The Atlanta Falcons announced the 10th and final addition to their practice squad earlier today with the signing of guard Ben Garland to the unit. Garland is another castoff from the Denver Broncos this summer, the third such player the team has signed after adding tight end Marcel Jensen to the practice squad and center Gino Gradkowski to the roster. The team has even considered the notion of picking up running back Montee Ball as well.
The Falcons also finalized the restructuring of newly acquired guard Andy Levitre’s contract, lowering the amount of money he is due over the next four seasons from $27.3 million to $23.25 million according to ESPN’s Field Yates.
Garland played defensive tackle at Air Force from 2006 to 2009 and signed with the Broncos as an undrafted free agent in 2010. He spent that preseason with the Broncos before going on active duty for the next two years. During that time, the Broncos retained his rights by placing him on a reserve/military list. After completion of his active duty, Garland returned to the Broncos in 2012 but was cut by the team at the end of camp before being re-signed to their practice squad. He also spent 2013 on the Broncos’ practice squad after making the transition to offense as a guard. He made the Broncos’ roster in 2014, appearing in eight games. Most of his playing time came in the Broncos’ season finale against the Oakland Raiders, where he logged 36 snaps as a replacement for left guard Orlando Franklin, who left the game with a concussion.
Garland is well-versed in the zone-blocking scheme, having been tutored by legendary offensive line coach Alex Gibbs over the years. His military background has aided Garland in developing one of the more notable work ethics on the roster. He was in a competition for a potential starting spot this summer in Denver at left guard, but eventually was caught in the numbers game when the team signed Evan Mathis to man that position.
Since 2012, Garland has served as a reserve in the Colorado Air National Guard, maintaining the rank of captain while fulfilling his military duties in the offseason as a public affairs officer.
As ESPN’s Vaughn McClure explains in Levitre’s contract restructuring, Levitre lowered his base salaries over the next three seasons, with the most notable difference coming in 2015 where his base salary was slashed from $6.5 million to $1.5 million. In 2016 and 2017, his base salaries of $6.5 million will reduce to $4 million and $5.25 million, respectively. In 2018, his base salary increases from $5.8 million to $7 million, but the $2 million roster bonus that Levitre was due previously is wiped off the books. In exchange for the lowering of those base salaries, Levitre received a $5.5 million signing bonus which will now be prorated over the next four years of his deal. That gives him cap hits of $2.875 million (2015), $5.375 million (2016), $6.625 million (2017) and $8.375 million (2018).
The structure of the new deal has immediate benefits for the Falcons since they save $3.625 million in 2015 cap space. It also should increase the chances that Levitre returns to the Falcons in 2016, given the cap savings from cutting him next offseason lower from $6.5 million to $1.25 million. With such lowered savings, basically Levitre would have to really struggle in 2015 at left guard to force the Falcons’ hand. His cap hit of $5.375 million next season is right in line with that of Jon Asamoah ($5.3 million) in 2016, indicative of what the team would be willing to pay a quality interior starter.
Given Asamoah’s benching this summer, it’s much likelier that the Falcons will release him next offseason instead, saving the Falcons $1.4 million against next year’s cap. Should the Falcons opt to move on from Levitre after 2016, the team will net nearly $4 million in 2017 cap savings.