The Falcons used a fifth round pick on Saturday to take Wisconsin fullback Bradie Ewing. And it caused a lot of speculation that Ovie Mughelli’s tenure as an Atlanta Falcon will come to an end. And while that is certainly a possibility, given Ovie’s age (32), the fact that he’s coming off a knee injury, and cutting him can clear about $3 million off the Falcons 2012 salary cap. But if the Falcons are looking to make the best football decision, then keeping Mughelli is a must.
I’ve been vocal in the past about Michael Turner’s potential to have a detrimental effect on the Falcons offense. A big part of that is that Turner and Mughelli are tied at the hip. When Turner has big games, it almost always coincides with Ovie having big games as a blocker. The pair have worked together for four years, and much like the relationship between a quarterback and a wide out goes the relationship between a tailback and his lead blocker.
The Falcons are intent on keeping Turner, and having Mughelli block for him is the best strategy to getting the most out of Turner in 2012. While Ewing is a solid lead blocker, as a rookie he’s not likely to add significantly more value as a starter than Mike Cox would. Ewing just is not a physical, smashmouth pile-clearing lead blocker that Ovie is. And that style of football has made Turner one of the more productive runners over the past four seasons, and earned Ovie a reputation for being the league’s top blocking fullback alongside Vonta Leach.
Ovie’s knee injury is a concern, but unlikely to have lingering effects. All reports indicate that Ovie suffered an MCL tear which is not nearly as grievous as an ACL tear. In fact, most often MCL tears do not require surgery to properly heal, although Ovie did undergo season-ending surgery last season.
And while Ovie’s age might seem to indicate he is nearing the end, giving the longevity that other Pro Bowl fullbacks like Mack Strong (last season was at age 36), William Henderson (35), Lorenzo Neal (38), and Tony Richardson (39) in the past decade, there’s no reason to expect that Ovie has several years left in the tank.
As for the money issue, given that Ovie is entering the final year of his contract, the Falcon could easily lower his cap hit by adding another year to the deal. Ovie has a 2012 cap hit of $3.733 million, with $3 million of that being base salary. As a 10th year veteran, the minimum salary is $925,000. If the Falcons were to lower his 2012 base salary to $925,000, and add another year in 2013 for the same price, and then convert the difference ($3 million – $925,000 = $2.075 million) into a signing bonus, they could almost nearly cut Ovie’s 2012 cap hit in half. The savings of nearly $1.8 million would allow a much more palatable contract for the Falcons to handle this season.