atljbo Posted June 30, 2011 Share Posted June 30, 2011 linkFalcons O-Line still facing questions in offseasonWith 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. Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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