Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Hawley’

Hawley suspended 4 games for PEDs

November 19th, 2012 Comments off

The Falcons announced earlier this afternoon that reserve lineman Joe Hawley would be suspended for the next four games due to a violation of the NFL’s policy against the use of performance enhancers. Players can choose to appeal their suspensions and continue to play until a second ruling is made, however Hawley will elect not to do so and his suspension will begin immediately. He will not be eligible to return to the team until December 17 after their Week 15 matchup against the New York Giants.

Hawley suited up briefly this past Sunday for a single snap at center after Todd McClure left the game with a lower leg injury. Hawley provides depth at both center and guard on gameday. The team may opt to add another center to the roster with the now available roster spot formerly held by Hawley, to shore up depth.

His agent, Kevin Omell, released a statement via the NFLPA:

“In September, Joe Hawley made a mistake by taking an Adderall pill. He did not file the paperwork to apply for an exemption for this medication, and now understands that the NFL/NFLPA drug policies have strict rules.

He is sincerely sorry to his teammates, coaches and Falcons fans for the consequences of this oversight. Joe will work diligently every day of this suspension to stay in top football shape and be ready to help the team continue the success they’ve achieved thus far this season. He has chosen to be immediately accountable for the situation which is why he will not exercise his appeal rights and will begin serving the suspension immediately.”

Categories: News Tags: ,

Which Falcons could become trade bait?

August 30th, 2012 Comments off

This is the port in the summer where people are talking about trading players, and I just wanted to quickly go over some Falcon players that probably have the most trade value. Obviously, a player like Roddy White would have huge trade value, but the Falcons won’t trade him. I’m looking more at guys that appear to be somewhat expendable and have an outside shot that it could happen if a phone call was made.

Most trades at this point in time involve late round picks and roster bubble players. The Vontae Davis trade withstanding, it’s rare a team will part ways with their top corner who is only in his third year in the league. The normal trade at this point in time is what the Colts did earlier when they acquired Josh Gordy from St. Louis. Most of these trades are for conditional picks, meaning that if said player makes the new team’s roster or plays a certain amount of games in the upcoming season, compensation will be exchanged. If not, then nothing is lost.

I’ll start with Michael Turner, not because I think he’ll be traded or should be traded, but just because in the dark reaches of an alley, there are a few Falcon fans conspiring about it. Turner does not have a ton of trade value. I think it would be possible for the Falcons to get a conditional fifth or sixth round pick at this point in time for Turner, potentially based off how many rushing yards he has this season. But that’s probably about it. That really is not worth it.

Jason Snelling is another player that could be shopped most years, but his injury as well as the question marks that the Falcons have at fullback probably placed in the non-expendable category. Teams don’t normally trade for injured players, and when they do it rarely turns in their favor. (see Otah, Jeff)

Also on offense, players that could be parted ways with include some of their backup offensive linemen. Namely Andrew Jackson, Joe Hawley, and Mike Johnson. Hawley and Johnson probably have better value on the market namely because Hawley has gotten extensive reps last year and Johnson was a higher round pick that many people liked coming out of Alabama. A team like Dallas, who has been hurting at a position like center could probably be interested in a player like Hawley for a possible sixth or seventh rounder. Johnson probably could fetch the same price, if a team was looking for a guy that can add depth at guard or tackle.

On the defensive line, the two players that are probably the easiest to trade would be Kroy Biermann and Vance Walker. I would be shocked if the Falcons would trade Biermann because he seems to be nestled atop their depth chart as the team’s nickel pass rusher, replacing Ray Edwards. But given the fact that they still would have Edwards and Lawrence Sidbury to fill that role, and could still develop Jonathan Massaquoi and/or Cliff Matthews as depth, it would not be crazy if the Falcons did shop Biermann for a late round pick. Walker’s experience means that a team hurting for a run-stopping one-gap tackle could be enticed to give up a seventh rounder.

If the Falcons were confident in the return abilities of Harry Douglas on punts, it could potentially mean that Dominique Franks could be shopped. If a team was really hurting for depth at cornerback, they might also look at Chris Owens, assuming he’s fully recovered from his hamstring injury. The Falcons could presumably opt to deal one of them because of the other’s presence.

I don’t think any of these players should be traded or will be traded, but it always interesting to see what possibilities are out there. A lot of those players I mentioned, getting just a conditional sixth or seventh round pick doesn’t seem like a fair trade for the Falcons. Ultimately the depth many of those guys provide and the roles they fill are worth me in return than a draft pick that ultimately will just be a career backup and special teamer in all likelihood. Biermann is a prime example of this. He’s a pulled muscle away from starting a bunch of games this year and helping keep the pass rush from evaporating. No offense, but that right there is worth more than drafting another Charles Mitchell or Wilrey Fontenot.

Preseason Stock Exchange (Week 1)

August 14th, 2012 Comments off

It’s time to look at which Falcon players have improved their stock and those that have not after the first preseason outing. This is mostly looking at who shined and who did not against the Ravens.

Stock Up

QB Dominique Davis – Davis benefited greatly from the lackluster night by both Chris Redman and John Parker Wilson. Besides Wilson running an effective 2-minute drill at the end of the half, both veteran passers looked very rusty against the Ravens. Davis showed some athleticism, using his legs to extend plays and also showed off his strong arm with some shots downfield. Davis still needs to polish up his footwork, mechanics, and tighten up his accuracy, but if he can build off last week’s performance against the Bengals, he will be in prime position to potentially earn a roster spot.

WR DJ. Davis – The No. 5 wide receiver spot will almost certainly be determined by special teams ability. And Davis stood out against the Ravens, particularly with his excellent open field stop when working as a gunner on a punt returner, tripping up Bobby Rainey in the 3rd quarter to cause a 1-yard loss on a Dawson Zimmerman punt. Kevin Cone looked to have the inside track at the spot, but Davis is making up ground.

OL Peter Konz – Konz had his moments when working at right guard with the second team offensive line, showing ability to get some push. He missed a block while pulling inside on a play, but then helped make up for with a good block downfield when he pulled outside on the next play. Konz had some struggles when he moved to center for the third unit. But if he’s going to make up ground against Garrett Reynolds for the starting right guard spot, he got off to a solid start.

Read more…

Camp Battles 2012: Offensive Line

July 16th, 2012 Comments off
Fernando Medina-US PRESSWIRE

Sam Baker

The offensive line is likely to be the most contested offensive position group in camp. Unlike the other offensive positions, the Falcons aren’t currently set on their starting lineup. The brunt of the competition will come at the two weakest spots from a year ago: left tackle and right guard. Sam Baker is the incumbent at left tackle, although he remains a question mark because he was effectively benched last year after a very poor start to the season. Will Svitek replaced him and proved to be an upgrade. But the team remains optimistic about Baker’s abilities, excusing much of his struggles due to injuries. The team drafted rookie Lamar Holmes as well in the third round, and he’ll push for time as well. But by missing rookie mini-camps with a foot injury likely will have Holmes climbing an uphill battle in camp to gain the starting spot. More than likely the spot will come down to Baker or Svitek, with Baker having the advantage going into camp because he worked the majority of first team snaps in the off-season.

At right guard, the team could have a new face as two of their off-season additions will be competing there. Free agent pickup Vince Manuwai and top pick Peter Konz will be pushing for playing time behind Garrett Reynolds, who is considered the incumbent. Reynolds got the majority of first team snaps during OTAs, a small surprise given that Reynolds, like Baker, lost his job in 2011. He was replaced after a sluggish start by Joe Hawley, who was an improvement but only slightly over the second half of the season. Reynolds has struggled with extensive reps at the guard position largely due to his height, which is disadvantageous inside at guard. Manuwai worked mostly with the second unit during minicamps, and is the strongest candidate among the two to push for time. Konz played exclusively as a center during his days at Wisconsin, and split time between both spots this off-season. He still has a small learning curve at guard, and while he will be given a legitimate opportunity to win the starting spot, he’ll likely be on the outside looking in.

The other three roster spots are pretty much locked up as the team brought back center Todd McClure along with left guard Justin Blalock and right tackle Tyson Clabo. Blalock and Clabo won’t face any competition for their jobs, while McClure will be pushed by Hawley. McClure has never lost his starting spot in his 13-year career, so it doesn’t seem likely that he will do so this summer. But the Falcons will give Hawley a chance to emerge as the team wants to get more physical up front. Hawley was miscast as a guard last year, but his skillset is much more suited to playing the pivot where he is fiesty and physical. That sort of mentality will be welcomed at the center position. But he’s not nearly as polished as McClure and certainly lacks McClure’s extensive experience and knowledge calling out blocking assignments.

But even if players like Hawley, Konz, and Holmes don’t win starting positions, they are virtual locks to be among the final nine or ten blockers that could make the 53-man roster. Between Manuwai and Reynolds as well as Baker and Svitek, it doesn’t seem like a sure bet that all will make the roster if they don’t win the starting spot. Svitek is probably the most valuable as a reserve given his versatility to serve as swing tackle and potential blocking tight end.

Also vying for positions include former draftees Andrew Jackson and Mike Johnson. Johnson was a third round pick, but injuries have limited his development over the past two summers. He had the potential to win the starting gig from Reynolds last summer, but an untimely concussion forced him out of the lineup, allowing Reynolds the time to solidify the spot. Jackson will likely get a boost because the Falcons new position coach is his former head coach Pat Hill from Fresno State. The team has been working to cross-train both players for multiple positions to give them some potential added value. Both players have gotten reps at tackle this off-season. But both are fighting an uphill battle to make the roster certainly due to the more experienced players ahead of them. It is noteworthy that both players still remain eligible for the team’s practice squad, although it doesn’t seem likely at this point that either would clear waivers if released by the team.

Also competing in camp are undrafted rookies Bryce Harris, Tyler Horn, and Phillip Manley. All three are longshots to make the roster, but can certainly impress enough to make bids for the practice squad. Harris also followed Hill from Fresno State, but is facing long odds given the added depth at the tackle position. A bit undersized, Harris is an ideal candidate to be placed on the practice squad for a year or two to add some bulk. Horn is stuck behind a relatively deep center group in Atlanta, as he is fourth on the depth chart. And the fact that Hawley and Konz add the versatility of also playing guard, it will make it that much harder for Horn to stand out. Manley offers good size for a guard, but he too is stuck behind a bunch of bodies.

Mike Smith has stressed trying to bolster competition in camp, and very few positions embody that mentality than the offensive line. Its struggles a year ago precipitate that renewed focus on getting the best players on the field. And while the majority of the team’s starting positions are likely settled, there will be a maelstrom brewing as players compete for second unit spots and their football-playing lives. Predicting who the final nine or ten will be on the roster is the most tenuous of any position group. Three of the starters (Blalock, Clabo, and McClure) and three reserves (Hawley, Holmes, and Konz) are fairly safe bets. But beyond that, the last handful of spots will be completely up for grabs.

2015 Falcons: Offensive Line

June 17th, 2012 Comments off
US PRESSWIRE

Peter Konz

The Falcons offensive line come 2015 is considered one of the strengths of the team, given the teams new-found emphasis on the position that begins in 2012.

The Falcons 2015 line consists of the same unit that it started beginning in 2013, which features left tackle Lamar Holmes, left guard Justin Blalock, center Joe Hawley, right guard Peter Konz, and right tackle Tyson Clabo. What begin as a bit of a shaky unit has now blossomed into a strong group up front now that they’ve built some continuity with each other. Also in the mix is a Pat Hill favorite in guard Andrew Jackson, who hopes that now in his fifth season in the league can crack a permanent place in the starting lineup at guard.

The anchor of the unit is Konz, who thanks to Hawley’s solid play in his first season as a full-time starter in 2013 hasn’t been asked to kick inside to center yet. Hawley was good enough that the team opted to re-sign him following the 2013 season with a modest three-year deal and hasn’t regretted the decision as he has developed into a solid starting center thanks to his toughness and aggressiveness. At the other guard spot is the old veteran Justin Blalock, whose Falcon career is beginning to wind down. While Blalock has yet to earn a trip to the Pro Bowl in his career, he’s considered to be a solid guard. But the team is looking for Jackson to potentially push him for the starting spot. They are also hopeful that even if he doesn’t beat out Blalock, that Jackson has improved enough that he could be plugged in at right guard, which will allow Konz to play his more natural center position. Jackson has managed to fill in at various times over the past three seasons when others have been out with injuries. He has been cross-trained to play all three interior positions, although Konz remains the primary backup at center. But the team feels its interior of the line is the strength of the unit.

Outside, Lamar Holmes and Tyson Clabo form the bookends. By 2015, Clabo appears to be on his last legs. He’s entering the contract year of his deal that he signed in 2011, and most expect him to hang it up after the year is done. But he wants to give it one more go with this team to try and push them over the top. The team has already drafted his heir apparent and potential replacement in the rookie out of Iowa, Brandon Scherff. On the opposite side, Holmes has grown into a solid player. While he’s not considered to be one of the top left tackles in the league, he is considered capable of getting the job done of protecting Matt Ryan’s blindside. Holmes had a shaky start in his first year as a starter in 2013, but in the subsequent years has shown improvement each season so that now in 2015, he is considered a solid asset for the unit. His career arc mirrors that of previous left tackles such as Donald Penn, Duane Brown, and Jermon Bushrod, of guys that got off to questionable starts, but showed steady improvement each year. He is in line for a big extension after 2015 if he can show continued growth.

Due to their renewed focus on maintaining a strong front, the Falcons have used a multitude of their late round picks over the past few drafts to build depth.

2012 Key Players: Offensive Line

May 29th, 2012 Comments off
US PRESSWIRE

The Falcons Front Line

I’ve already discussed how Michael Turner’s play this year will be a key to success for the Falcons in 2012. Tied to that is the play of the offensive line. It’s clear that the Falcons are a team that pride themselves on being an effective to good running team. And that notion isn’t likely to change under new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. The Jaguars under Jack Del Rio styled themselves in a similar manner, being a team that could run the ball well and play good defense, i.e. often the core elements of what is called being “physical.” That’s the exact sort of mentality and identity that Mike Smith has tried to instill here in Atlanta over the past four seasons. And it’s probably one of the main reasons why Smith was attracted to Koetter to take over for Mike Mularkey.

But joining Koetter on his quest to reinvigorate the Falcons offense on the ground will be new offensive line coach Pat Hill. Hill comes to the Falcons after years as the head coach at Fresno State. The Falcons hope Hill’s brand of high energy and toughness will also prove a boost up front.

It was clear last year that the biggest weakness on the offense was the offensive line. They struggled to create holes for Turner to run through, and struggled protecting Matt Ryan when they faced quality pass rushes. While the team may be very vocal about not regretting the decision to trade for Julio Jones, they certainly should be regretful over how they took the offensive line for granted last off-season.

Too often the line got manhandled in 2011 and it often occurred in instances where they could not establish the run early in games. If they got behind the offense would become one-dimensional and lose its balance. And several opposing teams were able to take advantage by pinning their ears back and be effective at getting to Matt Ryan.

Ryan is not a quarterback that likes to get hit. That isn’t questioning his toughness, but there is plenty of evidence over the past four years that if teams can get to him early and often, it can affect his play the rest of the game. That could also describe Tom Brady rather easily. So it’s prohibitive of Ryan becoming a top quarterback, it’s just an obstacle to overcome. You can live with a subpar O-line in Pittsburgh with Ben Roethlisberger behind center because he seems to thrive at times with pressure in his face. But that won’t be the case here in Atlanta, and thus emphasizing better play up front will remain important as long as Ryan is the starter.

Thus the Falcons off-season decisions to bolster the competition up front were good moves. The team needed to improve their blocking, and they did so by adding veteran guard Vince Manuwai and drafting rookies Peter Konz and Lamar Holmes in the draft.

Read more…

McClure returns for one more year

March 27th, 2012 Comments off

D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC reports that free agent center Todd McClure has re-signed with the Falcons on a one-year agreement. McClure has been with the Falcons since 1999, being the longest tenured player. He was originally drafted in the seventh round out of LSU in that year, but missed the entire season due to an injury. He returned in 2000 to start 7 games. In 2002, he began a streak of starting every game for the team that would last 9 seasons until he was forced to sit out the season opener this past year. McClure managed to finished the year with 13 starts. His career total is 179 starts. His 182 career appearances is the fourth most in Falcons history, trailling only Mike Kenn (251), Jeff Van Note (245), and Jessie Tuggle (209).

Had McClure not been re-signed, it was expected that Joe Hawley would take over for him at center. Hawley replaced McClure for 3 starts last year, but also started 9 other games at right guard. The team added Vince Manuwai in free agency to take over that position.

Categories: News Tags: , , ,

FalcFans Podcast – Episode 14 (Two Parts)

February 27th, 2012 Comments off

Ryan and I get together in this first part of a two-part episode to talk Falcons off-season once more with some updates on free agency, draft, and the Combine. We run down our thoughts on several current Falcons including Sam Baker, Michael Turner, John Abraham, and of course the obligatory Joe Hawley argument. We also share our thoughts on which free agents and draft prospects the Falcons should target in order to improve the team in some key areas. We also give our perspectives on whether the Julio Jones looks better or worse with the value of hindsight.

In part two, we talk about Brent Grimes and Curtis Lofton and their futures in Atlanta as well as comparign Thomas DeCoud and Reggie Nelson. We also talk about a bunch of non-football topics including UFC, dating, technology, social media, and about past and future guests on the show.

Part 1:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Duration: 1 hour, 25 minutes

Part 2:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Duration: 1 hour

 

If you have any questions and comments, you can hit us up on Twitter, post in the forums in the podcast thread, or drop Ryan an e-mail at: ryan-valdez@live.com. Don’t forget to drop by on gamedays to hear our live broadcast at: justin.tv/didziojo

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

Free Agent Focus: Offensive Line (Part 2)

January 30th, 2012 Comments off
ICON SMI

Carl Nicks

In the first part, we spent the bulk of the conversation discussing what the Falcons could or should do to address their need at left tackle. But not to be overlooked are the potential open holes on the interior at center and right guard.

While the Falcons have somewhat of an answer at center in Joe Hawley, they might not be completely comfortable entrusting the gig to him. It would be smart to bring in at least a veteran that can function as a reserve if not a direct competitor for the job. The team could also opt sign an established veteran that could definitely land the job because there is a strong group of free agents this off-season. Chris Myers (Houston), Scott Wells (Green Bay), Jeff Saturday (Indianapolis), Dan Koppen (New England), Andre Gurode (Baltimore). and Nick Hardwick (San Diego) headline the list of candidates.

Myers is likely to land a lucrative contract around $50 or so million that makes him one of the more highly paid centers in the league. Wells also being one of the younger options is likely to land a lucrative deal from Green Bay or another team on the market. Although he’ll probably be had for a slightly cheaper price than Myers.

Saturday is possibly a future Hall of Famer, but he may opt to retire this off-season. And while he would definitely be a great stopgap for a year or two in Atlanta, it would seem counter-intuitive given the Falcons desires to get younger. Koppen is no spring chicken, as he’ll turn 33 at the start of the 2012 season. He’s missed all but the first half of the Patriots Week 1 opener with a broken ankle. Although initial reports indicated that Koppen would only miss 4 months due to the injury, which would mean that he could be 100% by now or nearly there. He’s been a mainstay in New England since 2003, and it’ll be interesting to see if they let him walk.

Gurode played the bulk of this past year at left guard for the Ravens, after the Cowboys cut him this past summer. He’ll turn 33 in March and would definitely add a physical element up front. His ability to play guard or center could make an attractive target, but the Falcons definitely won’t break the bank to sign him.

Hardwick is also considering retirment, thanks in large part due to the issues that teammate Kris Dielman suffered due to concussion-related seizures. Hardwick is still relatively young, as he’ll be 31 when the season starts. He has been under the radar over most of his career in San Diego, rarely getting the accolades of others, but being a consistently good starter up front. If he still wants to play for a few more years, and departs San Diego he could be an option for Atlanta.

But if the Falcons don’t go after one of these bigger names, then someone such as Jamey Richard (Colts), Tony Wragge (Rams), Scott Mruczkowski (Chargers), or Geoff Hangartner (Panthers) who are serviceable reserves with some starting experience that could compete directly with Hawley, and be much cheaper options.

At right guard, the Falcons are probably a bit more likely to spend some big money than they are at center. Garrett Reynolds struggled early in the season, and Hawley was clearly outmatched for the job the rest of the way. While the team might hope that Mike Johnson can make a healthy return and push for the job, they should probably move forward under the expectation that Johnson is no longer a viable long-term option.

Carl Nicks is the top free agent, and most suspect he’ll price himself out of New Orleans. That would mean of course that if the Falcons pursue him, they would have to spend the cash to lure him here. It’ll be interesting to see if the Falcons can keep some of their own prominent free agents and also afford to make a strong play for Nicks. He would definitely beef up the Falcons interior and give them the sort of right guard that could push the pile as well as keep Matt Ryan’s jersey cleaner.

The next name on the list is Ben Grubbs, who is a solid to good guard for the most part. Grubbs will also be an expensive option, but as a Georgia native, might come somewhat cheaper than Nicks. What he lacks in size compared to Nicks, he makes up for with athleticism.

Philadelphia’s Evan Mathis is also a player that could find his bank account enhanced this off-season. He’s coming off a good year in Philadelphia, after spending years as a journeyman and backup mostly. He probably won’t be as expensive as either Nicks or Grubbs, making him arguably the best bang for your buck if he can reproduce his production in Philadelphia here in Atlanta.

Other options include Tennessee’s Jake Scott, who has been a steady, yet unspectacular starter for the Titans over the years. He’ll turn 31 this off-season, and really only makes sense if the Falcons cannot get one of the bigger names.

The rest of the class isn’t really filled with anybody that really makes the needle move, and the Falcons would probably be better off targeting options in the draft if they were not able to snag one of these four options at guard. It is a fairly deep class of guards for this draft, and subsequently the Falcons may try to find their long-term answer there.

That might be the best plan for the Falcons: get immediate help at left tackle via free agency, but still try to cultivate a young guy at right guard if they cannot afford one of the premier free agents. Either way, you can expect some substantial additions to the Falcons offensive line to try and bolster this unit for 2012 and beyond.

Free Agent Focus: Offensive Line (Part 1)

January 30th, 2012 Comments off
AP Photo

Jared Gaither

Arguably the biggest priority for the Falcons this off-season is improving up front. This team got pushed around too much last year, and if they intend to make a championship run in the coming years that has to change. Their offensive line is going to have to go from a glaring weakness to an obvious strength.

The Falcons will first need to make decisions on whether to bring certain players back. Todd McClure is a free agent, and it appears he intends to keep playing. But McClure turns 35 in two weeks, and with the intense focus on improving in the trenches, the time seems ripe to move on and try to get younger here. The Falcons have Joe Hawley waiting in the wings. Hawley did not particularly shine at center early in the season, but the experience he added later in the year playing guard should help him improve there.

The Falcons will also need to make a decision on whether to bring back Sam Baker. Many are speculating that the Falcons will part ways with Baker due to his salary and the disappointing 2011 he had. Baker showed promise early in his career, playing well in his first two seasons, but has showed almost no improvement, if not regression over the past two seasons. The team tried him at right guard and as a blocking tight end late in the season, and neither position switch really worked. So it’s likely that the team will part ways, saving money and moving on.

If the team shows trust in Hawley to man the pivot spot, that will mean more than likely the team will focus on upgrading the left tackle position and right guard spot this off-season.

Will Svitek was a decent replacement for Baker at left tackle, but as he got more experience there he was exposed a bit more. The team should be on the lookout for a long-term solution at this position. But without a first round pick in the draft, it will be hard to find a good left tackle ready to start right away in the draft. That could mean the Falcons scour the free agent market looking for quality left tackle candidates.

A few players such as Jared Gaither (San Diego) and Demetrius Bell (Buffalo) rise to the top of the list. Although there is some talk that the Chargers could dump Marcus McNeill due to his high salary and his neck and back injuries, Gaither is probably not likely to return to San Diego. Back injuries also forced Gaither to miss all of the 2010 season and some of 2009. But prior to those injuries, he was considered one of the top young left tackles in the league. He signed with the Chiefs this past off-season to try and resurrect that reputation, but he did little besides serving as a third tackle and tight end. But when he was picked up by the CHargers in Week 13, he started to play well down the stretch.

Gaither’s past injury issues probably means that whatever team, Falcons included, should not break the bank for him. But he’s a big, physical player that if his strength is back is capable of going up against the better pass rushers in the league and a clear upgrade over what the Falcons have at the position.

Bell has also dealt with his share of injuries, missing a big chunk of this past year with a broken collarbone, before a knee injury put him on IR before the final game of the season. He also missed half of the 2009 season with knee problems. Bell looked like a player that was finally emerging into a capable left tackle this year before injuries sapped him. But he struggled in both previous seasons as the Bills left tackle. It appears the Bills want to keep him, but he may decide to move on because they intend to have him compete with second-year Chris Hairston for the starting job. Bell may opt to go to a team where he is more appreciated. Bell has always been noted for his athleticism, being the son of former NBA super star Karl Malone. The question the Falcons must ask is whether or not his issues with injuries are going to be a problem going forward, and whether he’s a one-year wonder that will pick up where he left off before getting hurt this season.

Another option to the Falcons may be to go after a player like Philadelphia’s King Dunlap. Dunlap has performed admirably in a handful of replacement starts for Jason Peters over the past few years. He’s a massive blocker that could be looking to emerge from the shadows as a legit starter. Because of his limited experience, he probably would be a much cheaper option for the Falcons to pursue.

Pittsburgh’s Max Starks might be worth a look, but he’ll likely miss most if not all of the spring due to suffered a torn ACL at the end of the year. Starks could be a cheap insurance policy if that injury drives his price down, that the Falcons could stash on the PUP until he’s healthy.

The Falcons could also try and go after a veteran like Jeff Backus who could be a decent stopgap for a year. The Lions appear to want Backus to return. But he too is coming off a biceps injury that may limit his ability to come in right away and man the starting spot.

Signing injured players is not really in the best interest of the Falcons because they’ll need their new linemen to be able to come in the spring and summer and begin to gel as a unit. So that would make it doubtful that the team would look hard at guys like Backus and Starks, although Bell should not be out too long.

That likely means the Falcons will have to make a serious play for Gaither, who could be a fairly hot commodity on the open market for all the left tackle-needy teams that won’t be picking at the top of the draft. Teams like Arizona, Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, and Minnesota all might be making strong plays for a player such as Gaither. Which is thus why the Falcons may find themselves priced out of that sweepstakes, and a player like Dunlap more attractive to bring in to compete directly with Svitek.

In the next part, we’ll look at what the Falcons can do to upgrade their interior offensive line.

Categories: Features Tags: , , , ,