When you think about what the Falcons will be doing for their 2018 roster, the first position that comes to your mind probably isn’t swing tackle.
If you’re wondering, the job is, right now, taken by Ty Sambrailo. He had it throughout the 2017 season, and is currently the only man under contract who has a reasonable chance at the role in 2018. We had the opportunity to talk to him about joining Atlanta earlier this season, and since we’ll be spending some time talking about the state of this offensive line before long, we might as well start thinking about the tackle position now.
After Atlanta walked dangerously into August 2017 without a sure bet to back up Jake Matthews and Ryan Schraeder, some wondered if the team still needed to add a guy for depth. Sure enough, the team saw what was behind those guys in the first set of preseason games, and felt it appropriate to take action.
In response, the team signed former Cleveland Brown Austin Pasztor to a one-year deal. He was a former starting right tackle with good-enough film to show for his time in the Dog Pound, but, even with Pasztor on the roster, Atlanta wasn’t through.
To start September, the Falcons then decided to swap a draft pick (a fifth in this upcoming cycle) for Sambrailo, the former Denver Broncos tackle.
You might remember Sambrailo from his tough day at the office against Atlanta in 2016 (in particular Vic Beasley, who got a handful of sacks on the lineman). The former second-round pick out of Colorado State started here and there for Denver, and won a Super Bowl with the team, but never really found his footing with the Broncos.
Sambrailo said he didn’t really know where he stood with Denver leading up to the time when the team assembled their final roster, but he was soon to find out where he would suit up for the 2017 season.
“Cut day came, and I got traded [to Atlanta], and I was on a flight that day, and started learning the plays that evening,” Sambrailo said.
For any NFL player, no job is fully secure – even Tom Brady will have a curtain call one day in New England. Sambrailo acknowledged how precarious the trade process can be.
“It’s a little jarring,” Sambrailo said. “I guess you’re kind of just uprooted suddenly, but as an NFL player, you just know that could happen at any time.”
Sambrailo’s time as a starter for the Falcons came as quickly as his trade did – when starting RT Ryan Schraeder went out with a concussion in week two against the Green Bay Packers, Sambrailo stepped in and helped the team get its second win of the season – the inaugural bout at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, no less.
To Sambrailo, the team’s culture helped ease the slide into starting.
“You know, the guys on the o-line and the team have really done a good job of really binding to the Brotherhood, and when I got here, they made it very easy to transition because of the way they help and support each other.
“It’s been a great transition,” Sambrailo said. “I came in, and everyone’s been welcome, and open, and it’s all about just getting to work. And, as long as you put your work in, everybody respects what you’re doing.”
Sambrailo ended up manning the job for Schraeder for two additional games until the latter cleared the concussion protocol in time for the Dolphins game. The tackle took his visible lumps in pass protection, but fared well in the run game. PFF game him a 95.2 (Detroit) and a 72.1 (Buffalo) in run blocking for his two primary starts.
OC Steve Sarkisian also got creative with the reserve tackle, using him as a tight end in a handful of formations. Sambrailo even got a target in the end zone on one occasion.
Sambrailo’s contract keeps him in Atlanta through 2018. With his starting experience and a $959,447 cap hit, he’s inexpensive depth at an important position who knows the scheme and has performed admirably in run blocking in a limited sample. He may never start full time in Atlanta, but for now, he’s reliable depth who can start in a pinch. The swing tackle job’s his until someone unseats him.
Considering how here and there fifth rounders can be, getting a swing tackle at that point in the draft would be a steal, so just chalk Atlanta as already having used that draft pick wisely come April.
But outside of 2018, where he’s a certain lock to return barring influx of superior talent and a tight roster battle, Sambrailo’s future in Atlanta is uncertain.
For now, he’s just going to grind it out, and see what comes.
“I think I just take it week by week and try to get better every week,” Sambrailo said. “In this position as a swing tackle, you just focus on something every week, and get better at it, and you might go in, and you might not. I’m just kind of working on me.”
This interview was conducted after the team’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Dec. 3, 2017.