The Falcons committed this off-season to a wholesale re-tooling of their offensive line. We expected that following head coach Dan Quinn’s declaration heard ‘round the world. In short, as of early January, everyone not named Jake Matthews or Alex Mack was potentially on the chopping block. Falcons owner Arthur Blank doubled down on that promise in February. So when the Falcons parted ways with Ryan Schraeder and snatched up James Carpenter and Jamon Brown in mid-March, none of us were surprised. A month later, the Falcons added Adam Gattis as additional interior OL depth.
Fast forward to Monday, when the Falcons inked a deal with veteran OT John Wetzel. He started 5 games for the Cardinals last season before suffering a season-ending neck injury which ultimately led to his foray into restricted free agency. Wetzel won’t be the starter, but he’s sure to make Matt Gono anxious as Gono looks to retain the swing tackle gig in 2019.
It’s worth noting that Wetzel took over at right tackle for Andre Smith in early September last year, and instead of hedging his bets, Steve Wilks told the media “I feel great about Wetzel.” As recently as February, Walter Mitchell from SB Nation Cardinals site Revenge of the Birds raved about Wetzel’s downfield blocking ability and versatility. I’m rambling now, but the bottom line is this: Wetzel was a well-respected, quality backup in Arizona. But for the regime change there and his season-ending injury in 2018, he’d still be in a Cardinals uniform.
As a former undrafted free agent, Wetzel parlayed his size (6’7 and 328 pounds) and surprising athleticism into his first NFL contracts with the Raiders, Cowboys, and Colts. He toiled on practice squads until 2016, when he became a starter in Arizona. Since October 2016, Wetzel has started 24 NFL games. That’s a significant amount of snaps as a starter. (More on that later.) To be clear, I’d rather he not be forced into a starting gig in Atlanta. But if the need to spell Ty Sambrailo arises, he’s a good guy to have around.
Sample size is everything, but in 5 games last year, Wetzel earned a grade of 55.0 from PFF. (72nd among qualifying tackles and “average,” according to their metrics.) His pass blocking was slightly below average while his run blocking was average. In 2017, Wetzel was an above-average run blocker and a below average pass blocker. The same was true in 2016. So if you ask me what to expect from Wetzel, my answer will be straightforward and I’ll be confident giving it: the kid is going to run some defenders over in the running game and might be an occasional liability in the passing game. If we’re talking about a potential swing tackle, I’ll take a guy with his versatility and that kind of established track record any day.
If there’s a scenario where Wetzel suddenly becomes a complete non-factor, it’s the Falcons drafting an offensive tackle at 14. But again, his experience is invaluable. Wetzel has played at guard and both tackle possessions in actual NFL games. He’s racked up over 1,900 regular season snaps. In that time, he’s allowed 10 sacks, 25 QB hits, and 83 hurries, which is a little disconcerting, if you’re talking about a starter. But as depth signings go, especially if he’s making the veteran minimum (around $730k for a player with 3 years of accrued service), Wetzel made a ton of sense. We’ll have to see how his contract details break down, but for now, Thomas Dimitroff deserve a lot of credit for finding this diamond in the rough.