The 2018 offseason is well underway, with the Senior Bowl wrapping up and free agency rapidly approaching. Speaking of free agency, one of the biggest questions facing the Falcons heading into the 2018 season is what to do with starting LG Andy Levitre.
Levitre has been an above-average starter through his 3 seasons with the team after being brought in from a last-minute trade with the Titans prior to the 2015 season. He’s been a reliable option on the offensive line, starting all 16 games for the Falcons in 2015 and 2016. In 2017, he started the first 12 games before suffering a triceps injury that kept him out until Week 17. Levitre returned for the Week 17 victory over the Panthers, but aggravated the injury once again and was put on IR heading into the playoffs.
The Falcons offensive line notably suffered with Levitre out of the lineup, as reserve lineman Ben Garland filled in decently as a run blocker but couldn’t hold up in pass protection. Levitre’s loss combined with the shaky play of first-year starter Wes Schweitzer at RG ultimately helped doom the Falcons in the playoffs.
With that in mind, Levitre enters the 2018 season in the final year of his original 6-year contract. Concerns about his cap hit and recent season-ending injury have led to questions about his status with the team going forward. Let’s take a look at some of the possible options the Falcons have with Levitre this offseason.
If Falcons do nothing with Levitre, he will remain with the team in 2018 and enter the final year of his 6-year contract. Normally, this wouldn’t be an issue, but Levitre’s cap hit skyrockets to a whopping $8.375M in 2018—giving him the price tag of an elite NFL guard (that cap hit ranks 14th among all guards in the NFL). That is undoubtedly overpaying for Levitre—who is an above-average player and a consistent starter, but not a top talent.
However, the Falcons could decide to simply stand pat and allow Levitre to play out his contract. That would make him a free agent in 2019 who’s fate would almost certainly be tied to his performance and asking price next season. I don’t see this option as particularly likely, unless Levitre’s agent stonewalls the team and the Falcons fail in their search for another starting guard—either through free agency or the draft. It would allow them to keep their above-average starter for at least the 2018 season, however, and continuity (and reliability) on the offensive line is quite valuable.
Offer an extension/restructure
I believe this is the route the Falcons will try to take with Levitre. He’s been a quality starter for this team and will be turning 31 in 2018. The only knocks on Levitre are his cap hit this year ($8.375M) and the fact that he suffered a season-ending injury just before the playoffs. Otherwise, Levitre has more than earned his spot at LG going forward—and the team would be wise to keep that continuity going if at all possible.
The best route might be offering Levitre a 2-year extension that keeps him with the team through the 2020 season. Atlanta can offer Levitre some bonus money and guarantees in future years in exchange for reducing his cap hit into the ~$5M range over the next three seasons. That would bring Levitre’s cap hit more in line with his market value and would also give the Falcons ample time to find his eventual successor. When the contract expires in 2020, Levitre would still be only 33—leaving the door open for another short contract extension if he’s still performing at a high level.
If Levitre is unwilling to negotiate or accept a deal that lowers his cap hit, the Falcons may well decide to roll the dice on finding a replacement and move on from Levitre this year. The team would save $7M in cap space (with only $1.375M in dead cap), but would be down a starter and would lose the continuity and veteran presence that Levitre brought to the offensive line.
This option is a gamble, as unless the Falcons plan to bring in an established starter in free agency (which will likely soak up all that cap savings), they’ll be depending on a draft pick or Sean Harlow to take over the LG position. There are certainly some options in the draft (Isaiah Wynn from Georgia could be available at pick 26), but going into 2018 with a rookie and an unproven starter at RG (Schweitzer) could be a recipe for a difficult offensive line season. I think the Falcons would prefer to avoid this option if at all possible—hopefully the two sides can work something out before it comes to this.
I’m on record predicting that the Falcons will offer Levitre some sort of extension (probably 2-3 years) in exchange for lowering his cap hit, but that doesn’t mean Levitre will accept it. The Falcons may very well be forced to choose between overpaying for a reliable starter or rolling the dice on a rookie (or first-year starter like Sean Harlow). However, Levitre’s open-market value will be notably lower coming off a season-ending injury—which may open the door for some sort of arrangement between him and the Falcons.
I hope the Falcons can keep Levitre around, but what do you think? Would you like to see the Falcons keep Levitre, extend him, or move on this offseason? If you don’t think Levitre will be with the team in 2018, who would you want to replace him: a rookie or a free agent?