The Falcons are unlikely to be done with roster moves as they prep for the season opener against the New Orleans Saints one week from today.
It would be surprising to see the Falcons carry six running backs into the regular season, something they’ve never really done. They also retained offensive tackle Terren Jones on the roster, a surprising move considering how raw and inconsistent Jones looked in camp. He seemed much more likely as a practice squad candidate than someone that would make any contributions this season. Instead, it would make a bit more sense if the Falcons targeted a veteran tackle that could serve as insurance in case Lamar Holmes and/or Ryan Schraeder don’t solidify the right tackle position this season instead of Jones.
As far as offensive tackles go, the crop isn’t overly strong. Several of the players I figured to be on the roster bubble earlier this month did wind up getting cut. Dennis Roland, Jeremy Trueblood, Tony Pashos, and Kenny Wiggins all got cut. Bryce Harris was retained by the Saints, instead they cut Marcel Jones and his glorious afro. Jonathan Scott didn’t get the boot in Chicago, J’Marcus Webb did instead. Oakland’s Willie Smith was waived/injured, meaning he will wind up on the Raiders’ injured reserve if he is not claimed.
Of that group, no one leaps out. Pashos is the most established veteran. He just turned 33 earlier this month, and started 12 games with the Cleveland Browns at right tackle in 2011. He could be an emergency stopgap. But Pashos has struggled to stay healthy in recent years as his age has caught up to him.
Roland got worked over in the Falcons preseason matchup against Cincinnati. Trueblood has always been terrible. Wiggins is familiar to Pat Hill, having played for him at Fresno State. He certainly was battle-tested going up against quality defenders in San Francisco all summer. Jones is a massive guy with upside as a blocker, but lost out in a competition to the more consistent Harris. Webb had a lackluster summer, and coupled with a change in coaching staff was swept out the door. He has experience as a starter (44 starts) and can play either side of the line having started at both. Webb is infamous for being the embodiment of a porous Bears offensive line the past three years, and certainly that reputation is somewhat deserved. Although forgotten is that Webb was relatively solid a year ago playing left tackle. He still has far too many lapses, but outside an abysmal performance against Aldon Smith last year, he graded out about as well as Sam Baker did in pass protection (according to Pro Football Focus). That makes Webb the most talented of the group, and to be plugged in potentially as a swing tackle makes some sense.
I think a lot of Falcon fans are optimistic that the Falcons can scour the waiver wire for a player that can be plugged in immediately at right tackle and be an upgrade over Lamar Holmes. Well, that is not going to happen. If a player the Falcons add winds up playing this year, it won’t be under promising circumstances.
Holmes will get the first crack at it. And will only be benched if he struggles mightily. The Falcons have shown in recent years that they have a long leash for young blockers that they want to develop, as seen with Peter Konz and Joe Hawley at right guard the past two seasons. You can even argue that the Falcons showed an overabundant amount of forgiveness when it came to Sam Baker at left tackle over the past five seasons. In truth, the only reasons why the Falcons have ever made changes to their starting five is due to injuries. But given the Falcons also like Ryan Schraeder’s upside, there’s at least a possibility that if Holmes struggles out of the gates, the Falcons could turn to the undrafted rookie out of Valdosta State.
Any free agent pickup is going to need several weeks to get up to speed in the Falcons offense and blocking scheme. And at best, you’re probably hoping if/when that happens, he could pass Schraeder on the depth chart. But in all likelihood, anybody the Falcons sign will be insurance in case either Holmes and Schraeder get injured or both fall flat on their faces this year at right tackle. Thus if any free agent pickup at tackle winds up starting games for the Falcons, it will be due to the fact that Holmes and/or Schraeder were so bad that the Falcons had no other alternatives.
The Falcons are also one injury away from having Schraeder protecting Matt Ryan’s blindside. Thus why any free agent pickup they add should also be able to play left tackle as well in case Schraeder doesn’t cut it there. What happens in the scenario where Holmes struggles, Schraeder is then plugged in at right tackle, and then Baker gets hurt? Obviously Webb fulfills those requirements, as does Wiggins. He worked at left tackle this summer with the 49ers, after playing mostly at right tackle during his days under Hill at Fresno State.
The Falcons could also look into trading for a backup tackle, but they would probably have to pay a slightly higher premium than they would like. Potential players that might be had for conditional late round picks include: Anthony Collins (Cincinnati), Bryce Harris (New Orleans), Jeff Linkenbach (Indianapolis), and Will Svitek (New England), all of whom are capable of playing either side of the line. But in all of those cases, even if you only had to give up a seventh round pick in next year’s draft, would that be worth it? Are any of those guys going to be long-term solutions for you, or just stopgap options for one year? Particularly given the likelihood that said player isn’t going to play this year, due to the above outlined reasons.