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Potential Falcons free agent profile: Andrew Norwell

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Should the Falcons look to poach the All-Pro Guard from a division rival?

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Denver Broncos Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret that the Atlanta Falcons will be in the market for an offensive guard to sure up their line of Matt Ryan’s protectors this offseason. If I had to guess, I would say that this will be the most closely looked at position for Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff in the free agency period. The Wes Schweitzer project had mixed results at best this past season, and an upgrade at one (or maybe even both) of the guard spots will be in order.

Andrew Norwell, coming off of a four-year stint with the Carolina Panthers, could become the best guard available this spring. This is all dependent on if the Panthers can afford to keep the former undrafted free agent who was just voted an All-Pro this past season.

After giving Trai Turner and Matt Kalil lucrative contracts last offseason, Carolina will be hard pressed to keep Norwell with the limited cap space they have available. After earning just $4,288,000 in the first four seasons of his career combined ($2,746,000 coming last year alone), Norwell will look for a hefty payday after the season he just had.

Provided the Panthers don’t use the Franchise Tag on him, let’s take a look at if the Falcons should call for Norwell’s services, and make him the team’s splashiest free agent signing since Alex Mack.

The Case for Signing Andrew Norwell

When it comes to the guard position, Andrew Norwell is good at everything. He is the very definition of the word “elite,” and any team in the NFL would love to have him on the interior of their offensive line. At age 26, he’s also in the middle of his prime.

Norwell was named an AP First-Team All-Pro in 2017 after excelling in both pass blocking and run blocking. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ third-best guard in the NFL last season.

If Cam Newton got hit by a pass rusher at any point in 2017, it wasn’t Andrew Norwell’s fault. According to PFF, the former undrafted Ohio State product did not allow a single sack or QB hit last season while starting all 16 games and playing 1066 snaps. PFF graded Norwell as the second-best pass blocking guard in the NFL in 2017.

Norwell is also a force when it comes to run blocking: grading out as the eighth-best guard in the league in run blocking efficiency in 2017 (PFF). He was an intricate part in helping the Panthers rank fourth in the NFL in rushing last season.

The cherry on top of the Sunday is that Norwell is one of the least penalized linemen in the NFL. He accounted for just two penalties last season (one offensive holding; one illegal use of hands), and both of them were declined.

The Case against Signing Andrew Norwell

Andrew Norwell will be a hot commodity this offseason and will have potential suitors lining up for his services. He is an All-Pro player in the middle of his prime and will expect to be paid like it.

Spotrac estimates Norwell’s market value to be at 5 years/$56,638,889, which is on par with what fellow guards Kelechi Osemele (5 years/$58,500,000) and Kevin Zeitler (5 years/$60,000,000) got the past two offseasons, respectively.

This is obviously a hefty price to pay, but it’s the going rate for a premier guard in the middle of his prime. The Falcons aren’t a team with an incredible amount of cap space, but they will have to approach this figure if they hope to secure Norwell’s services. This could hinder their ability to re-sign someone like Tevin Coleman down the line.

Verdict: Back Up the Money Truck and go get Andrew Norwell

I think the Atlanta Falcons should make Andrew Norwell their big free agent signing this offseason, provided he doesn’t get franchise tagged by the Panthers. Giving him a massive contract at $11 mil+ annually would obviously be a hard pill to swallow, but this is the player who would solidify Atlanta’s offensive line (note: The Falcons will have to free up some cap space to make this kind of signing. Matt Ryan’s extension will help on that front).

The Falcons’ Super Bowl window is open right now. If they address DT in the draft and sign Andrew Norwell in free agency, they won’t really have a single glaring hole on the roster (and no, I don’t consider TE or FS to be “glaring holes”). This is the type of move Atlanta should make to fully maximize their Super Bowl window while it’s still open, even if it means having to let someone like Tevin Coleman walk in the future.

I wouldn’t really bet on Dimitroff shelling out this kind of money for any free agent this offseason, but many people thought the same thing at the start of the 2016 offseason right before the Falcons signed Alex Mack. Guard is the position this team should be looking to solidify in free agency, and Norwell could be the best of the bunch.