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Falcons O-Line still facing questions in offseason


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Falcons O-Line still facing questions in offseason

With the appearance that NFL labor negotiations are moving ahead smoothly, if the league and the players come to some kind of an agreement within the next few days then the first order of business once the lockout is lifted will be the start of free agency.

For the Falcons, one urgent area to address will be offensive line, where three of the five starters — Justin Blalock, Harvey Dahl and Pro-Bowler Tyson Clabo — are unrestricted.

One of the Falcons’ strengths during their resurgence under the regime of general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith has been the line. Since that duo took over three years ago, the starters on the line (left tackle Sam Baker and center Todd McClure) have remained unchanged.

In a best-case scenario, the Falcons might be able to retain two of those players. Posted late on Tuesday, FoxSports.com NFL Insider Adam Caplan compiled a list of 15 free agents who will be in high demand once the league resumes operations.

On two occasions, Caplan lists tackles the Falcons could sign in the event they lose Clabo. The fact that he mentioned it twice would seem to indicate a fairly high probability exists that the Falcons might not be able to retain the 6-foot-6, 329-pounder out of Wake Forest who will turn 30 in October.

One fairly comparable deal Clabo’s agent is sure to look at is the one the Miami Dolphins gave to Vernon Carey in 2009, making him the highest-paid right tackle in the NFL at the time. He received a $15-million signing bonus and was scheduled to earn $18.9 million over the first two years of the deal.

Top offensive linemen can receive as much as $10 million per season in the NFL. While Clabo, probably a better run-blocker than pass-blocker, might not be in that category — he was named an alternate before receiving the Pro-Bowl nod, an honor he nonetheless merited — the fact that he was a Pro-Bowler and has earned a reputation as one of the league’s meanest and toughest players at his position is likely to make him a fairly sought-after commodity.

Topping it off, he felt pretty burned last year by the NFL’s labor agreement. He was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, but part of the agreement that made 2010 an uncapped year turned players of his status back into restricted free agents. The Falcons retained him for about $2.5 million.

Here’s what Clabo told Darryl Ledbetter of the Journal-Constitution last August about his decision to sign his tender.

“What was I supposed to do? I have a family, and I have to do what’s best for them. You know, I have to think about them, and I needed to work. I needed a job. I took the tender, and I came to work.”

I was there listening at the time and the tone adopted by Clabo, a pleasant man off the field, was fairly peeved. He seemed worried about the prospect of injury or some other mishap. Instead, his stock has risen. Here’s what he had to say about it back then:

“This is the NFL. There is no telling what’s going to happen to me this season. People get hurt every day. Stuff happens. Basically, I got to where I wanted to be, and then it was just gone. Hopefully, everything will work out this season, and I’ll have an opportunity next season. We’ll just see what happens.”

Well, it looks like he will have his opportunity and — who can blame him — he seems ready to cash in on it.

So, in the event he’s not back, who does Caplan say the Falcons could replace him with?

One player is Washington tackle Jammal Brown. Another possibility is Seattle’s Sean Locklear.

Dimitroff comes from New England, which tends to develop offensive linemen from within and not to pay top dollar for them in the free-agent market.

As a result, Caplan mentioned Garrett Reynolds could take Clabo’s spot if he does not return. That’s what I had been thinking all along. Reynolds seemed to attend virtually every one of the player-organized workouts that concluded recently — about the only one to do so.

He seems as if he’s been told, “Get ready.” The 6-7, 310-pounder was a fifth-round pick out of North Carolina in 2009 and, as a result, has two seasons under his belt of working with veteran offensive line coach Paul Boudreau.

With the line hurt by injuries in 2009, Reynolds, whose uncle is former NFL linebacker Jack “Hacksaw” Reynolds, actually got some game action as a rookie. He was active for five games (mostly special teams action) and played offensive line against Buffalo on Dec. 27. He did not play at all in 2010, according to NFL.com.

Another possibility is Will Svitek, whom the Falcons also have been grooming and has much more experience. Offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey likes to use him in running plays as a sixth offensive lineman, sometimes with Svitek in motion.

The 29-year-old Svitek, a 6-6, 308-pounder, started two games in 2009 and was active for 13. He was active for all 16 in ’10 but did not start. In 2007, he started four games for Kansas City.

With league commissioner Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith, who represents the de-certified players union, meeting for one-on-one sessions, signs seem positive. Another positive sign came when Goodell was invited to visit a rookie symposium put on by the players.

No doubt Dimitroff has a plan in place for when free agency starts. It could come sooner than later, and if he can’t keep Clabo — or one of the other two starters — those are some options.

Thats to go along with NFP saying this

*The Falcons could lose three starting offensive linemen in free agency, but they aren’t panicked about it because they have been planning for the possibility. Tyson Clabo, Justin Blalock and Harvey Dahl all could be former Falcons come August. In fact, had the team not moved up in the draft for Julio Jones, a good chance exists they would have chosen an offensive lineman in the first round. But they also have been developing three players who they believe could step up as starters if needed. Garrett Reynolds, a fifth round pick two years ago, could take Clabo’s spot. It’s just a matter of time before Mike Johnson, a third round pick last year, becomes a starting guard. And Joe Hawley, a fourth rounder a year ago, also appears ready to start.
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If we let any of our linemen walk I trust that TD and company believe we have a replacement already on the roster. Remember both Dahl and Clabo were on this roster when TD got here and they were looked at as major week points to the line. I think people here wanted Renardo Foster to recover so he could start in one of those spots.

If our coaching staff could turn Clabo into a probowler and Dahl into a very solid player, I think they might be able to utilize someone like Reynolds.

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the only person on the line I'd be sad to see leave is Blalock, but I really would like to keep Clabo. we really need a stud LT and the line could be set. I hope Baker gets his act together cause last season he was painful to watch.

he was painful to watch i think he's best suited to be a gaurd. Now i know svitek played a lil bit of LT but is he starter worthy?

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Clabo needs to be our biggest priority, with Dahl and Blalock being about even. Sam Baker is going to find himself on the out sooner rather than later if he doesn't do a complete 180.

Like Clabo, I'm a Wake Forest Alumni, so I do support him.

That said I think the Falcon's priority of retention for the O-linemen FAs

should be Blalock, Clabo, Dahl

But I also believe that the young backups can replace any 1-2 of the three without any degradation in performance. Even if all 3 are lost that still leaves

Baker Svitek

(Hawley) Valdez

McClure (Hawley) Bruggemam

Johnson Jackson


Edited by delaigle
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I think we will let Clabo go because sum team is going to throw to much money at him. We will resign Blaylock and insert Mike Johnson and Reynolds on the right side. Dont be suprised if Jose Valdez beats out Reynolds and is our starting RT next year -theres just something about that dude he's ready to brea, out ....

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I think the front office has had a plan in mind from the beginning. We've been drafting our future starters and preparing to have these guys leave and provide us with comp picks in next years draft.

It would be nice to have them back at the teams price, but if the bidding goes to high, wish them a good career and we'll gladly take the exta picks.

Dimitroff has said he had a "hard time wrapping his head around trading the 1st and 4th next year for Julio" I'm sure this was mitigated by the fact he knew comp picks would be forth coming.

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