Team Needs: Falcons Must Expand Options at Right GuardUnlike the offensive tackle position, it is not safe to say the Atlanta Falcons roster currently features both starters at guard. While left guard Justin Blalock is coming off arguably his best season and is a lock to return as a starter in 2014, right guard remains wide open.
Peter Konz and Garrett Reynolds split the majority of snaps there in 2013, neither performing at a high level. Reynolds started the season well, but as things wore on he became less effective. When Konz was benched at center in favor of Joe Hawley in Week 11, the bottom seemed to fall out for Reynolds, who logged significant reps in just two more games before finding a permanent seat on the bench. He was inactive for the Falcons final game of the year, a significant drop from being the team’s second-best blocker on opening day.
Reynolds’ star may have fallen so much that he may find himself unemployed this offseason. The Falcons could free up close to $1.4 million (per Over The Cap.com) in cap space by releasing Reynolds. Reynolds got his first opportunity to run away with the starting right guard position in 2011 and then again in 2012. But both years were marred by inconsistent play and injuries. Ostensibly, 2013 represented his third strike and the Falcons could opt to move on this offseason given the moderate cap savings.
Konz replaced Reynolds and got the majority of those reps at right guard down the stretch, but did little with them as he looked like a liability for much of it. By year’s end, I was ready to give up on Konz after just two seasons but it doesn’t appear the Falcons share that mindset.
Konz will get another chance to prove whether he was worthwhile pick as a second rounder in 2012. One of the priorities of new offensive line coach Mike Tice will be to get more from Konz. It’s reasonable to think that given Konz’s weaknesses, that better coaching can improve him in a number of areas. Improvements in his footwork and technique can go a long way, as well as instilling toughness and aggression into Konz’s game. But even with those improvements, it may not be quite as reasonable to believe that Konz can be salvaged as a starter. Instead he may wind up inheriting the former role of Joe Hawley as the team’s swing guard and center that adds depth.
If that is the case, the team will likely prioritize finding a starting candidate to play right guard. One player that probably won’t be on that list, although he ended the season relatively well, is Harland Gunn. Gunn showed that he could be an effective short-term replacement for Konz and Reynolds at the end of last year, but whether he is factored in as a viable long-term option remains to be seen. He too may be better suited to be a reserve that could swing between center and guard.
Because of questions that surround Reynolds, Konz, and Gunn’s future, the Falcons certainly will be looking to add a surer fix this offseason. That could come in free agency, where a top free agent like Jon Asamoah could make sense given he was drafted by new assistant general manager Scott Pioli in Kansas City in 2010. However, Asamoah is likely to draw significant interest from his own team as well as others, raising his price tag. Given the Falcons still may believe that Konz can be a starter, they might not be in the mindset of spending big for a free agent like Asamoah.
That could lead to a more modest free agent signing akin to what the team did in 2012 by adding Vince Manuwai. Obviously, the team would wish for better results since Manuwai’s durability issues prevented him from making it to training camp.
Another alternative is using the draft to bolster the position with a more permanent fix. That would likely come on the second day of the draft for a team that is looking for a player that could immediately contribute as a starter. The team’s access to a number of top guard prospects during their week in Mobile at the Senior Bowl could aid them in sorting out some draft targets.
Regardless of the avenue in which the Falcons attack the hole at right guard, it seems inevitable that the team addresses it in some significant way. Unlike offensive tackle, where the team could reasonably stand pat with the current group of players, the right guard position seems much more wide open.