The Atlanta Falcons have stretched out their cap just enough to add a handful of useful free agents, though some folks would enjoy more leeway.
The most popular option in opening more money up for free agent pursuits comes with a release of benched right tackle Ryan Schraeder.
Schraeder, the team’s UDFA steal-turned-Pro Football Focus-darling, has held down the team’s right side for the better part of five seasons, earning a major extension in the 2016 season for his excellent play. Players like Schraeder, a Valdosta State alum, just don’t come around often, and you’re mighty glad when they do.
He’s been in steady decline since 2017, face planting in 2018 to the point of being benched for Ty Sambrailo. His pass blocking isn’t nearly as vicious as in the past, and it didn’t seem like he was doing much for the run, either.
His descent was an unfortunate wrinkle for an offensive line that didn’t really need those, and he’s now going from being sound starting option to a roster question mark.
Many assumed he’d get the boot or would at least get a majorly restructured contract this offseason, but so far, the team has stood pat and has not altered or cut out his contract. You may be wondering why that is.
Well, for starters, let’s analyze the money itself. Schraeder’s deal is as such where a pre-June 1 release would cost the team around $3.8 million against the cap and would only free up about $3.9 million for the spring (per OTC). Splitting the cap hit in half might work for some just to go ahead and get the money ready, but consider why it’s worth waiting. A post-June 1 cut would free up $6.4 million on the cap and only leave $1.3 million in dead money.
That could pay for most of the draft class and give the team more of its spring money to pursue free agents and re-sign its own players. So it’s financially prudent to wait to release him in that window, and the team has no rush to make a move now if that’s the play.
But what if a release isn't in the cards right now altogether? The team may just restructure his deal, as AJC beat reporter D. Orlando Ledbetter has alluded on social media. If they do that, it would probably knock off anywhere from $2 to $4 million off his cap hit as it stands.
That might be the most likely outcome, especially considering that there may still be football reasons yet, and convincing ones, to keep Schraeder on the roster for 2019.
The right tackle battle feels wide open, even if Sambrailo has been publicly given the inside track to the starting role and holds it in name now. His new contract money ($3.25 on the cap, per OTC) isn’t such to where the team is locked to him holding the role, and this is an organization that thrives on competition. What if the team wants Sambrailo and Schraeder to duke it out in camp to see who wins the role, and keep the other around as a sound-if-pricy investment at the swing tackle position?
Schraeder will be 31 in May, so there’s still time on the clock for him to turn it around and play better football. He might’ve had some sort of nagging pain or injury that bugged him in 2018, too, though none was officially reported. If he turns it around in camp and wins his job back, he will reward the team for its patience and help them regain stability at tackle. If he doesn’t, he’s an easy guy to justify keeping as the swing, and would be a sensible final roster cut regardless.
Keeping Schraeder right now also gives the team free agency and draft flexibility in terms of player acquisition. If they do decide to sign a Kevin Pamphile and put him in the battle for right tackle (though guard feels more likely), they can feel more sound in letting him go. But if they don’t, they’ve got two clear guys on the roster to compete for the job going into the draft.
If they decide to invest an early pick in a Cody Ford, Jonah Williams or Dalton Risner, they can have more security in letting Schraeder go. If they invest more into the defense and don’t grab an offensive lineman until later in the draft, they’ll still have depth at right tackle.
Also consider that the team may have to implement some new scheme changes with Dirk Koetter’s return. Jake Matthews is one of two offensive lineman who carry over from Dirk’s first stint with the team. The other? Schraeder, a 2013 UDFA addition. Perhaps the team wants to keep Schraeder around just to have another established veteran who knows the lingo and help the others get up to speed?
Maybe Koetter knows how to help Schraeder get his step back, and has sold the team on that potential. Could some specialized coaching be the solution here?
Anything can happen, and the team could opt to cut ties with Schraeder now to help with the cap. But there are more signs to the alternative as it stands.
Don’t be surprised if Schraeder is in house for the foreseeable future, perhaps even for the season in waiting and beyond.