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Free Agent Focus: Geoff Schwartz

March 3rd, 2014
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Geoff Schwartz

There’s no doubt the Falcons need an upgrade at right guard, and Kansas City Chiefs guard Geoff Schwartz might be able to provide that. He is considered the top-rated guard this offseason by Pro Football Focus, Yahoo Sports! Shutdown Corner and Rotoworld.

Schwartz has had an interesting career, serving as a journeyman with three separate teams after being a seventh-round pick out of Oregon by the Carolina Panthers in 2008. He spent his rookie season on the Panthers practice squad, unable to make the final roster behind first-round pick Jeff Otah and veteran backups Jeremy Bridges and Frank Omiyale. But the following year with Bridges and Omiyale elsewhere, Schwartz got the opportunity to backup Otah. He wound up starting the final three games of that season as an injury replacement for Otah.

In 2010, Schwartz picked up where he left off the previous season starting the first five games at right tackle as Otah missed the entire season due to injury. Then the poor play of Mackenzy Bernadeau at right guard prompted Schwartz to switch to that position thereafter. He finished the season starting the remaining 11 games at right guard and earned the second-highest grade among Panthers linemen according to Pro Football Focus behind only left tackle Jordan Gross.

However, Schwartz’s career got off track in 2011 as he missed the entire year with a hip injury. In his stead, Geoff Hangartner started at right guard while Byron Bell filled in at right tackle for a once-again injured Otah. With Schwartz hitting free agency after the season, the Panthers opted to keep Hangartner at guard, and also were willing to give Otah another shot to return healthy to compete with Bell at right tackle. Thus Schwartz walked via free agency and signed with the Minnesota Vikings. That decision did not prove fruitful for Carolina, as Hangartner struggled in 2012 and would be replaced a year later at that spot. Otah was unable to get healthy and was traded to the New York Jets in July, but failed his physical, voiding the trade. He would be cut by the Panthers shortly thereafter and has yet to get another opportunity in the NFL.

Meanwhile, Schwartz managed to split snaps with right guard Brandon Fusco for a couple of games in 2012 with the Vikings. But the Vikings opted to let Schwartz walk after the season and he signed a one-year deal with the Chiefs for the veteran minimum.

It proved to be a fortuitous turn of events for the Chiefs. While Schwartz began last year as a backup, his steady play over the course of the year won him the starting job at right guard and a chance to return to the Chiefs at a much higher salary.

Schwartz started the 2013 season-opener for the Chiefs at right guard since regular Jon Asamoah was nursing a calf injury. He got his second start in Week 4 at left guard due to a groin injury to Jeff Allen. But in Week 11, the Chiefs opted to replace Asamoah at right guard with Schwartz and the latter finished out the season there. Schwartz also got reps in Week 17 at right tackle when Eric Fisher went down with a groin injury.

Schwartz is looking for stability with a long-term deal from some team this offseason, whether that’s with the Chiefs or another. He obviously could find that in Atlanta, as well as a number of places that are looking for upgrades at their guard position.

A 6-6, 340-pound guard like Schwartz, noted for his effectiveness both as a run blocker and pass protector should be highly coveted by a number of teams. And that could lead to a bidding war for Schwartz if he manages to hit the open market, driving up his price.

While most don’t expect Schwartz to garner a deal on par with what the Tennessee Titans gave Andy Levitre last offseason (six years, $46.8 million), if multiple teams get involved in seeking Schwartz, it’s certain that he’ll make a lot more than the $665,000 he earned in 2013.

The Falcons should have the ability to spend this offseason, which means they should certainly be in the mix if money talks in regards to Schwartz.

Strengths:

  • Good size and strength to get consistent position and push as a run blocker
  • Has good feet for his size plus strength makes him effective in pass protection
  • Versatile and has started at three different positions (LG, RG, RT) in NFL

Weaknesses:

  • Lacks elite feet and athleticism which can lead to struggles against quicker interior rushers
  • Not as dominant a power blocker as size would merit
  • More of an inline blocker and not quite as effective when asked to block on the move or in space

How He Fits in Atlanta…

Schwartz is what I’d call a “Pro Football Focus Superstar.” He’s a guy that has consistently graded very well on that site over the years, but on tape doesn’t wow you. But Harvey Dahl and Tyson Clabo could be described in a similar manner, and it’s those two players that Schwartz reminds me quite a bit of.

It’s Clabo that Schwartz reminds me the most of. The thing I like most about Schwartz is that while he’s not blessed with great feet or ideal athleticism, he does make effective use of his hands to compensate just like Clabo did. Ideally, an offensive lineman will have both great feet and great hand usage. But more often than not, most effective NFL starters will be blessed with one or the other. And of the two, I believe hands are the more desirable trait. Like Clabo, Schwartz may struggle to stay in front of some rushers, but once he is able to get his hands on a guy, he’s going to win more often that not.

Dahl could be described the same way and they two are similar players. Schwartz is a more effective and consistent pass protector than Dahl was however is because he’s much larger and simply takes up more space. That’s space that a defender has difficulty finding a way to get around. Inside at guard, that makes Schwartz an effective player in a phone booth.

I don’t believe Schwartz is a great guard, but I believe he’s at least capable if not a good one. He’s certainly an upgrade over what the Falcons have fielded at right guard the past few years, and also gives the team versatility that he can be plugged into right tackle or left guard if need be. He wouldn’t be my first choice to start a full year at right tackle, but I think he can do it if needed.

He’s the sort of player that you can plug in at right guard immediately and then hope that through training camp whoever lines up at right tackle (Lamar Holmes?) is able to sort of bond and gel with him and re-solidify the right side of the offensive line that was formerly a strength back in 2010 when Dahl and Clabo handled things.

The only real issue with Schwartz comes down to price tag. The Falcons historically have had a habit of overpaying average offensive linemen. And while I wouldn’t call Schwartz average, I would say he’s much closer to that than he is to being considered great. So ultimately, ideally you can get him at the lowest price possible. I wouldn’t begin to speculate what that price is, but I don’t want to see the Falcons get into a similar situation as they did a few years ago with cornerback Dunta Robinson where the team desperately needed an upgrade at the position and was willing to pay an above average player like he was an elite one. Schwartz is not an elite guard and should not be paid like one.

Robinson proved to be an upgrade over Chris Houston for about a year, and then his price tag significantly outweighed his production. And that prompted the Falcons to acquire Asante Samuel via trade, let Brent Grimes walk via free agency and also take Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford early in the 2013 NFL Draft. Robinson’s presence didn’t solidify anything as the Falcons had even more turnover at cornerback after his arrival than they did in previous years because his price tag was way out of whack with his production.

The goal with signing Schwartz should get stabilizing the right guard position, and overpaying him by a significant degree won’t accomplish that. That’s due to the possibility that while he may be a nice short-term fix, eventually if his salary gets out of whack with his production, it will force the team to start looking at other, cheaper options in the not-too-distant future. If a team is paying is paying top-end dollar for average production, eventually you’re going to find some way to rectify that situation.

I wouldn’t predict that it’ll cost an arm and leg to get Schwartz, but perhaps just an arm. That could wind up being worth it for the Falcons if for no other reason than that it buys them at least a couple of years where they don’t have to worry too much about the right guard position. Worst-case scenario is the Falcons get from Schwartz what they’ve gotten mostly from Blalock the past three years since signing his $39 million deal in 2011, which is tolerable mediocrity.

Best-case scenario is that Schwartz is a free-agent signing much like Todd Weiner was for the Falcons in 2002. Weiner came to the Falcons after four nondescript seasons with the Seattle Seahawks at a then, premium salary and gave Atlanta six-and-a-half solid years of production. Schwartz has the capacity to give the Falcons the same if not more.

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