Our Atlanta Falcons 2017 Roster Review continues today by taking a closer look at the state of the center position heading into 2018. If you missed any of the previous entries in the series, you can find them all below:
The fantastic Alex Mack headlines what is a relatively small position group, but there are some question marks about what the unit will look like in 2018. Let’s dive right in.
2017 Stats: 16 starts
2018 Status: Under contract ($11.05M cap hit)
Mack has been one of the best centers in the league throughout his career, including over the last two seasons with the Falcons. He’s been dependable and tough, playing through injury and generally looking like the most consistent player on the offensive line. He’ll be 32 during the 2018 season and will continue to be one of the NFL’s highest paid centers, but he’s been worth every penny thus far and has shown no signs of slowing down. The Falcons have Mack under contract through the 2020 season.
2017 Stats: 16 games played, 3 starts
2018 Status: RFA
The “jack-of-all-trades” player on the roster, Ben Garland has been a quality depth piece for both the offensive and defensive lines since joining the team late in the 2015 season. He was the primary back-up at guard and center in 2017, and was pressed into action at LG when Andy Levitre went out with injury. Garland is a passable spot starter and can play multiple positions, giving him significant value as a reserve player. He’s a restricted free agent heading into 2018.
2017 Stats: 0 games played
2018 Status: Under contract ($693K cap hit)
The Falcons’ fourth-round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, Sean Harlow was in competition for the vacancy at RG throughout training camp. He lost the battle to sophomore player Wes Schweitzer, but earned a roster spot and remained with the team throughout the 2017 season. He never made it off the inactive list, but Harlow has plenty of potential—particularly in the run game—and reportedly has been cross-trained at center. He’s on a very affordable rookie contract and figures to be a part of the Falcons plans for the offensive line in 2018.
The Falcons possess one of the NFL’s best centers in Alex Mack, making this a position of strength for the team. Mack has been a stalwart in the middle of the offensive line, and his experience and leadership have been absolutely invaluable in making the entire unit better since his arrival prior to the 2016 season. Where the question marks lie are behind him, where Atlanta has no “true” center to back him up.
Ben Garland is a RFA, and if the Falcons can successfully bring him back, he’s a capable back-up and decent enough spot starter. Long-term, however, the Falcons would be wise to invest in a developmental player to take over for Mack in a few years. Whether or not 2018 is the time to make that investment is an open question—and likely depends on your opinion of Sean Harlow.
Adding another interior offensive lineman to the mix seems like a given this offseason, but that player is unlikely to be in the mix at center. Regardless of what happens in free agency and the draft, the Falcons are still in excellent shape with Alex Mack holding down the starting job. Let’s hope that he can continue to play at a Pro Bowl level for many more years to come.
What are your thoughts on the center position heading into 2018? Are you comfortable with bringing back Ben Garland to be the primary reserve at center? Do you think the Falcons should invest a draft pick in a developmental center this year or in the near future?