and solves the snapping woes that hurt Atlanta so very badly last year. The potential cost and Mack's age—he's over 30—are the only real reasons not to like the signing, and now the Falcons can focus on defense and #2 wide receiver and probably just patch over right guard with a decent player for 2016.
Mack, who voided the final three years of his contract with the Cleveland Browns, was reportedly on the wish list for several teams, but the Falcons were identified early as having significant interest. It's not surprising, considering that the Mike Person experiment went generally poorly last season, and center was one of the biggest needs for Atlanta heading into next season.
The Browns were not a very good football team last year, and while tackles Mitchell Schwartz and Joe Thomas graded out strongly according to Pro Football Focus premium statistics, Mack really didn't, finishing the season with a -0.9 grade overall. PFF credits Mack with allowing four sacks, four quarterback hits, and 28 hurries. This is, however, better than Person's grade for his performance last season. Person finished the season with a -10.5 grade from Pro Football Focus, which was the lowest on Atlanta's entire offense.
Mack was a first round selection in 2009, and he's been named to the Pro Bowl three times, in 2010, 2013 and 2015. He played under offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan in Cleveland in 2014, and while Shanahan is drawing criticism from other Browns offensive linemen, Mack must feel comfortable enough with Shanahan to play for him again.
I suspect that cost isn't even going to enter in your minds until next week, after you've finished partying. Welcome to Atlanta, Alex Mack!
How will Alex Mack impact the Falcons?
The Falcons have had a gaping void at center ever since the loss of Todd McClure to retirement after the 2012 season. They were missing leadership and talent from the position. Alex Mack will bring Pro Bowl caliber talent and leadership to the Falcons offensive line and should help players like Andy Levitre and Mike Person play much better in the 2016 season. Mack will fit in perfectly for the Falcons zone scheme.
His talents should allow Devonta Freeman to have a much better year in 2016 than he did in 2015 due to not getting hit in the backfield all the time. And they should also help Matt Ryan and the offense stay in rhythm as he doesn't have issues snapping the ball the way Person did. As for his pass blocking, the Falcons should have some much better pass blocking due to his line calls and general abilities that were lacking from Person in 2015.
Where will he be on the depth chart?
Mack will instantly jump in as the Falcons starting center and should be a great mentor for a draft pick a couple of years down the line. He'll easily play over James Stone, Person and Gino Gradkowski in the offense. He'll force Person to compete over at guard while Stone and Gradkowski will likely compete for a role as his backup for the 2016 season unless the Falcons decide to let Gradkowski walk or upgrade from Stone.