On Friday, ESPN’s Vaughn McClure wrote that he expects Atlanta Falcons center Joe Hawley to be a priority target to re-sign among the team’s impending free agents. Given the struggles of Peter Konz last year at the position, and Hawley’s expected to be a relatively cheap option for the team, it makes sense that bringing him back shouldn’tt be too difficult for the Falcons.
But last week, Tony Pauline of TFY Draft Insider cited sources at the Combine that indicated that the chances of Hawley’s return to Atlanta was considered “50-50.” That initial prognostication flies in the face of what McClure wrote, so which is it?
Unfortunately, Pauline did not go into detail exactly why the chances of Hawley returning could go either way. Whether that is due to him likely finding greener pastures elsewhere in the league or not being considered a priority by the Falcons, was not indicated. However, it probably refers to the latter since the former seems less likely.
Pro Football Focus rates Hawley as their seventh-best center among the impending free agents. Hawley played about 530 snaps this past season at center, mostly coming in the final seven games where he proved to be an upgrade over a disappointing Konz. He saw 230 snaps in 2011 at the position as an injury replacement for Todd McClure during the first four games. Hawley did wind up playing over 900 snaps that season, but the majority of the remainder came at right guard, a role he struggled in.
It means that Hawley in total in his career has less than 800 snaps played at center, which doesn’t even represent a full season’s worth of games. It’s hard to imagine an NFL team coveting a player that is as unproven, relatively speaking, as Hawley is at the position. His past playing right guard adds versatility, but considering that Hawley was a poor fit at the position makes that added value minimal.
If there is one asset that Hawley possesses that other teams may want, it is youth. He is only 25, when most of the other free agent centers around the league are 28 or above. However, age isn’t as big a negative with centers as it can be at other positions in free agency, since centers tend to have the longest careers of anybody on the offensive line. McClure retired just after his 36th birthday and impending free agent Brad Meester of the Jacksonville Jaguars is hanging it up just before he turns 37 this offseason. Such longevity would mean that if Hawley is good enough, he could wind up playing a decade or more as a starter with the Falcons or another team. But it also means that team’s don’t have to avoid a free agent on the wrong side of 30 because such a player could still play several years for them. However, there are enough good centers that will be free agents that are on the right side of the 30: Alex Mack, Brian De La Puente, Evan Dietrich-Smith and Ryan Wendell to name several. And all have more experience than Hawley playing the position.
Those factors are why I think it’s more likely that Pauline’s source refers to the idea that the Falcons may not be completely sold on bringing Hawley back as the reason why his return is only given a 50 percent chance of occurring.
If that is the case, then I’m not sure why the Falcons have come to that conclusion.