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After 42 sacks, Falcons used draft to ensure 2018 season won’t be repeated


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https://theathletic.com/959023/2019/05/02/after-42-sacks-falcons-used-draft-to-ensure-2018-season-wont-be-repeated/

 

Past the midway point of the 2018 season, it had become an all too familiar image. The Falcons’ offensive line couldn’t create a pocket. The opposition’s interior pass rush bulldozed its way into the backfield, with quarterback Matt Ryan unable to step up to deliver his throws. This problem was on full display on Thanksgiving against the New Orleans Saints, with Atlanta’s top rival tallying six sacks and 13 quarterback hits.

That kind of scene is unacceptable for any professional football team. And by the end of the year, Ryan was sacked a total of 42 times, the second most in his career. Being in that kind of position routinely, where the franchise’s $150 million investment took a beating, proved to be a philosophical turning point.

In recent years, the Falcons’ front office piecemealed together the offensive line through free agency. That appeared to be what might be happening this year, too, with Atlanta signing both Jamon Brown and James Carpenter early in the offseason.

Then the draft happened, with Atlanta selecting guard Chris Lindstrom andtackle Kaleb McGary in the first round. Taking one offensive lineman wasn’t a surprise in the slightest.

Taking two? No one could have expected that.

The Falcons will hope they hit on both of these prospects, considering the issues the team has dealt with in drafting offensive linemen under general manager Thomas Dimitroff. During the same time, the team has taken only two offensive linemen in the first round — Sam Baker and Jake Matthews. Matthews has panned out. Baker was serviceable, although injuries derailed a sizable portion of his career.

Two factors have been at play when it comes to linemen not being ready at the professional level. A lot of college programs are running hurry-up attacks with linemen in two-point stances. The pro-style schemes aren’t as prevalent at that level anymore, which forces a longer adjustment period in the NFL. Also, since the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, teams have workplace constraints that limit the number of practices and the amount of physicality allowed. While this has been a great preventative measure for player safety and health, it hasn’t been that constructive for developing offensive linemen. It’s a big reason why if a team needs one, it might as well take a highly graded lineman early in a draft. The longer a team waits, the more likely it will be waiting years to see a return.

Combine those factors (and with the benefit of hindsight), and it’s clear to see how the Falcons landed on their draft approach a week ago, even with the free-agent signings.

There was also some risk management involved, too. The Falcons were able to scout Carpenter and Brown through an NFL lens. While Dimitroff spoke highly of Lindstrom and McGary by saying, “I haven’t necessarily been around two offensive linemen like this that possess what they possess right now,” you never know how rookies will respond until it’s time to actually play.

Therefore, if one of Lindstrom or McGary (or even worse, both) is unable to crack the starting lineup, reinforcements will be in place.

“The whole development thing of college guys into pro, it’s complicated,” Dimitroff told The Athletic. “It’s one of the reasons we were deliberate with how we brought in the free agents, as well. We were not going to be put in a position where we were bringing in young guys, and they weren’t ready for one reason or another, and we were just holding down to hope that they would come through. We were going to have the ability to pick the best five that were going to start for us. It doesn’t matter in our mind right now who they are. For us, we just need to be comfortable to have the best five we think can help Matt and this offense be prolific, like we think we can be.”

The three contracts

Much has been made about a team taking two offensive linemen in the first round after signing three others to decent-sized contracts. Brown and Carpenter initially were penciled in for starting roles. Ty Sambrailo, who finished the 2018 season as Atlanta’s starting right tackle, was given the early nod to keep his position. Head coach Dan Quinn even said earlier this offseason he viewed Sambrailo as a starting-caliber tackle.

Here’s a look at each of Brown, Carpenter and Sambrialo’s contracts.

  • Brown: Three years, $18.75 million; in 2019 and 2020, his dead cap numbers exceed the cap hit, meaning the Falcons lose money in the event he is released. In 2021, however, the Falcons can release Brown from his three-year deal with $6 million in savings.
  • Carpenter: Four years, $21 million; in 2020, the Falcons only would save less than $100,000 by releasing him. In 2021, however, Atlanta can trim $4 million off of the cap.
  • Sambrailo: Three years, $14.25 million; in 2020, the Falcons can save $3.75 million by releasing him. In 2021, that number climbs to $4.25 million.

In total, the Falcons are on the hook for $10.46 million in salary cap money this coming season with these three linemen, which is only 5 percent of the $188.2 million figure. Both Brown and Carpenter are essentially on two-year contracts. Sambrailo is only guaranteed one year with the franchise based on how his contract is structured.

While the total value of the contracts makes it appear like a lot of money is going toward the offensive line, it isn’t in reality. The players don’t get expensive until the back portion of their deals, which as everyone knows, is not fully guaranteed. In 2021, the total cap figure for these three players would be $19.5 million. It’s unlikely that number ever materializes.

Worst-case scenario

In a Falcons fan’s version of ****, the team would be in trouble if both Lindstrom and McGary fail to live up to their first-round billing. On top of the cap issues at play, Ryan wouldn’t have the protection envisioned by the front office with these selections. Ryan was at his best in 2016 when he had time to step into the pocket and deliver his throws. One can only imagine the horror the fan base would feel if these picks don’t pan out.

In the short term, it also would mean Brown and Sambrailo man the right side of the line. And quite honestly, that’s not a bad contingency plan. If the two draft picks don’t work out, whether it’s due to not being ready or due to injury, Atlanta does have a plan in place. And at least for the short term, the cap ramifications aren’t significant.

Best-case scenario

In an ideal world, Lindstrom and McGary are plug-and-play linemen from Day 1 and enjoy lengthy careers. In the event of injury, there is veteran depth behind them to step in and keep Ryan protected. As the three veterans’ contracts increase in value, the Falcons find cap relief while scouring the league for proven veteran depth. In the end, a repeat of what transpired to Ryan in 2018 doesn’t happen again.

By selecting Lindstrom with the 14th overall pick, he is all but guaranteed to start the opening week of the season. For the Falcons to trade back into the first round to take McGary is also a strong indicator that he should be in line to start if all goes as planned. Some might worry about having two rookies starting on the offensive line. But if they are among the best five at the position, you roll with it.

“Make no mistake about it, we knew what we needed to do this offseason, and that was to continue to fortify the line and make sure that we were protecting Matt, and we weren’t going to, again, run into what we ran into last year, unfortunately,” Dimitroff said. “The depth and how they all play out, time will tell as far as who the best five are and the most accomplished five are. But the feeling is that we have a number of people that can step up and legitimately start for us.”

 

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25 minutes ago, Geneaut said:

I think what I take away from all this is that the OL situation last season frustrated the coaching staff far more than they ever let on to us. 

DQ did. He sounded angry and disgusted when he said: “ Beyond the Center and LT, we will scrub every bit of it”. People just assumed Falcons were going Defense like they almost always do in draft.

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21 minutes ago, dawgsjw said:

Its good to see them finally realize that signing journeymen free agent linemen or 5th round or later draft selections ain't doing Matty Ice any good.  I'm also sure Freeman is licking his chops knowing that there will be gaping holes for him to penetrate through.  

Can’t run the ball, can’t protect the QB. Every one knows how that story ends. 

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Over the last three seasons, the Falcons are 14-3 in games where Matt is sacked 1 time or less. Over those same three seasons they were 14-17 in games with more than 1 sack. I think this draft approach was sensible and made more mathematical, statistical, football sense than many fans are giving it credit. 14-3, folks. Let that sink in. 

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fixing the line is not the issue. reaching a whole round on both players is. certainly someone in the 20’s would want to trade up so we picked up another pick amd grabbed lindstrom. then if they felt it necessary use that pick to trade up and get mggary. we would have still had a 2nd or 3rd round pick to address our cornerback or defensive line with. td reaches and then says all the analysts were wrong and someone was gonna take their player. only real reach besides us i saw in the first round was ferrell to oakland at 4. the draft went pretty close to expected. we fixed our oline, but outside of that we got a few project players. new england let the draft come to them and picked up 8 players at least 4 of which are gonna be day 1 starters. my issue with td is he always REACHES. 

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2 minutes ago, texasfalconfan said:

fixing the line is not the issue. reaching a whole round on both players is. certainly someone in the 20’s would want to trade up so we picked up another pick amd grabbed lindstrom. then if they felt it necessary use that pick to trade up and get mggary. we would have still had a 2nd or 3rd round pick to address our cornerback or defensive line with. td reaches and then says all the analysts were wrong and someone was gonna take their player. only real reach besides us i saw in the first round was ferrell to oakland at 4. the draft went pretty close to expected. we fixed our oline, but outside of that we got a few project players. new england let the draft come to them and picked up 8 players at least 4 of which are gonna be day 1 starters. my issue with td is he always REACHES. 

New England didn't have the holes in their roster that the Falcons had, which gave them the benefit of drafting best available player throughout the draft. Teams who are drafting from that position of strength tend to fare better than teams with specific needs. On the other hand, teams with specific needs have to prioritize those needs and draft specific position players, which may or may not offer the appropriate value at that pick. So, you hope for the best and try to negotiate trades and move around to maximize your value, but if that doesn't present itself as being available your default draft philosophy is to still fill your holes. It's the nature of the draft, man. And I wouldn't say TD ALWAYS reaches. He does his fair share of reaching, but many of those alleged "reaches" have panned out very nicely for the team. In fact, many would say, after the fact, that those picks weren't reaches at all. 

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26 minutes ago, SoCalFalconFan said:

Over the last three seasons, the Falcons are 14-3 in games where Matt is sacked 1 time or less. Over those same three seasons they were 14-17 in games with more than 1 sack. I think this draft approach was sensible and made more mathematical, statistical, football sense than many fans are giving it credit for. 14-3, folks. Let that sink in. 

What a stat. In other words, protect Matt Ryan and 83 percent of the time he will light your *** up. 

To put that in perspective 13 wins is a win percentage 81. 

Obviously there’s a lot more than just sacks and things of that sort that get you 13 wins in a season but obviously the FO thinks that’s a **** good start to getting there.

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1 hour ago, dawgsjw said:

Its good to see them finally realize that signing journeymen free agent linemen or 5th round or later draft selections ain't doing Matty Ice any good.  I'm also sure Freeman is licking his chops knowing that there will be gaping holes for him to penetrate through.  

Do you write erotica?

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1 hour ago, SoCalFalconFan said:

Over the last three seasons, the Falcons are 14-3 in games where Matt is sacked 1 time or less. Over those same three seasons they were 14-17 in games with more than 1 sack. I think this draft approach was sensible and made more mathematical, statistical, football sense than many fans are giving it credit for. 14-3, folks. Let that sink in. 

The value prop on this is astronomical in comparison to say a DT on the line??? But one would wonder...what is the Falcons record when they give up less than 100 yards rushing? or say when they sack the QB 3+ times in a game?

 

Falcons are the following in the last two (2) seasons:

11-3 when give up less than 100 yards rushing

8-2 when getting 3+ sacks in a game

5-1 when less than 100yds rushing and 3+ sacks

15 sacks given up in 4 games vs Saints....

6-8 in games in which MR2 throws an INT

2-8 when MR2 is sacked 3+ times

5-0 when MR2 throws 2+ TDs and is sacked 1 or less times

6-0 when Falcons rush for 150+ yards

5-0 when 250+ passing and 100+ rushing on offense

8-3 when + TO margin

 

 

All areas are highly important for NFL success, but I still think keeping Matt upright is most important....

Edited by Matt_The Iceman_Ryan
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46 minutes ago, SoCalFalconFan said:

New England didn't have the holes in their roster that the Falcons had, which gave them the benefit of drafting best available player throughout the draft. Teams who are drafting from that position of strength tend to fare better than teams with specific needs. On the other hand, teams with specific needs have to prioritize those needs and draft specific position players, which may or may not offer the appropriate value at that pick. So, you hope for the best and try to negotiate trades and move around to maximize your value, but if that doesn't present itself as being available your default draft philosophy is to still fill your holes. It's the nature of the draft, man. And I wouldn't say TD ALWAYS reaches. He does his fair share of reaching, but many of those alleged "reaches" have panned out very nicely for the team. In fact, many would say, after the fact, that those picks weren't reaches at all. 

NE’s roster wasn’t nearly as good as ours before the draft, and still isn’t after the draft.

Go take a good look at the roster they just won a title with.  Then remove 2 All Pro’s and a Pro Bowl’er

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55 minutes ago, texasfalconfan said:

fixing the line is not the issue. reaching a whole round on both players is. certainly someone in the 20’s would want to trade up so we picked up another pick amd grabbed lindstrom. then if they felt it necessary use that pick to trade up and get mggary. we would have still had a 2nd or 3rd round pick to address our cornerback or defensive line with. td reaches and then says all the analysts were wrong and someone was gonna take their player. only real reach besides us i saw in the first round was ferrell to oakland at 4. the draft went pretty close to expected. we fixed our oline, but outside of that we got a few project players. new england let the draft come to them and picked up 8 players at least 4 of which are gonna be day 1 starters. my issue with td is he always REACHES. 

Your argument is a reach dude. If we had Lindstrom as our highest rated guard or olinemen, and other players we possibly had rated higher are gone we take him. It doesn’t matter what some schmuck on ESPN or NFLN (who are usually wrong beyond pick 5 anyways) said should go when. When we had a chance to jump back in and get our future RT we made the move. He even said he was expecting to get picked earlier than 31 so clearly there was interest. Stop making things up. 

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31 minutes ago, Falconsin2012 said:

NE’s roster wasn’t nearly as good as ours before the draft, and still isn’t after the draft.

Go take a good look at the roster they just won a title with.  Then remove 2 All Pro’s and a Pro Bowl’er

I don't know if I would say it wasn't nearly as good, but you have changed my stance some. Took a closer look and see your point. 

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43 minutes ago, Matt_The Iceman_Ryan said:

The value prop on this is astronomical in comparison to say a DT on the line??? But one would wonder...what is the Falcons record when they give up less than 100 yards rushing? or say when they sack the QB 3+ times in a game?

 

Falcons are the following in the last two (2) seasons:

11-3 when give up less than 100 yards rushing

8-2 when getting 3+ sacks in a game

5-1 when less than 100yds rushing and 3+ sacks

15 sacks given up in 4 games vs Saints....

6-8 in games in which MR2 throws an INT

2-8 when MR2 is sacked 3+ times

5-0 when MR2 throws 2+ TDs and is sacked 1 or less times

6-0 when Falcons rush for 150+ yards

5-0 when 250+ passing and 100+ rushing on offense

8-3 when + TO margin

 

 

All areas are highly important for NFL success, but I still think keeping Matt upright is most important....

The stats we both listed are all subjective, but also provide some context and validity to the F.O.'s philosophy; as well as, offering a pretty compelling snapshot of the Falcons needs this off-season.

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7 minutes ago, SoCalFalconFan said:

I don't know if I would say it wasn't nearly as good, but you have changed my stance some. Took a closer look and see your point. 

We are both right in a way.  Where NE wins is having 38 really quality players.  Most teams have between 20-25.  NE always leads the NFL by a mile in players earning over 1 million

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19 minutes ago, Falconsin2012 said:

We are both right in a way.  Where NE wins is having 38 really quality players.  Most teams have between 20-25.  NE always leads the NFL by a mile in players earning over 1 million

There is no doubt coaching and getting the most out of players has been in their back pocket for decades.

No days off. You won’t outwork them.

Need better coaching and utilization of players.

There is a reason they can afford young and unpolished linemen but get a consistent unit:

Their coaching and scouting of players.

Edited by Ergo Proxy
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I know Jake Matthews was drafted in 2014 in response to Matt getting murdered in 2013, but I don't remember this much of a concerted effort being made to bolster the line back then.

Signing three vets. Double dipping in the first round. It just really goes to show DQ's stamp on this team. It's become like clockwork. When he wants something fixed or improved, it gets done emphatically. 

We will be much better in 2019. 

 

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Falcons were gonna use this specific off-season to push the reset button on the OL.

This ensures the short-term; protection for rookies at minimum, and the long-term, rookies working as the starters in a best scenario.

The cost was clearly on the Defense early this particular draft and maybe 1 short-term defender in the front 7 this FA instead, but that is hindsight at best. Long-term FA options were not in the cards for a team with many cornerstone defenders coming due. So, this is more about draft capital but required protection in form of proven NFL OL that can short-term start. Hence the 1 (Ty) or 2 years (Brown/Carp) outs on their contracts

It would be very disappointing if by year 2 neither of the drafted OL were starting. I don't think that will happen, but here we are before seeing them run with the first unit and until the real games start no speculation will matter. I think injuries are something that should not be factored into a picks success; obviously, and if that were to happen it validates having the FA moves that were made.

Of course, any perceived hiccup will be overblown on gameday venting about the OL picks; even if the OL and team is doing well. "Oh player X isn't starting!" "Oh, player Y gave up his first sack ZOMG!"

Just get a working unit and let DQ coach the defense for this short-term roster overturn situation on the DL and Front 7. That was the sacrifice this draft, IMO. Not so much CB but one could argue a 2nd or 3rd round CB.

Regardless, that side of the ball will go through the most changes in the next 2 years and the secondary has some players in place to be groomed during that time. The short-term contracts currently in the front 7 make this point clear.

Big decisions loom for that side of the ball; and, while a 1-2 year window on JB/JC/TS as starters vs overpriced backups exists, at least the Falcons can truly draft Defense as much as it wants the next couple years and this should get the OL right.

By then, the overpriced backups will be options to cut and you've infused your defense with a couple drafts and face the roster overturn pre-2021 season but have also freed up cap space by then. Who knows what backup OL will be making for the 2020 or 2021 season by then? :shrug: But we have outs in that window after the 2 years. Ty's contract paid him more if he started, but I don't know if the discount for him being the 3rd OT warrants keeping him.

Gono is still a darkhorse to me. Important decision on GJ's contract structure, VB's future post-contract year, and Debo/Hooper.

If anything, this draft costed a chance to replace VB with Burns or secure a 1T long-term in Dexter Lawrence; presuming Davison would then be let go and Senat is still your depth.

To me, that's the major takeaway. I just don't see us ignoring OL until the 3rd round entering this draft now looking at how things fell. Yeah, we could've gotten a step on that DL overturn coming up or maybe gotten CB overturn a year in advance, but at the cost of the OL not working out? We wanted to bet our short-term success on the OL being DONE and DQ coaching/calling the Defense making the difference.

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2 hours ago, SoCalFalconFan said:

Over the last three seasons, the Falcons are 14-3 in games where Matt is sacked 1 time or less. Over those same three seasons they were 14-17 in games with more than 1 sack. I think this draft approach was sensible and made more mathematical, statistical, football sense than many fans are giving it credit for. 14-3, folks. Let that sink in. 

POST OF THE WEEK

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4 hours ago, dawgsjw said:

Its good to see them finally realize that signing journeymen free agent linemen or 5th round or later draft selections ain't doing Matty Ice any good.  I'm also sure Freeman is licking his chops knowing that there will be gaping holes for him to penetrate through.  

Its about time, those duct tape solutions the last 2 years were killing our offense.

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