The season hasn’t even started in Atlanta and already Falcon fans are losing their minds over the prospect of Giorgio Tavecchio having a Cody Parkey-type moment in the NFC playoffs in a few months. Matt Bryant, the longtime kicker for the Atlanta Falcons, was released because it was Tavecchio Time in Atlanta, or something. The Falcons had a lot of problems last season, most of them involving injuries and Tevin Coleman’s two-yard halfback dives, but Tavecchio wasn’t one of them. The former California Golden Bear appeared in three games for Atlanta, made all five of his field goals, two of which were more than 50 yards out. Still, you understand why Falcons fans are anxious about moving on from Mr. Reliable for an unproven lefty in Tavecchio. Finding a long-term answer at the kicking spot is difficult, most teams suck at this. Not everyone can have a Justin Tucker. The chances of Bryant and Tavecchio both thriving in Atlanta back-to-back seems highly unlikely. It doesn’t help that the Falcons just brought in Blair Walsh, who somehow had a worse playoff moment than Parkey for the Vikings in 2016. If Tavecchio was a baseball player, his .500 average this preseason wouldn’t be keeping Falcon fans up at night. Adding Walsh to the mix seems almost cruel. Who will be kicking for the Falcons this season matters, but Atlanta fans are entirely too wrapped up with that battle and not nearly enough concerned about the offensive line.
Tavecchio or Walsh could absolutely send Atlanta home early in the NFC Wild Card game this fall, but for the team to be in a position to suffer such a devastating loss, the offensive line can’t be as bad as it has been this preseason. Let's move on from the Bring Back Matt Bryant conversation and move towards Who The Hell Is Playing Right Tackle conversation. Ryan was sacked three times against the New York Jets in the team’s last preseason game and it felt like more. If you’re feeling good about Ty Sambrailo, Jamon Brown, James Carpenter, Wes Schweitzer, or even Matt Gono, heading into the 2019-20 season, erm, why? The Philadelphia Eagles offensive line, this team is not. Once the Falcons took Kaleb McGary and Chris Lindstrom in the draft, it seemed as though Falcons fans were largely satisfied -- they addressed a major need early in the draft. Conventional wisdom has always been that offensive linemen are safe picks in the NFL Draft, and that is usually correct. As Ty Schalter of Bleacher Report wrote in 2014, Offensive linemen are usually considered safe—and this data bears that out: 65.3 percent of offensive linemen look like winners after three seasons, thanks to a generous helping of instant-impact guys and the second-fattest slice of quick-developing prospects.” The problem? Offensive linemen don’t explode until Year 2 and Year 3 and the Falcons need Year 1 explosion or a lot of people are getting fired in Atlanta. This is a real problem.
This is what makes the Trent Williams controversy in Washington so interesting. There have been mixed reports about what the New England Patriots may or may not have offered the Redskins for the 31-year-old star offensive tackle. Would it be crazy for the Pats to give up a first-round pick for an old veteran who has real injury concerns and isn’t getting any younger? Are you going to be the one to bet against Bill Belichick and that front office here? If the Pats are interested, why aren’t the Falcons? Per PFF, the Patriots already have the No. 6 offensive line in the NFL. Atlanta? They come in at No. 22 and can really only count on Alex Mack and Jake Matthews, as both finished 2018 with top-10 grades at their position. You can never have too many elite offensive tackles and the Falcons have exactly one. Wouldn’t two be nicer? Wouldn’t it be easier to see the Falcons competing with the Saints in the NFC South with Williams and Matthews similar to what New Orleans has in Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk? McGary might be solid offensive tackle in Atlanta for years to come, but Atlanta is in a unique spot where they have to make the playoffs and look like contenders for the powers that be to keep their jobs. If McGary, who is coming back from a scary heath situation, struggles the options behind him aren’t better. Ryan is going to get hit and those clean-pocket opportunities take an even bigger hit. You can contend with a shaky kicker, you can’t contend with a shaky o-line.
The biggest roadblock is that to get Williams you have to work with Bruce Allen and the Redskins to work out a deal. This situation in Washington has gotten ugly, but Williams would be extremely valuable to ring-chasing teams with questions at the tackle spot -- the Falcons fit the bill. From NBC Sports Washington, “Those close to Williams say his issues with the Redskins run far beyond money, while those close to the team believe cash is the root issue. Williams is due nearly $25 million during the next two seasons, the last two years on a five-year, $66 million contract extension he signed in 2015. Neither 2019 or 2020 holds much guaranteed cash either.” If you trade for Williams, you’re walking into a tricky contract situation for an aging veteran who could hit Father Time at any moment. After his injury issues, he may just walk away after the season and the Falcons will have given up real assets for a year of service time. It’s a complicated question, sure, but if you’re Thomas Dimitroff you are giving up a second and third rounder for Williams in 2020, right? If the demand is a first and a fourth in 2020 you do it, right? Yes, you just heavily invested in the offensive line the draft, but are you really banking on two rookies to keep Ryan protected enough to the point where he can have another MVP-type season so you are still the GM next year? The Falcons have a pick in the first six rounds of the draft next year. You can part with two of those for an o-line that features Mack, Matthews and Williams for a season or two. That’s a needle-mover, not who is kicking 27-yard field goals against the Bucs this fall.
Who knows what the Falcons will do, but we do know the conversation around Bryant and Walsh and Tavecchio is overblown. The Bears have gone through 1000 kickers since releasing Parkey and many analysts and writers are still penciling them in for the postseason. The Chargers haven’t had a good kicker in a decade and Los Angeles has been a Super Bowl dark horse forever. You can survive with questions at kicker, Bryant’s absence isn’t going to cost Dan Quinn and company their jobs -- it’s the play of that offensive line and how many clean-pocket opportunities that inexperienced unit gives Ryan to play the Falcons into contention once again. Less Bryant, more Williams. Please?
Chase Thomas is an independent sportswriter based out of Atlanta, Georgia. He has been published in VICE Sports, SI, ESPN’s TrueHoop Network, SB Nation and more. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.