When ESPN’s Vaughn McClure mentioned in passing back in May that guard Jon Asamoah wasn’t exactly a fit in the Atlanta Falcons’ new zone-blocking scheme, it was met with derision by myself and others. When the team signed free-agent guard Chris Chester at that same time, the automatic assumption was that he was meant to upgrade the left guard position where the team had an untested Mike Person atop the depth chart.
But as we’ve seen things come to pass over the past 11 weeks, it seems that McClure was onto something. When the Falcons released their first depth chart earlier this week, it was a surprise to many to see Asamoah listed among the backups behind Chester at right guard. Person was then listed atop the depth chart at left guard, but as the Falcons opened up their preseason schedule against the Tennessee Titans on Friday night, it was James Stone that logged the start at left guard.
McClure isn’t making these things up as he goes along, as someone within the Falcons organization likely said privately that the team was less than enthusiastic about Asamoah’s transition to the nw blocking scheme.
Of course the reason for such skepticism on the part of myself in terms of Asamoah’s transition was the fact that he played primarily in a zone-blocking scheme during his four years with the Kansas City Chiefs. Asamoah was highly effective in that scheme, ranking among premium website Pro Football Focus‘ top 21 guards in all three years he was a starter (2011-13). In his first season with the Falcons, Asamoah finished as the 24th-ranked guard in the NFL and was the team’s most consistent and reliable blocker a year ago.
How could the Falcons think Asamoah was not a better player than players like Stone, Person, and Chester?
Stone as an undrafted rookie a year ago rated as the 34th best among 41 graded centers. Person has played just 69 career snaps over the past four years. And in three years as a starter with the Washington Redskins in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, Chester finished as high as 33rd among the league’s guards, but as low as 72nd, indicating that’s average at best.
When Asamoah was first demoted to the second-team unit, the assumption became that it was just the Falcons coaches tinkering with their lineups. Perhaps they were rewarding players like Stone, Person and Chester for playing better during the offseason and the first week of training camp. Asamoah had missed much of the offseason with an ankle injury and then was limited early on in camp by a stomach bug. Perhaps the Falcons coaching staff was trying to light a fire under Asamoah.
But perhaps the real reason why the Falcons benched Asamoah is because they are looking to trade him. By benching Asamoah, it gives players like Stone, Chester and Person more opportunities to prove that they are capable of filling in as starters. Should Stone and Chester prove successful with their starting reps throughout the preseason, the Falcons can feel a lot more confident that Asamoah is expendable because they have two viable options to fill the void left by him.
Can the Falcons get away with trading Asamoah?
Looking at the five-year deal Asamoah signed last season, at first glance it would appear the answer is no. Asamoah was set to have $2 million of his $2.5 million 2015 base salary guaranteed on the third day of the league year, unless the Falcons exercised a $2 million option bonus on the fifth day of the league year. The Falcons did exercise that option and thus Asamoah’s base salary is no longer guaranteed.
If the Falcons trade him, then the remaining portion of his various bonuses will accelerate to the Falcons’ salary cap this year. That would include $3.2 million of his prorated $4 million signing bonus in addition to the $2 million option bonus. That would mean the Falcons would have to eat a cap hit of $5.2 million this year by trading Asamoah. Asamoah is set to count about $4.269 million against the Falcons cap this year, meaning that the team would have to carry an extra $931,000 and change in dead money this year if they traded Asamoah.
That would seemingly be a tough pill to swallow, but the Falcons aren’t hurting for cap space. According to NFLPA records, they currently sit about $16.24 million under the 2015 cap. They could see even further room if the new impending deal for wide receiver Julio Jones lowers his $10.176 million cap hit this season.
Eating close to a million in dead money by trading Asamoah shouldn’t cause the Falcons to bat an eye given their current cap situation. It’s worth it if the Falcons think what they are getting in return for Asamoah is worthwhile.
If the Falcons trade Asamoah, it’s probably not going to be for a high draft pick. Last summer, the New England Patriots traded long-time veteran guard Logan Mankins for a fourth-round pick and tight end Tim Wright. Now Asamoah is five years younger today than Mankins was when the Patriots traded him, but the point is that summer trades rarely net high draft picks.
Not since the Miami Dolphins traded cornerback Vontae Davis to the Indianapolis Colts for a second-round pick in 2012 has a pick higher than the fourth dealt for Mankins been sent in an August trade. Most summer trades involve player-for-player deals and/or conditional late-round picks.
The team has already lost a fifth-round pick in next year’s draft due to the “Decibacle” and trading Asamoah might be an easy way to recoup that. But the Falcons probably won’t want only a late-round pick for such a solid starter as Asamoah, especially given that he’s in his prime and the team will have to take nearly $1 million in dead-money penalties. Instead, the Falcons might seek to copy the Patriots and get a player or two in exchange for Asamoah.
Where could the Falcons ship Asamoah?
There are a large number of teams that probably could use an immediate upgrade at right guard.
The Miami Dolphins have been frequently linked to free-agent guard Evan Mathis over the past few months. They could definitely be interested in Asamoah to play right guard for them given that his former position coach from Kansas City in Jack Bicknell, Jr. is currently the assistant offensive line coach for the Dolphins.
The Philadelphia Eagles, who let go of Mathis, could certainly use a plug-and-play starter like Asamoah along their interior.
The Minnesota Vikings recently lost right tackle Phil Loadholt to a season-ending Achilles injury. That leaves two major question marks on the right side of their offensive line, given that they were already rolling the dice that former tackle Mike Harris would make a successful transition to right guard. A player like Asamoah could be a stabilizing force for them.
Asamoah could be welcomed back to his former team in the Chiefs, where right guard Jeff Allen has underachieved and recently been sidelined with a knee injury.
There are potentially other teams like the Washington Redskins, Patriots and Oakland Raiders among others that could use help at right guard.
What could the Falcons get back in return from a team they trade with?
A lot of that will depend on what are the team’s most glaring needs as we inch closer to the start of the regular season. Right now, the Falcons’ roster seems to be hurting for running back, offensive tackle and safety depth the most. But one never knows if there is a significant injury that occurs over the next few weeks that creates other issues.
A trade of Asamoah is probably not going to come anytime soon. The Falcons would want to first see players like Stone, Chester and Person hold up as potential starters before they dealt a proven commodity like Asamoah.
But if Asamoah doesn’t regain his starting spot, it’s highly doubtful that the Falcons will keep a backup that costs them over $4 million this year. Trading him may be their preferred recourse.
While it might prove to be a huge gamble given that Stone and Chester are less than proven, if it means that the team can shore up another position in the process, then it might ultimately be worth it.