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Competition will be key for Atlanta’s 2020 offensive line

This year is the year for the Falcons to start settling the interior of their offensive line for the long haul.

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NFL: DEC 29 Falcons at Buccaneers Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Falcons didn’t, despite outward appearances, actually have much of a competition for starting gigs in 2019. James Carpenter had left guard and Chris Lindstrom had right guard, and when Lindstrom got hurt, Jamon Brown stepped into the role. Had Kaleb McGary needed to miss more time than he did, it would’ve been Ty Sambrailo taking over for him.

Why is that really relevant? Because the Falcons gave Brown, Carpenter, and Sambrailo plenty of money in 2019, but later in the season it became embarrassingly apparent, at least at guard, that backups Wes Schweitzer and Matt Gono were better. Sambrailo caught a touchdown in Week 17, so I can’t come down too hard on him. The Falcons, though, looked like they had just plugged in their most expensive players, which isn’t a great look for a team finding its way on the offensive line.

In 2020, on paper, there should be even less competition. Jake Matthews, Chris Lindstrom, and Kaleb McGary are all locked in, and barring the Falcons dumping Alex Mack for badly needed cap space, he’s locked in at center. That leaves just one starting position up for grabs, but given how often the Falcons have to use their depth, competition should still be at the forefront of the team’s plans this coming season.

Jason Butt’s five steps for the offensive line all make a lot of sense—he’s a big advocate for signing AND drafting interior linemen and keeping Alex Mack around—but the thing that resonated most with me was the kind of interior offensive line competition he’s describing. In a legitimate competition for the left guard job, having Matt Gono, Jamon Brown and/or James Carpenter, a draft pick, and potentially a free agent competitor gives the team a lot of options if someone gets hurt or falters, and if say Gono wins out over a draft pick in the first year, that’s a fine outcome.

When the Falcons have really had this level of competition in the past, their line has tended to benefit. The key will be assembling more talent on the interior to nail down the other guard spot and plan for Mack’s eventual departure, and allowing that talent to compete for jobs with few preconceived notions in mind.