It is not a big secret that a major need for the Falcons headed into the off-season is improving their performance in the trenches. They got whipped up front by the New York Giants in the playoffs, as well as teams like Houston during the regular season. It exposed their inability to compete at the higher levels, which has been a big reason why the team has yet to win its first postseason game under Mike Smith. Getting stronger on the offensive line can be a major step forward to try and correct that issue.
D. Orlando Ledbetter wrote a few weeks back about whether or not the Falcons should try to sign Marcus McNeill, if the San Diego Chargers choose to part ways with him next month. It seems like that is a likely conclusion since the Chargers can clear $10 million in cap space by making the move. The key part of the equation will be whether McNeill can pass a physical, having suffered from chronic neck and spinal injuries over the years. He finished the year in San Diego on injured reserve due to suffering neck injuries that forced him out of two games in late October and November. He had off-season neck surgery following 2008, and had two surgeries on his knees last year in February and August.
When McNeill has been healthy, he’s been very good. The massive run blocker would be an upgrade at left tackle for the Falcons. One of the major issues with Sam Baker there has been his inability to get push in the ground game. McNeill has only been recorded with giving up 12.25 sacks over the past four seasons in 50 games played, according to STATS LLC. Compared to Baker, who according to STATS has given up 16.5 sacks in the last 28 games he’s played in Atlanta over the past two years.
An interesting proposition for the Falcons could be teaming McNeill with a former college teammate at Auburn in free agent guard Ben Grubbs. The pair started alongside each other for two seasons at Auburn before McNeill became a second round pick in 2006. Grubbs stayed for another year and was taken in the first round by the Baltimore Ravens in 2007. Grubbs has since developed into one of the better offensive guards in the league, playing in his first Pro Bowl this past year. Known for his solid run blocking and pass protection skills, he would be an upgrade at that position for the Falcons over Justin Blalock. Blalock has been serviceable to solid over his tenure in Atlanta, but is by no means a lynchpin for the team on the left side.
Grubbs is a free agent, one which the Ravens are intent on keeping. But the Ravens will be hard-pressed because they won’t be able to use their franchise tag on him (that will be reserved for running back Ray Rice), and Grubbs stands to make a pretty penny on the open market. With Carl Nicks set to hit free agency as well, and deals signed by players like Jahri Evans and Davin Joseph in recent years, whoever winds up with Grubbs is likely going to have to spend big.