Ballers on a Budget: Will the Falcons' moves pay off?

Mike Bell
March 29, 2018 - 6:05 am
Arthur Blank, Thomas Dimitroff

© Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

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Heading into the offseason, if there was a mantra for Falcons fans it was... Fix the offense, fix o-line! Specifically at right guard. Bring in a nasty, physical hombre who can get us the short yardage we keep coming up short on. A dude who can give Matt Ryan the time he needs to get us back in the throwing touchdown bidnez!

We knew we'd never have the coin for a guard upgrade and a big-money d-tackle to replace Dontari Poe.

Plus with Dan Quinn's killer drafting instincts and a class full of quality defensive tackles, we'd be alright on that side of the ball anyway. Derrick Shelby is back for less loot and Jack Crawford will see reps on  the d-line too,

We'd also need to replace Levine Toilolo, beef up special teams and make sure we re-signed Matt Bryant.

Matt Bryant was our most reliable offensive weapon in 2017. Technically he is a free-agent signing. Due to our inability to reach the red zone, let alone score in it, we leaned on him often for mile-long field goals. The guy is money. We also placed second-round tenders on the world's biggest Swiss Army knife Ben Garland and the solid Ricardo Allen at safety. 

Once Kirk Cousins set the market with his three-year $84 million guaranteed from the Vikes some of us (ok me) thought Matt Ryan would get his deal done quickly to ya know, free up cap space for some o-line shopping.

I wasn't expecting a hometown discount, but I thought he might like to contribute to some better pass blocking.

Or not...

Reworking Andy Levitre & Brooks Reed's contracts gave us baller-on-a-budget wiggle room. As we told you on the radio, Andrew Norwell would never be an option for us. The Jags made him the highest paid guard in the league.  

Then more of the splashier names in the guard market got gobbled up. When word got out we were gonna sign Brandon Fusco, I (like you) quickly turned to Wikipedia. 

I wanted former Bear and Packer Josh Sitton. He signed with the Dolphins for a two-year $15M contract with $8M guaranteed and incentives.

That deal falls in the middle of this offseason's free agent guard price range. Made sense to me. Too rich for our budget I guess.

Bigger splash names aside, we did make an upgrade at guard. Brandon Fusco is better than Wes Schweitzer.

According to the nerds at Pro Football Focus, Fusco is a 76 and Schweitzer is a 43.7... and I have no idea what any of that means.

I do know this, Schweitzer looked like he was on roller skates much of last season. I also know that the Falcons have done pretty well with Kyle Shanahan retreads. Fusco knows the system and is here to step in as starting right guard.

Matt Maiocco from NBC Sports Bay Area has covered the 49ers for years and told us Fusco was a better run blocker than pass blocker but that San Francisco was looking to improve the position and move on from him.

Quinn won't disrespect Schweitzer and The Brotherhood by admitting he wasn't good enough. But ya didn't give Fusco a three-year $12.75M deal to not start. So we'll have a competition at right guard (wink, wink) this summer. We wouldn't have had to go the free-agent route if we had the dudes in house. But drafting o-line just isn't our specialty. Anyone know if fourth-round guard Sean Harlow is any good?

Guess not.

Remember last camp when we kept asking Quinn: 'Who's winning the battle to replace Chris Chester?'

We soon realized that neither Garland or Schweitzer were up to the task.

Alright, so technically we're better at guard. 

Toilolo's replacement Logan Paulsen is a tough, physical, run-blocking tight end. Randy McMichael likes the signing and thinks he'll be a good fit. He also has two tours of duty with Kyle Shanahan (Redskins & 49ers). He was cut and resigned twice by Shanahan last year.

I wanted us to kick the tires on former Jags TE Marcedes Lewis, but Paulsen at just over $1M is fine for what we need him to do. We filled the second TE spot. 

There was nothing special about the Falcons special teams last season. We added former Cardinals Pro-Bowler Justin Bethel. We can also use him as a backup corner. Quinn loves his speed. He's not a kick or punt returner. That job may fall to Marvin Hall or Justin Hardy. Or if Thomas Dimitroff can pull a speedy slot WR out of the draft who could do it as well. 

If Bethel helps stop the big return or can improve our abysmal starting field position from last year, that's a positive. Geesh, how many times last season did Andre Roberts watch the ball stop inside the 5?

So in review: It ain't sexy, it wasn't splashy but we addressed our pressing needs. To be honest there are not many needs on this team. We had the talent to win it all last year but as our GM pointed out "we under-executed."

If Fusco stinks then we can point fingers at Ryan and his agent Tom Condon for not getting a deal in place. The logic being a heavily guaranteed contract would've reduced Ryan's cap hit and freed up space for a bigger upgrade at guard.

But if Fusco becomes a solid piece next to Pro-Bowler Alex Mack and the steady Ryan Schraeder and we start converting third-and-2's and fourth-and-1's then it was a great baller-on-a-budget move.

The best free agent move for the Falcons may actually be the return of Greg Knapp. We all know about the drops and missed blocks, but Sark needs some help with the play-calling. I think his job will be more than just QB Coach.

Ryan and Julio Jones have got to start hooking up for touchdowns, period. Lets hope Knapp, working with Sark, plus a healthier Julio practicing regularly gets us back on track in the red zone. 

That's what's most frustrating about this offseason. We have the talent.

We didn't need to make a splash in March.

We need the stars on this team to do their job September thru February. 

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