Leftover Mailbag: January 29, 2019

Jason Getz-USA TODAY SportsTampa Bay Buccaneers LB Kwon Alexander attempts to tackle Falcons WR Mohamed Sanu

On this week’s “Monday Mailbag” episode of the Locked on Falcons Podcast, I answered over a half-dozen listener questions dealing with the Atlanta Falcons offseason plans and focused quite a bit on the topic of Grady Jarrett’s future.

But I wasn’t able to get to every question asked this past week on that half-hour podcast and the “leftovers” have been chilling in the fridge for the past few days and it’s time to take them out and dig in.

Let’s get started!

Fusco’s Future and Ed Oliver’s Stock

Hey Aaron,

I read Jason Butt’s Year End Review article. One of the nuggets I took away from the piece is that Fusco suffered a pretty bad injury. If the team wanted to move on from him, what would they have to do since he is injured?

I also liked reading Jason Butt’s piece on the Draft. Keeping with your comment that it isn’t worth it to focus too hard on the Draft yet as Free Agency can change things and allow another position to rise up in need (CB, DE, TE). I also find it interesting how stories are coming out. Mel Kiper has Ed Oliver going to us because he sees him as a replacement to Grady Jarrett? Or that his stock has gone down. Why has his stock gone down?

Andy – Mave2124 – NJ Falcons fan

As far as I know, the Falcons could opt to release Fusco with a “failed physical” designation at the outset of the league year. The Seattle Seahawks did this last year with cornerback Richard Sherman.

As I understand it, this designation results in no difference in terms of how it affects the Falcons cap in 2019. All that it does is that if Fusco is unable to sign with another team this year, then the Falcons would have to pay him $1.2 million in injury protection.

But from reading Jason Butt’s article, I didn’t get the impression that Fusco’s injury is serious enough that his career is in jeopardy. According to Dan Quinn’s statements at the end-of-year press conference, it appears that all players the Falcons put on injured reserve last season, including Fusco, are on schedule to be healthy by the start of training camp.

Otherwise, the Falcons can wait until Fusco is able to pass a physical, presumably sometime between April and August and cut him then.

The team will save roughly $3.3 million against their 2019 salary cap if they cut Fusco between now and June 2. If he is released on or after June 2, the Falcons save slightly more than $4 million against the cap.

As I mentioned on the podcast, I expect Fusco to return to the Falcons in 2019 and compete with Wes Schweitzer and/or a rookie for the starting right guard spot.

And as I also said on the episode, if the Falcons are aggressive in March and April with solidifying their holes at both guard spots, I think there’s a chance Fusco could be released in a similar fashion as to what happened with Chris Chester following the 2015 NFL Draft.

As for your second question on Ed Oliver, I think his stock is “down” for a number of reasons.

Firstly, I think the fact that Oliver missed a significant amount of the 2018 season due to a knee injury has hurt his stock to a small extent.

However, the main reason why I believe questions are being raised about Oliver is due to concerns about his size. The various rumors are that Oliver weighed somewhere in the 275-pound range the past few seasons at Houston rather than his listed weight of 292 pounds, with the former being considered too small for an every-down NFL defensive tackle. He’ll need to be at least 285 to answer serious questions over his ability to be a full-time defender on the interior. Otherwise, you’ll hear concerns about whether he’ll be forced to play at defensive end instead.

So I think right now many are doubting whether Oliver will show up at the Scouting Combine next month with the necessary bulk.

Others also question whether the production as a pass-rusher meets the hype that has surrounded Oliver the past two seasons.

Personally, I believe that Oliver will show up around 285 in four weeks and I expect will test absolutely off the charts when he does, and all this talk that Oliver’s stock is “down” will mostly evaporate overnight and he’ll once again be discussed as a lock to go in the top 10 once again.

As for concerns about his lack of pass-rushing prowess, I think it’s fair to question how developed he is in that regard. But given his athletic profile, I think most of those questions are pretty nitpicky. Oliver may be rawer than other top defensive tackles in this year’s class but how is that any different than many highly drafted defensive ends who possess way more upside and athleticism versus technique when they enter the NFL?

I think any team that drafts Oliver should feel confident that he possesses the raw tools in abundance to be developed into a dominant pass-rusher down the road.

Or at least I believe that will become the narrative after the Combine that isn’t necessarily the case right now.

Should the Falcons Target Kwon Alexander?

I mostly agree with you that the Falcons linebacker corps was subpar in 2018 and has often been the case for the past few seasons. I think the youth of the group has been a convenient excuse during that time period, but that excuse can only get you so far since at some point the team should be able to address that issue.

And this might be the offseason for that to happen. Looking at the potential available free-agent linebackers this offseason, there are a number of top-tier names such as Jordan Hicks (Philadelphia Eagles), Anthony Barr (Minnesota Vikings), C.J. Mosley (Baltimore Ravens), Thomas Davis (Carolina Panthers) and K.J. Wright (Seattle Seahawks).

Even though Kwon Alexander suffered a torn ACL midway through the 2018 season and was in the midst of a “down” year, he should also be included on that list.

I suspect the majority of the aforementioned linebackers will be priority re-signings for their respective teams such as Hicks and Mosley, taking them off the table as realistic options for the Falcons.

Barr’s status in Minnesota is up in the air and there’s a decent chance he is a franchise tag recipient, also potentially limiting his access to the open market.

Yet we already know that the Panthers have informed Thomas Davis that he won’t be returning to Charlotte this year.

Wright’s previous connection to Falcons head coach Dan Quinn makes him an obvious standout. Like Davis, Wright’s veteran experience would arguably be an ideal addition to this Falcons linebacker corps given that one of their biggest issues is their youth and lack of discipline.

Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell are talented players but are inconsistent particularly when it comes to defending the run. Both players tend to struggle to be consistent with their run fits and making proper reads. Davis and Wright’s instincts would be a welcome addition to help tutor those two Falcon linebackers, along with Duke Riley and Foye Oluokun for at least a year or two.

Alexander lacks the experience of Davis and Wright but has a wealth of athleticism even when considering that he’s returning from a significant knee injury. The question is going to be whether that knee injury impacts Alexander’s market value to a significant degree.

If Alexander’s market is not depressed significantly, it doesn’t seem likely that the Falcons are going to fork up huge money for him when they’re also likely going to pay a massive contract to Jones next offseason when he becomes a free agent.

So it makes it even likelier in my mind that the Falcons will prefer an older, steadier veteran like Davis or Wright, who both should cost considerably cheaper than Alexander.

Other free-agent linebackers worth mentioning are Pittsburgh’s L.J. Fort, who graded very well for Pro Football Focus despite receiving limited snaps throughout 2018. He could be considered a sleeper in this year’s market.

Others include Arizona’s Deone Bucannon, Cincinnati’s Preston Brown, New Orleans’ Manti Te’o and Seattle’s Mychal Kendricks.

Bucannon has struggled in recent years and in my eyes seems like more of the same of what has plagued the Falcons in recent years.

Brown is coming off a down year with the Bengals and lacks the athleticism and coverage prowess that Quinn typically prefers.

Te’o also may not be quite the athletic fit for the Falcons scheme as well.

Kendricks fits the scheme but his NFL future is clouded by an impending April sentencing stemming from pleading guilty to insider trading charges this past summer. It’s highly unlikely that the Falcons would be willing to commit to him until he gets a legal “all clear.” Not to mention he too is coming off a significant injury, having broken his leg at the end of the 2018 regular season.

I will add that I do think if the Falcons don’t make a major addition at linebacker this offseason, that position could become a top priority for them in the 2020 offseason.

Without a stronger rebound season in 2019, I doubt whether Campbell will be re-signed next offseason when he’s a free agent. And unless Riley or Oluokun take major strides to solve one of the starting spots, there will be a potential major void to fill for the team next offseason.

What Happened to Your Co-Host?

For those that don’t know, I do two Falcons podcasts. One, of course, is the Locked on Falcons Podcast, the other being Falcons Central Radio, which can be found on ProFootballCentral.com.

This past September, my co-host of five years, Scott Carasik stopped appearing on the podcast. The reason for that is because myself, Scott and the show’s producer Brian Harrington, who also runs Pro Football Central, all agreed that Scott’s passion for hosting was not as strong as it had been in previous years and that it was best for all parties to part ways so that Scott can seek other opportunities elsewhere and that Falcons Central Radio can continue to prosper with another sharing co-hosting duty with me. It was an amicable split between Scott and me.

My Wife?!

Doubtful. Your wife left you for a reason.

Fullbacks Need Love Too

Well considering that some think Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins is a good target for the Falcons in the first round, and Wilkins dabbled as a goal-line running back for the Tigers this past year, it’s in the realm of possibilities.

The Falcons deployed Dontari Poe in goal-line situations in 2017 as a fullback. So should the team land Wilkins, we could see a return to that wrinkle in 2019.

So despite your tongue-in-cheek question, there’s a chance the Falcons could move up to get a player that will play at least a few snaps at fullback in the future.

That’s it, the fridge has been cleaned out! Thanks to everyone that submitted questions over the past few days.

About the Author

Aaron Freeman
Founder of FalcFans.com