The Falcons in 2017 had a reasonably simple guard situation. Andy Levitre was the unquestioned starter at left guard, while Wes Schweitzer took the job at right guard from Ben Garland, who was a quality reserve. Sean Harlow was set to marinate on the bench all year and learn something, possibly making a run at a starting job in 2018.
In 2018, that situation has changed dramatically, and it’s only March. Yesterday, the Falcons signed guard Brandon Fusco to a three year deal, which came on the heels of the team giving Ben Garland a second round tender worth nearly $3 million. Those two moves upended the depth chart at guard, raising a lot of questions about the present and future at the position.
I want to try to address those today, though we are a lot way away from knowing for sure what Atlanta will be up to at the position. Here’s where we stand.
Brandon Fusco is the starter at right guard
Unless he gets hurt or collapses, Fusco is the odds-on favorite to start. The Falcons didn’t sign a veteran guard coming off a 16 start season because they think Wes Schweitzer can improve on his 2017 performance. They did so because they think they made a mistake starting him.
I don’t know if Schweitzer can improve—I’m sort of bullish on that possibility—but Atlanta’s basically decided not to find out for 2018. I respect the decision, given this team’s strong desire for a Super Bowl in its home stadium.
It goes without saying that a healthy Andy Levitre is the start at left guard, too. That leaves questions about the reserves.
Wes Schweitzer and Ben Garland will be on this roster
Schweitzer is a young, cheap guard with a full season of starting experience, which makes him plenty valuable. Even if you think he was stretched as a starter, as I know many of you do, you have to admit he’s a fine reserve.
Garland, of course, is even more valuable, which is apparently why the Falcons tendered him at a second round level. He can play both center and guard, performed at a high level in 2017 (for the most part, anyways), and is a good locker room guy, and Atlanta will happily carry his cap charge for this season.
Considering Austin Pasztor, the team’s presumptive backup swing tackle, can also play guard, that leaves one conclusion.
Sean Harlow probably isn’t making this roster
Fourth round picks bust fairly often, but it would still be a wild disappointment if Sean Harlow wound up cut. The team invested a pick in him with an eye toward developing him, and after he was inactive virtually all of 2017, it would be an admission that the front office did not pick a good player if he couldn’t crack the squad. Yet the numbers game suggests that’s what will happen.
Maybe Harlow looks much better in training camp and holds on to a spot, maybe the Falcons deal away a piece of guard depth, or maybe Levitre moves out the door at his new, relatively affordable number. Unless one of those scenarios plays out, though, Harlow’s probably ticketed for free agency or perhaps the practice squad, and that’s kind of a bummer.
Jamil Douglas may also be kicking around this roster, though I am not 100% sure of that. It goes without saying he’ll be a longshot to have a spot, though I believe he also still has some practice squad eligibility.
Will the Falcons still draft a guard?
This is a question that needs to be asked, but it also has a relatively easy answer: Probably not. Unless Atlanta’s intending to re-shuffle its guard depth chart again before the summer, adding yet another guard to the mix would further crunch a crowded position. The Falcons could add a key long-term player like James Daniels or Will Hernandez, but I think it’s much more likely they focus on their other needs in April. You can’t rule out a developmental prospect, however, considering that Schweitzer is apparently not viewed as a starter and both Garland and Levitre are set to hit free agency in 2019.
At the end of the day, the Falcons have ensured they have two obvious veteran starters and a ton of useful depth at the guard position. We’d love it if they had two young, elite options at the position, but failing that, they’ve put themselves in a favorable position heading into a crucial 2018 season. That’s enough for me, at least for the moment.