So here’s a question that bears pondering: What, exactly, do the Falcons intend to do at guard this year?
The answer cannot be “stand pat at both spots,” unless they want a fan mutiny on their hands. Wes Schweitzer and Brandon Fusco will no doubt compete, nominally, for the right guard job unless the Falcons make a major investment in the draft or free agency, but that move is more likely to come at left guard, where the Falcons benefitted from having Andy Levitre for a few quality seasons. I say nominally for that battle because it’s one Fusco will win, if he’s healthy, just as he did a year ago.
But let’s consider the original, open-ended question, with no outright assumptions of Fusco or Schweitzer winning a job, Matt Gono competing, or Zane Beadles or Ben Garland coming back. What might the team do?
Invest in free agency
The Falcons last made a truly significant investment at guard when they acquired Andy Levitre. Before that, it was the addition of Jon Asamoah. Before that, it was…um.
The Falcons haven’t exactly made guard a huge priority, not with the dollars being thrown at center and tackle. If those players are playing well and the team has at least one quality guard, as they did in 2016 with Andy Levitre, the line tends to be terrific. When Schweitzer struggled and Levitre got hurt in 2017, it was a problem. When Levitre got hurt, Fusco scuffled a bit and got hurt, and the team couldn’t sufficiently replace both guard spots, it got real ugly in 2018 before stabilizing late. It’s hard to draw too many lessons from a cascade of injuries the team couldn’t foresee, but aiming for younger or elite talent at the position would be a nice start.
That means, potentially, scouring the free agent market. Rodger Saffold is a name I hope the Falcons will keep an eye on, but there are other appealing options if the Falcons want to go with a known quantity. Mike Iupati and Ramon Foster are fine players over 30 who could serve as the kind of one-to-two year stopgaps the Falcons were supposed to get with Fusco, while someone like Chance Warmack would be an interesting flier as a younger player who hasn’t been able to tap into his outsized upside. The likeliest might be J.R. Sweezy, who spent time as a Buccaneers guard and Seahawk and thus has ties to the current coaching staff.
I could see one investment but you almost certainly won’t see two, and left guard remains the priority position .
Draft a guard early
There are certainly options in this class. Those who remember Peter Konz will likely be wary at the very thought of the Falcons going for a Wisconsin guard in the second round, but there are two very good ones entering this class, and either one could be a plausible year one upgrade over Fusco and others at right guard. The first (and probably better) is Michael Dieter, while Beau Benzschawel could be had later. Chris Lindstrom from Boston College and Michael Jordan from Ohio State are also strong early round possibilities, and would (if all goes well) give the Falcons a four-plus year starter at a position they’ve taken to papering over. This would be my preferred option in many ways, especially because I’d like to see the Falcons cash in on a potentially great free agent defensive line class, but the risk is that whoever you select isn’t all that big of an upgrade over Schweitzer or Fusco in year one, if they are at all.
Open things up to competition
The Falcons will almost certainly do one of the above, but that still probably leaves an open guard spot. The best the Falcons can and likely will do is open that spot up to competition with as many options as possible.
That’s because they have Fusco, Wes Schweitzer and Matt Gono under contract and could reasonably bring back either Ben Garland or Zane Beadles on the cheap, giving them a four man competition at the position. The winner of that competition will hardly be an inspiring choice, given Fusco’s return from injury, Schweitzer and Beadles’ run blocking woes and Gono’s inexperience, but upgrades at left guard and right tackle would make that an affordable, potentially palatable option. The Falcons did get by with Chris Chester at right guard (and heck, Schweitzer at right guard) for multiple seasons, after all.
What do you imagine the Falcons will do?