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What is the plan for the Falcons OL after adding Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary?

We thought we had the plan figured out, and then the draft happened.

Baltimore Ravens v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Okay, so wild night! The Falcons were pretty busy, snagging Boston College guard Chris Lindstrom and Washington tackle Kaleb McGary in the first round, swapping up ahead of the Patriots to take a player New England was rumored to be interested in. The end result as of today is that they have zero picks on Day 2 and a bushel of them on Day 3, enabling them to jump back into the third round if they want to.

But we’re not here to talk about that this morning. We’re here to talk about what, exactly, the Falcons are doing along their offensive line.

Free agency

The plan seemed straightforward: Seal up the holes opened up by injury and ineffectiveness at guard last year with a couple of beefy veterans who could hold down the fort for a year or two while the Falcons found their guards of the future. The Falcons didn’t sign James Carpenter or Jamon Brown as long-term options, per se, but Carpenter carries $7 million in dead money this year and $4.125 million in 2020, and Brown has $12.5 million this year and $8.16 million in 2020. Out of the two of them, Carpenter’s the easier cut, but you’re still swallowing a hit to part with either.

Thus it seemed reasonable to assume the Falcons would try to draft an interior lineman in day two or three, cut Brandon Fusco for some modest cap savings, and roll with some combination of Brown, Carpenter, Schweitzer, a rookie, and maybe Adam Gettis or Sean Harlow. Cut and dry.

Tackle was trickier, and that was one of the reasons I had the Falcons sinking a first round pick into the positon. All they really did was re-sign Ty Sambrailo, who is hardly a proven high-end starter, and add veteran John Wetzel, who has plenty of starting experience and typically grades out around average. Clearly, there was a bigger move in the offing, with Sambrailo only starting if the team struck out.

Still, the Falcons came out of free agency with significant expenditures and clear cut stopgap options at the three positions they identified as weaknesses. It seemed reasonably savvy at the time.

The draft

Then the draft blew everything to hell. Kaleb McGary is a divisive sort of prospect, but analysts including former Falcoholic and current SB Nation-er Charles McDonald like him, and the Patriots reportedly wanted him at #32, which prompted the Falcons to jump up. He’s plenty athletic and strong, but his movement and short arms had led some scouts and analysts to question whether he can stick at right tackle over the long haul. It’s tough to argue that he’s a reach, but many fans probably would’ve preferred hulking Jawaan Taylor.

Lindstrom is more of a “reach” in the traditional sense because no one really expected him to go that high, though he was linked to the Eagles, Titans and Vikings in the first round as the draft drew closer. He’s a plus athlete for the guard position and comes with very few question marks besides his strength, which is concern against some of the tougher defensive tackles he’s going to have to face. Like McGary, there’s a lot of upside here, and he’s going to start right away.

The upshot is that the Falcons said they would make the offensive line a priority and they’ve turned over all three positions they wanted to, adding a guard and potential right tackle option who could be terrific and will be relatively affordable for five years apiece. That’s nothing to sneeze at, and in a vacuum it’s hard to hate it.

The Falcons have enough pick to add a center to develop behind Alex Mack, too, if they want to. We’re just a couple of days away from learning whether they’ll go that route.

Where things stand

Last night I noted there was a logjam at guard, but frankly the entire offensive line is now. The issue that I have with the Falcons offseason is not that they’ve made the line a major priority—Keanu Neal, Deion Jones, and Ricardo Allen are coming back, Dan Quinn is betting on himself on defense, the team added back Adrian Clayborn, Tyeler Davison and useful depth, and they still have seven packs on the third day of the draft—but that they did so in a way that means they’ve potentially wasted resources. This does not mean I hate the picks—I like Lindstrom and I’m cautiously optimistic about McGary—but it does mean that I’m curious as to why the team did what they did.

Consider the situation now: One of James Carpenter or Jamon Brown will not be starting. Lindstrom is locked in to a guard spot and McGary is the right tackle of the present and future. That leaves just one guard spot open and Brown and Carpenter set to duke it out over it. They’ll need to cut at least one of Brandon Fusco and Wes Schweitzer, if not both of them, just to have enough room, and while Schweitzer is not a great option as a starter he’s cheap, proven depth. Whoever doesn’t start out of the free agent duo is going to be a very expensive backup, especially if it’s Brown, who is carrying big cap charges in 2019 and 2020.

In the end, is that so bad? If the Falcons don’t think so, it’s fine, and having James Carpenter as your top guard reserve and Ty Sambrailo as your swing tackle is actually a pretty good situation to be in. It just feels like the Falcons might not have invested in both if they had been certain they were going to pick up two offensive linemen on the first night of the draft, and it’s particularly baffling in light of the fact that they clearly fell in love with Lindstrom. Thomas Dimitroff did suggest last night that the team was comfortable carrying some cap space in exchange for quality depth on the offensive line, so perhaps there was a method to the madness here.

In the end, Lindstrom and McGary have all the tools to be quality starters or better, and one of Carpenter or Brown should emerge as a solid enough starter. The offense has all the pieces it needs to be one of the five best units in football, and that ought to carry the Falcons a long way in 2019. But as good as these picks could look over the long haul, if the Falcons’ defense stinks this year the short-term questions over their allocation of resources this offseason are going to be very loud and very shrill.

Oh, and your early guess for a starting offensive line in Week 1? Look for, from left to right, Jake Matthews-Chris Lindstrom-Alex Mack-Jamon Brown-Kaleb McGary, with Schweitzer, Carpenter, Sambrailo, and one of the Adam Gettis/Matt Gono/Sean Harlow trio or a rookie filling out the back end. I think I can live with that, with a fervent hope in my heart that the defense is everything Dan Quinn thinks it can be.