Yesterday, predictably, I debuted a list of the best remaining free agent offensive linemen and the Falcons immediately signed a guard who wasn’t even on it. That’s the Dave promise.
Hugh Thornton probably belonged on my list, however, as he’s one of the few players available with any youth and upside on his side. The problem is Thornton isn’t really one of talent—he’s inconsistent and far from great, but has delivered plenty of solid performances over the years. It’s injury.
Thornton did not play at all in 2016, and has never played a full 16 game season in the NFL since being drafted in the third round back in 2013. Those injuries are a genuine concern, and when you pair them with a lack of the kind of tremendous upside that would have gotten Thornton snapped up a while ago, there’s not a ton of reason to be optimistic that he’s magically going to turn into a strong starter.
So what does Thornton’s signing do to the team’s depth chart, and their plans at guard?
The short answer is that Thornton doesn’t change the calculus that much. It lessens the chance that the Falcons will bring back Chris Chester, who is still reportedly contemplating retirement, and if they like Wes Schweitzer enough, it may convince them not to land a guard on the first or second day. Having a relatively young, cheap player like Thornton duke it out with a young, cheap player like Schweitzer would be a cost-effective solution along an increasingly expensive offensive line. It could also backfire mightily if Thornton gets hurt or is mediocre, or if Schweitzer is not ready or not good enough to take the gig.
That’s why I suspect that the Falcons will still invest a draft pick to compete with the likes of Thornton and Schweitzer, with Thornton having a legitimate shot at the right guard job and a very good chance of earning the axe if he doesn’t get it.
Ultimately, Thornton is a flier, a player who is still reasonably young, has some upside, and can compete for a starting job if the Falcons stand pat at the position. It’s the kind of cheap, low-downside signing the Falcons have made a habit of over the last couple of years, and it gives them another option at a deeply unsettled position.