Everyone knew that Thomas Dimitroff was heading into this offseason with the plan to fortify the Falcons offensive and defensive lines. The question was what moves he would be able to make, considering the Falcons tight salary cap situation. Well, free agency and the 2019 NFL Draft are in the rearview mirror and it turns out that Dimitroff wasn’t just playing the hand in front of him. He’s been playing cards at the table that won’t get dealt until next year.
Dimitroff’s hole card has been Chris Lindstrom from the minute when scouting evaluations for the draft were complete. For a while it looked as if Dimitroff was holding Ed Oliver or Christian Wilkins face down at the table. That seemed definite when he went into free agency and put money down on a pair of road-grader guards. What was puzzling about that move was that he did not sign James Carpenter or Jamon Brown to one-year prove-it deals.
Carpenter was signed to a four-year deal that assures he will be with the Falcons for at least two seasons. There is an out for the Falcons after two years with a manageable dead-cap hit but for 2019 and 2020, there will be salary cap pain involved if the Falcons decide to release him.
Brown has his contract structured the same way, but for three seasons instead of four. The Falcons can opt-out affordably after two years but for 2019 and 2020, he’s going to cost more to cut than keep. We’re also talking starter money for both, not bench money.
That’s why Falcons fans were staring in disbelief when Dimitroff flipped his hole card and it was Lindstrom, another guard. After all, guards rarely go as high as fourteen in a draft unless they carry a can’t-miss label. Also, holding three starting guards in the NFL isn’t any better than holding a pair of deuces at the poker table.
Take a second look though and suddenly what Dimitroff did makes a lot of sense. Alex Mack has made four straight Pro Bowls at center, once with the Browns and the past three seasons with the Falcons. There’s also no reason to believe he won’t make his Pro Bowl run five straight after 2019. The problem is, Mack will be turning 34 years old in November.
Mack is due to make $10.55 million in 2020, and that’s the year that Deion Jones will be getting paid after his rookie deal is up. There will also be the question of whether defensive end Vic Beasley shows that he’s worth new paper or whether the Falcons will have to dip into the free agent market for a pass rusher. Mack’s dead cap hit in 2020 if released will be $2.55 million, a savings of $8 million in cap space.
The advantage with Lindstrom heading into the draft was that he was very athletic for his size as an interior lineman. He not only showed well in the power drills at the 2019 Scouting Combine, he displayed excellent skill in the lateral movement drills. Lance Zierlein also predicted what could be ahead for Lindstrom. In the final line of his NFL.com scouting overview Zierlein wrote, “His final destination could be as a guard/center in a zone scheme where he can become a long-time starter.”
Barring any unforeseen incidents or injuries, Lindstrom will likely be playing a heavy role in a guard rotation in 2019 with the idea that he will slide over to center, between Carpenter and Brown at guard starting in 2020.
If all goes to plan, Matt Ryan stays well protected, Devonta Freeman has room to do what he does best and the Falcons as a team score a boatload of points for another two seasons. That gives Dimitroff a chance to concentrate his cards on defense next offseason.