On the surface, the weakest unit of the Atlanta Falcons is their offensive line. They’ve allowed Matt Ryan to be hit more than any quarterback in the NFL, and the offensive line only creates around 1.2 yards before contact on the average rush. Atlanta needs to improve the offensive line whether by talent or by upgrading the coaching. At worst, adding some competition along the line should be the primary goal moving forward for the team.
1. Under Contract
LT Jake Matthews: 2 years, $46.089 million left on his contract
LG Jalen Mayfield: 3 years, $4.261 million left on his contract
C Matt Hennessy: 2 years, $2.746 million left on his contract
RG Chris Lindstrom: 1 year, $4.68 million left on his contract plus a potential 5th year option
RT Kaleb McGary: 1 year, $3.27 million left on his contract plus a potential 5th year option
OL Drew Dalman: 3 years, $3.403 million left on his contract
The entire starting offensive line is back under contract for at least 2022 with 2023 likely for four of the five starters. That should help with chemistry moving forward. There are easily needs that will be addressed. However, Jake Matthews is a top 10 left tackle. Chris Lindstrom is a top 5 right guard. Matt Hennessy was an average center this past season, and Kaleb McGary was an average right guard in 2021. The real hole was at left guard with Jalen Mayfield.
Drew Dalman was a good backup at center, but the Falcons don’t really have any depth under contract but him. Mayfield needs competition for his role, and Dalman could be one of the pieces that can compete with him. One thing that could help this entire offensive line is if they worked with an outside coach in the off-season like Kynan Forney—a former Falcons offensive guard who runs an offensive line training school in the off-season in the Atlanta area.
2. Exclusive Rights Free Agents
- Rick Leonard
- Colby Gossett
- Willie Beavers
- Ryan Neuzil
While there are four names listed here, the only one that really matters for the Atlanta Falcons offensive line is Colby Gossett. He saw real playing time for the Falcons on special teams units. The other three were pure practice squad guys the whole time.
Expect all four guys to get exclusive rights contracts for the veteran minimum for a first or second-year player. This group will help depth for training camp, but there probably isn’t more than depth players in this group for the regular season.
UPDATE: The Falcons have re-signed Neuzil and Beavers to futures contracts as of 1/10/2022.
3. Unrestricted Free Agents
- Matt Gono
- Jason Spriggs
- Josh Andrews
With who these players are, it wouldn’t be surprising to see all three of them brought back as depth solutions for the offensive line group. Matt Gono was the swing tackle in 2018-2020, but he was out all season with an injury. Jason Spriggs and Josh Andrews were not great in their limited action this season. This would be a trio of signings for veteran minimum, so getting them and the exclusive rights group back would give the Falcons a total of 13 linemen on their depth chart.
4. Current Needs for the Atlanta Falcons
As it is right now, the Falcons are able to bring back essentially the entire group of linemen that played any snap in 2021 with very little overall investment. And they should bring all of them back. The best way to improve the unit is from the top line. Get some competition for the starting group and the depth as a whole will improve. They should also look into getting an older player who can be a mentor for the unit as a whole and help out as almost an extra offensive line coach.
5. Potential Future Need
While the entire offensive line is under contract or team control for two years, a potential future need would be left tackle if the team doesn’t feel Jake Matthews is the guy moving forward there. More than likely, they do like Matthews, but feel that McGary would be easier to move on from after 2022. If the Falcons do draft any offensive linemen, taking a right tackle for long-term would be the move to make.
What Should the Plan be for the Atlanta Falcons Moving Forward?
Names like Andrew Norwell, Cameron Robinson, Matt Paradis, and Duane Brown are out there in free agency. While bringing in any one of them could help the Falcons roster as potential starters, focusing on someone who could come in and help as a mentor is just as important. Free agency could also lead to more secondary options like Riley Reiff, Billy Price, Trai Turner or Bobby Massie joining the team for a similar role. The only question here will be cost.
They should also try and re-sign all of the guys who are listed under both free agent tags for minimum deals for a lot of depth. Outside of that, they could end up looking at prospects in the draft should they fall farther than they should have. Offensive linemen like Evan Neal, Alec Lindstrom, Nicholas Petit-Frere and Jackson Kirkland could enhance depth for the roster early on while providing competition at center, left guard or right tackle.
However, with the whole Atlanta Falcons offensive line under contract and looking like a reasonable group of starters who just need to develop more as a unit, it wouldn’t be shocking if the Falcons didn’t draft anyone and decided instead to bring in value free agents to help with depth and competition.