Life’s about to get busy with all of the impending Falcons free agency decisions and draft visits about to clog your football arteries, but until then, we speculate, like true nerds, err, football fans can and do.
The offseason is always what you make it, and for Atlanta under Dan Quinn, it’s been an exciting time where many a spring move have helped spring Atlanta to winning ways.
But, sometimes, it, well, doesn’t go…springingly.
Remember 2013? Oh, I know you do. Remember the guys they cut, and the people they got to replace them? Okay, don’t throw things, man. It’s just a column. Part of the downfall after that wonderful 2012 season came from boneheaded moves in March and April. Well-intentioned, but ultimately, era-ending. It wasn’t fun; I cried in a pillow.
This cycle, there’s a move being discussed that gets me nervous – very, very nervous. A move that would, at least to me, be equivalent to one of those 2013 fun fairs if it goes poorly.
So, um, what’s going to happen to left guard Andy Levitre?
Well, what happens with Levitre is the domino we’re all waiting to see fall, the signal of where this offseason is headed, the decision keeping my forehead’s sweat beads in business.
There’s a chance the Falcons cut him. It makes me have ulcers.
Levitre’s been as steady as can be for the last three seasons at left guard – one of the best trade maneuvers of Thomas Dimitroff’s career. He’ll also turn 32 in May, is coming off a season-ending triceps injury and will count $8 million against the cap. Hence the talk of him being a cap casualty. Hence my stress.
He’s not necessarily irreplaceable, but the interior of the offensive line took a noticeable dip when Levitre was out of the lineup. Reserve guard Ben Garland did as well as he could’ve, but took his lumps, particularly in pass protection. Levitre’s never been super elite at that, but he’s more than fine at it to maintain the position.
Here’s me, flailing my Lost in Space robot arms, telling Will Robinson about, well, you know, how there’s danger in cutting Levitre for supposed greener pastures.
The good thing about Levitre is that he’s Atlanta’s – he’s not under contract with another team, he’s not a pending free agent and he’s not a draft prospect. He’s under contract with the Falcons and is guaranteed to return next season if they’ll have him. By and large, he’s also just about guaranteed to play at roughly the same level we’re accustomed to seeing. So, his spot on the roster isn’t a concern as of now, unless the Falcons want it to be.
The big problem with cutting a guy like Levitre is that you are not guaranteed to find his replacement of his level this offseason. Free agency is a gamble with multiple teams throwing around multiple dollar bills, and the draft is an even-bigger gamble, with the Falcons at the mercies of 31 other teams and what they decide to do with their draft resources. Just because you like a guy doesn’t mean he’s automatically yours – just ain’t the way the game is played, pilgrim.
Georgia guard Isaiah Wynn is the belle of the ball for Falcons mock drafts, and he’s probably as sure a pro-ready guard as draft pundits are saying. But, the Falcons aren’t guaranteed to have him there at 26, nor would they be wise to just throw their second rounder away to get him. This draft is more important than the last one was, as the roster has more spots that need draft patching (particularly on the defensive line). If the Falcons end up both cutting Levitre and landing Wynn, that’s not just strategy. That’s also luck. Sometimes, it helps to be lucky, but you can’t guarantee it. So, say Wynn gets taken earlier. It could very well happen. You can still pick a guard with the first pick if you want, but the quality of the player will remain in question. April offers no guarantees.
Free agent options like Andrew Norwell, Josh Kline, Josh Sitton, Spencer Long and others will also get thrown around as potential replacements – underscore “potential.” They’re super-de-duper potential, not guaranteed. And, roughly $8 million might be the going rate for a guard of Levitre’s caliber. We’re already going to pay that as things stand. These guys don’t come cheap, and Norwell, the cream of the crop, will command upwards of $10-12 million a year. Maybe you can get a guy a little cheaper. They also, well, might not want to come play for the Falcons. It’s a thing that happens sometimes. I know, I’m shocked, too. Sometimes, you just can’t find the guy you want, or who wants you, in March.
I’m firmly in the “try to restructure his deal, just pay it if you can’t” camp, mainly because I think the roster and coaching staff as it stands can contend for a title next year. Making left guard a new spot to fill without a guaranteed replacement would be dangerous, and unless you can make a trade or feel like Garland is ready for a starting role, you’ve got no guarantees.
Restructuring and extending Levitre’s deal would both give the Falcons stability at left guard, and allow the team to continue to build up other spots on the roster, perhaps address right guard (though Wes Schweitzer is fine as he is).
If the team ultimately decides that Levitre’s not long for the roster, they’ve got to have a guaranteed person in mind to take his spot (or, at the very least, a wide, full-proof net of potential replacements).
I hearken back to when the team cut Jon Abraham, and didn’t replace him with a pass rusher of his caliber. The pass rush took a dip that year, and was a visible weakness on that 2013 roster. Abe went off and had a really nice season in Arizona after. The Falcons went 4-12. That wasn’t the only reason (lol), but it was a definite factor.
There are plenty of things I do/don’t want the Falcons to do come spring, but cutting Levitre would make my hair go grey until a Wynn or a sure-bet free agent guard entered the picture. But, you can’t guarantee that, which means the Falcons would be rolling the dice on the immediate future of the left guard position.
So, you know, roll wisely, birds. You might not get the number you want if you chance this.