On Monday, I stated that the team’s first priority when it comes to free agency if and when it begins was re-signing tackle Tyson Clabo. But shortly after, the Falcons are going to be in a situation where they are asked to prioritize one of their guards.
Ideally, the Falcons can bring back both left guard Justin Blalock and right guard Harvey Dahl. But they may be put in a situation where they have to push for one to stay, and be willing to let the other walk when it comes to negotiatons.
And there is certainly is a worthwhile debate on either side when deciding which of the two players should be kept first.
First, let’s start break down their 2010 seasons statistically. I’ll be using Moneyball for this. Over the course of the entire 2010 season they were about even, winding up with $24 earned for Blalock and $25 for Dahl.
Blalock’s production was fairly consistent throughout the entire season, earning $5, $7, $5.5, and $6.5 in each respective quarter. Dahl’s spiked in the middle of the season, starting with a $4.5 over the first quarter, then $10.5, $10, and finishing with $0 earned in the final quarter of the season. Clearly we can see that Blalock ended the season relatively strong in comparison to Dahl.
Blalock did get better as the year went on. In the first half of the season, he tallied 10 missed blocks and 5 pressures allowed. In the final 8 games, he had only 3.5 missed blocks and no pressures allowed. That dichotomy was not seen with Dahl, as he had 5 missed blocks in each half of the season, and allowed 3 pressures in the first half and 4.5 in the second half of the year.
In both blockers, we saw a dramatic drop-off in their run blocking production. In the first half of the season, Blalock had 12 key blocks and Dahl 9.5. Those numbers dropped off to 5 and 6, respectively for both in the second half.
Blalock was arguably the team’s best blocker in the latter half of the season. His main issues throughout his careers have been the inconsistencies and mental lapses that occur from time to time. He did a very good job over the course of the 2010 season eliminating that aspect of his game. Making one wonder if he’s turned a new leaf, and one can expect similar production the rest of the way.
On the other hand, Dahl’s A game is apparently better than Blalock, due to that midseason spike in his production where he was playing his best brand of football.
In the end, it’s probably relatively a wash as far as their production goes.
Another thing that could decide the debate is market value. Dahl is more widely respected in league circles than Blalock is. Don’t believe me? Just read this or this. Which like means that on the open market, he would be more likely to attract more suitors and more money. It’s possible that the Falcons decision about who to keep could be made by other teams trying to sign one over the other.
There seems to be a greater dearth of quality right guards in the league. At least according to Pro Football Focus, 8 of the 10 bottom-ranking guards are listed as primarily right guards. Dahl is PFF’s top-rated unrestricted true guard. Carl Nicks is a restricted free agent, and Marshal Yanda has spent half of his career playing right tackle for the Ravens.
If the Falcons don’t prioritize keeping Dahl, it’s likelier that he will be snatched up more quickly and easily by opposing teams rather than Blalock.
It’s no doubt that any student of offensive line play knows how integral for the group to act as a unit in order to assure success. And that becomes obvious when it comes to tackle-guard team-ups. When opposing teams run things like stunts, it’s imperative that the guard and tackle be able to work in unison and coordinate to prevent penetration by the defense.
As far as tackle-guard pairs go, it’s clear that Dahl-Clabo is superior to Blalock-Baker. That is not only a reflection of their individual skill, but the right side pair seem less prone to the breakdowns in communication and cohesion that have plagued Blalock and Baker at various points in recent years.
If the Falcons are successful in keeping Clabo, then it would make sense to prioritize Dahl rather than break up that happy pair. As mentioned before, it’s unknown if the Falcons really see Baker in their long-term plans, thus devaluing Blalock a little more.
Mike Johnson starred primarily left guard during his career at Alabama, and that was his primary position again last season in his rookie year with the Falcons. When the team drafted him in the third round last year, they did so for a reason, likely because at that time they viewed Blalock as the weaker link. It remains to be seen if their minds are changed.
Should we also be reading into the fact that this year’s seventh round pick Andrew Jackson primarily starred at left guard during his career at Fresno State. Does that mean that the team is planning on him sliding right in as a reserve at left guard, likely indicating the vacancy of the starter there?
I think the Falcons brass have made moves the past two drafts indicating that they are ready to part ways with Blalock before Dahl. Remember, Dahl was basically hand-picked by Paul Boudreau to be a starter when he came aboard.
I think the Falcons should try to keep both players, as continuity on the offensive line is very important. But if one was to walk, I think the safer option would be to allow Blalock to depart. The problem will be if Blalock is a case similar to Roberto Garza back in 2005, where you have a player that is just starting to come into his own. Garza left Atlanta as an inconsistent youngster and has since been a solid starter for the Bears the past six seasons. It would be a shame to see history repeat itself if Blalock were to sign with another team.