The Falcons went into the 2019 offseason knowing they needed to fix their offensive line. Thomas Dimitroff and company adopted a bold approach, investing a hefty sum of money into two free agent guards and then drafting a third guard and a tackle. With veterans Jake Matthews and Alex Mack already in place, one would think that’d be a recipe for success. It wasn’t.
Unfortunately their strategy just didn’t pay immediate dividends. Chris Lindstrom was hurt for most of the year and Kaleb McGary did rookie things. Lindstrom flashed and McGary showcased solid run blocking, notwithstanding his issues in pass protection. But the free agent additions, well, they’re a different story. As a result, the Falcons are still a mess at left guard.
Moving forward, how do the Falcons fix this mess? Well, to be frank, their options are limited.
Let’s start with the obvious: It is not possible to move on from James Carpenter and/or Jamon Brown in 2020.
They have 3 and 2 years left on their current contracts respectively. Because it leaves the Falcons with $5.125 million in dead money and creates a cap savings of only $83,000 in 2020, cutting Carpenter is a non-option. Cutting him in 2021 makes much more sense. ($2.416 in dead money and $4.041 million in cap savings.) Brown’s contract is similar. Cutting him now leaves the Falcons with $8.166 million in dead money and creates only $1.583 million in cap savings. And much like Carpenter, cutting him in 2021 is a far more attractive option. ($1.833 million in dead money and $5.5 million in cap savings.)
“But James! What if we trade them?!”
Good luck with that. Brown was a healthy scratch before multiple games during the second half of the season. They were both horrible football players in 2019. Brown was marginally better than Carpenter, both as a run blocker and in pass protection, but both graded out among the worst guards in the NFL this season. In short, nobody wants them. At best the Falcons might get a late round pick (i.e., 6th or 7th rounder) for Brown, and they’ll surely eat some salary to get the deal done. So like it or not, both men will be employed by the Falcons in 2020. And what’s more, neither is a viable solution at left guard.
“Free agency! We can land someone in free agency, James!”
That’s ... not a good idea. Quality, reliable players generally don’t hit free agency. And it’s not like the Falcons have the capital to be competitive in free agency anyway. Moving on.
“How about the draft, James? Surely there are options in the draft!”
Now you’re onto something. Alex Mack’s contract is a bit problematic but ultimately I think the Falcons will be forced to keep him on board in 2020. The situation at left guard is precarious enough, the Falcons aren’t going to roll with Wes Schweitzer (assuming he’s re-signed) or a rookie at center in 2020. But that doesn’t mean the draft isn’t a potential solution. The Falcons need a long-term solution at center and if they can zero in on a player who can step in at left guard or at least compete with Schweitzer with an eye towards eventually stepping in for Mack in a year, that’d be a reasonable, short-term bandaid. It’d at least help keep franchise quarterback Matthew Thomas Ryan alive in 2020.
Your thoughts, Falcoholics? The Falcons put themselves in this situation, and nobody is going to bail them out. What’s their best option?