As suggested in the breakdown of the needs, the Falcons might opt to stand pat with their interior line, going into next year expecting to feature some combination of Justin Blalock, Joe Hawley, Peter Konz, and Mike Johnson manning the two guard and center spots. But there will be potential options for the team if they opt to pursue an upgrade this off-season.
The three players that sit atop the free agent guard rankings are Brandon Moore (Jets), Andy Levitre (Bills), and Louis Vasquez (Chargers). Moore is probably the mold of player that the Falcons should be looking for at right guard because he’s a physical run blocker that can push the pile and is still an effective pass protector. But Moore turns 33 in June, and may be contemplating retirement. The Falcons typically don’t make moves with the intention of being short-term deals. That could potentially make sense with Moore, hoping that he could bridge the gap in 2013 and buy them at least a year to find a suitable long-term option. That’s essentially what the Patriots did in 2011 with Brian Waters. Such a move would really come down to price tag.
Levitre on the other hand probably deserves a long-term from some team. Levitre has manned multiple positions over the years for the Bills including left tackle and center, although he’s spent the bulk of his time there as a left guard. He played left tackle at Oregon State, where he blocked for Falcons running back Jacquizz Rodgers. Levitre isn’t the biggest guy out there, but he’s got very polished technique and hands, and manages to consistently get leverage even against the bulkier defensive tackles like Vince Wilfork. He is basically a technician and while he’s not the road-grading presence the Falcons should prefer, he’s a major upgrade over what they currently have. The big question if the Falcons signed him would be whether he or Justin Blalock would move to right guard. Blalock played on the right side predominantly during his college career. Levitre is the more polished pass protector and thus would probably be a bit more trustworthy working on an island as right guards often do in pass protection. But he’s a bit undersized for the position and it may not a slam dunk.
Vasquez has played right guard for the Chargers the past four years and has ranged from serviceable to good. He’s got the size and potential as a run blocker that would help create more push for the Falcons. But he’s more big than good. His footwork and technique aren’t great, and because of it he’s not as consistent or dominant a player that he could be. Giving him a large contract may not be a worthwhile investment since the likelihood is low that he’s going to become a better player than he is today. Vasquez also isn’t particularly mobile, and may not be quite as effective in the screen game as the Falcons would prefer. Vasquez also isn’t particularly mobile and that might not mesh with how much the Falcons want to use screens on offense.
There are other potential free agents that could help the Falcons out. Donald Thomas (Patriots) had a productive season as a spot starter in New England. Thomas is not a powerful run blocker, although he can get leverage and position there. He’s got good feet to play in pass protection and if the Falcons want to continue to throw the ball he could be a worthwhile addition. He’s experienced playing both guard positions, and has managed to go under the radar for much of his career, so he probably won’t command huge dollars.
Another player that might get a look from the Falcons if he’s released by the Pittsburgh Steelers is Willie Colon. Colon was a solid right tackle for years in Pittsburgh, but then after injuries ended his 2010 and 2011 seasons prematurely, he was moved inside to guard this year. He only played in 11 games this past year, again due to knee injuries sidelining him. Colon is a powerful and physical run blocker that is still adjusting to playing inside, but his versatility could make him a nice option at right guard for the right price.
If the Falcons do indeed look to try and plug up the right guard position via free agency, they will have options. Between Moore, Levitre, and Colon they have three possible candidates that could upgrade the spot. Levitre is probably the best option among the trio since he doesn’t have age or durability issues to contend with.