The Falcons’ offensive line was exposed last season when Matt Ryan was sacked 44 times and the running game finished last in the NFL. I will repeat that, Matt Ryan, the face of the franchise and $100 million quarterback was sacked 44 times! After several years of spending big on skill position players many fans were educated on the reality that one is only as good as their offensive line. The quality of starters along the front five was mediocre at best but the depth was laughable. It is apparent that the top priority this offseason is to add depth along the offensive line as well as quality. Here are my predictions of what the Falcons will do over the offseason.
1. The Falcons will keep Sam Baker:
It is no secret that Baker has been a disappointment since the Falcons traded back into the first round to grab the former USC Trojan. He had one outstanding season in 2012 and the Falcons signed him to a 6 year $41 million contract. He played 4 games in 2013 before heading for Injured Reserve. Even though the Falcons are in position to draft one of the primer left tackles in this year’s draft, they will not cut Baker. The decision to keep Sam Baker is dictated by his cap figure, if the Falcons cut him this offseason they will absorb $15 million in dead money. So at least for this year Baker will be on the roster.
2. The Falcons will draft an offensive tackle in the second round:
This might be a surprise to many but I see the Falcons taking a pass rusher in the first round this year. This offensive tackle draft is one of the deepest to date. The drop-off from a prospect such as Taylor Lewan who is projected to be a middle first rounder to prospects such as, Zach Martin or even Cyrus Kouandijo is very slim. Atlanta can afford to wait and find an anchor on the offensive line for years to come.
3. Cyril Richardson will be drafted by Atlanta in the 4th round:
The free-fall of Cyril Richardson this season has been nothing short of catastrophic. Seen as a first round talent in the middle of his senior year, his draft stock took a dive after the fiesta bowl after he struggled against UCF’s pass rush. His combine workout did not help his cause either. However, lost in the decline of his draft stock Richardson is a talented player. His playing style reminds me of Larry Waterford of the Lions who provided a huge impact in run blocking and pass protection last year as a rookie. Waterford was a third round pick and if Richardson falls into the lap of the Falcons I am positive they will pull the trigger.
4. Find competition for Peter Konz:
Peter Konz has been a severe disappointment since being taken in the second round of the 2012 draft. When he started at guard it was apparent that he needed to be moved to his natural position at center and in 2013 he was benched after a poor game against Seattle. If the Falcons find a late round draft pick in a player such as Gabe Ikard from Oklahoma or find a low risk high reward player such as Dan Koppen, who was excellent before an injury derailed his 2013 campaign before it started it could either provide the Falcons with a better offensive line corps or could ignite a fire under Konz and he could become the player that the Falcons know he can be.
5. Re-sign Mike Johnson:
Mike Johnson was set to be the starting right tackle this season before he broke his leg and the Falcons had to start Lamar Holmes who clearly was not ready to start this season. Johnson could be signed to a cheap, incentive-laden deal. This move can lock down a starting caliber Right Tackle for the Falcons or could provide for competition for newly signed Gabe Carimi and Lamar Holmes.