If the Falcons elect to hold off on addressing some of their most pressing defensive needs just a little bit longer with the selection of a tackle in the first round, it would have a ramifications all over the roster for 2019 and beyond. Today, we’ll take a look at that potential utcome.
Who might the Falcons take?
The most common names being bandied about are Jawaan Taylor, Jonah Williams, and Cody Ford, but suffice to say one of the top five or so tackles is likely to be available at #14, if not 3-4 of them.
What does it mean for the roster in 2019?
A first round right tackle would immediately lock into battle with Ty Sambrailo for the starting right tackle job and would be the heavy favorite to win it. Sambrailo has been talked up by the Falcons after putting together a stretch of solid-to-above average play at the end of 2018 and is under contract for the next three years, making him a perfectly legitimate stopgap in the team’s eyes. He’s unlikely to be able to fend off a top 15 tackle, even so.
That would mean the Falcons would be reliant on a rookie, however talented, on an offensive line that could legitimately turn over three starters despite my suggestions that it would be difficult to do so earlier in the spring. Sambrailo would be available as a solid enough swing tackle, Matt Gono would be lurking on the roster or practice squad as a developmental option, and the Falcons would essentially have finalized their 2019 offense, barring injuries. Depending on how quickly the rookie hits the ground running and how James Carpenter and Jamon Brown, the offense certainly would have the talent to be a juggernaut again.
What does it mean long-term?
This is where drafting a tackle is really appealing. If the Falcons do land a good-to-great starting right tackle in the first round, that player should be relatively affordable through 2022 and will come with a fifth-year option, giving the Falcons their bookend tackles for several seasons while they search for long-term answers on the interior of the line. That will be essential for keeping Matt Ryan upright and healthy through what figures to be the final few seasons of his career (he’ll be 34 in May, so we’re talking anywhere from 3-7 years, hopefully the latter) as the roster changes around him, given that the team has to come to grips with the end of Alex Mack’s contract, financial decisions at receiver with Mohamed Sanu and a 2022 new contract for Calvin Ridley, and likely some churn at running back. The stability afforded by having that kind of talent at arguably the two most critical spots on the offensive line is genuinely important, and has to be tempting for Atlanta.
What are the opportunity costs?
Myriad, potentially. By punting on a top defensive lineman in the first round, the Falcons cannot guarantee that a guy they love will be there on the draft’s second day. If that happens, the Falcons could well be investing in a third day pass rusher, defensive tackle, or both, and hoping they can nail picks that historically have a lower chance of panning out.
That’s the most extreme cost, but addressing offense with that critical first round pick has a solid chance of ensuring that the Falcons don’t get high end help on defense for 2019 the rest of the way, even if they grab players who can help down the line. Dan Quinn’s coaching is going to be expected to make a major difference for that side of the ball, but even with nine picks there’s a chance that the Falcons are going to be wholly or largely reliant on the players they have on the roster at the moment. There’s enough here to think they’ll be able to get to the level of a quality defense, but the team needs young, capable defenders even so, and grabbing their long-term tackle makes that a bit more complicated.
Should the Falcons do it?
It’s not my preference. The Falcons clearly struck gold by getting Ryan Schraeder, an undrafted free agent, to Atlanta and playing at a high level for several seasons, but truth be told they’ve been faring well with undrafted and late round tackle options at that position for years now. A marquee, first round tackle very well might take over for Sambrailo this year and prove to be an upgrade both now and in the future, but this is a class with some interesting later round options and passing on a top-shelf defensive lineman may come with its own heavy costs.
The Falcons need to protect Matt Ryan, especially as he gets older, but they can do that through a mix of savvy later picks and stopgaps at right tackle and legitimate long-term upgrades at guard, to say nothing of ensuring they have a quality heir for Alex Mack. It doesn’t pop and fizzle and it’s not the slam dunk a first round tackle would seem to be, but at some point the Falcons are going to need to put a strong defense on the field alongside their consistently terrific offense, and this year is a prime opportunity to get the kind of player who can get them well on the way there.