At least the Atlanta Falcons addressed one of their most pressing needs.
The acquisition of three-time Pro Bowl center Alex Mack helps the Falcons find stability at a position where they struggled last season. Mack, at 6-foot-4 and 311 pounds, is a good athlete who is solid in both run-blocking and pass protection. Not to mention he is accustomed to offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s expectations in the outside zone-blocking scheme. Shanahan coached Mack for five games during the 2014 season before Mack suffered a season-ending broken fibula.
There will be questions about how much the Falcons decided to pay Mack. His five-year, $45 million deal includes $28.5 million guaranteed along with a $11.5 million signing bonus and base salaries of $1.75 million (2016), $6.75 million (2017), $8.5 million (2018), $8.5 million (2019), and $8 million (2020). But if the 30-year-old former first-round draft pick out of Cal holds up health-wise he should be a dependable force for years to come.
Mack's addition was the biggest splash on a day the Falcons watched linebacker target Danny Trevathan sign with the Chicago Bears and strong safety target Mark Barron re-sign with the Los Angeles Rams. At least the Falcons have a chance to obtain a No. 2 receiver to play alongside Julio Jones with former Cincinnati Bengal Mohamed Sanu coming in for a visit Thursday. And they secured perhaps a solid backup quarterback in Matt Schaub, who was originally drafted by the team in 2004.
Late Wednesday evening, the Falcons agreed to terms with one of their own free agents, pass-rusher Adrian Clayborn, on a two-year, $9 million deal ($14 million maximum value), along with former Miami Dolphins defensive end Derrick Shelby on a four-year contract worth $18 million deal with $7.5 million guaranteed. He received a $5 million signing bonus.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn made clear his focus was to address both the offensive and defensive lines. Signing Mack at least helps with the first part of the equation.
"When you put the tape on, not only is he tough and durable, he's got the speed to climb to the next level to run guys off," Quinn said. "Not only it protection can he handled it one-on-one, but just directing the traffic with the knowledge and the toughness that he brings. I love the way that he competes. It was kind of a combination of those things that make him such a unique player and why I'm so pumped to have him on our team."
Center was a position initially anticipated to be solid under Joe Hawley, but Hawley’s lingering knee injury caused the Falcons to cut ties before the start of last season. That led to the experiment of moving guard Mike Person to center, which backfired from the start based primarily on Person’s inexperience snapping the football. James Stone wasn’t the answer, either, despite having starting experience. Stone had issues with snaps and in protection as well.
The Falcons finished last season with Gino Gradkowski as the starting center. Although Gradkowski gathered some support to compete for next season’s starting role, he was viewed as undersized from the start.
Now with Mack, the Falcons shored up at least one aspect of their shaky interior of the line, although they are in dire need of upgrades at both guards spots as well. Quarterback Matt Ryan felt too much pressure up the middle, so Mack could help alleviate at least some of those concerns. And Mack is very good at getting out and pulling, which makes him an ideal fit as a run blocker. Plus he’s known for making all the right calls up front.
One veteran NFL personnel person familiar with Mack offered this scouting report:
Smart veteran player at the end of his career. Can offer leadership qualities. Better positional blocker than power type. He will run block better in a zone/stretch scheme than a power type. He will have issues against bigger players and could struggle against divisional defensive line opponents like [Kawann] Short and [Star] Lotulelei of the Carolina Panthers.
When Mack decided to opt out of the final three years of his contract, it made sense for the Falcons to investigate the possibility of adding him to the roster. Now that he’s in the fold, the Falcons have to feel comfortable about what they might be able to accomplish offensively, with the defense still needing to make significant strides. It will be the first time the Falcons are truly comfortable at center since the Todd McClure days, and it should help Falcons fans forget about the failed experiment of second-round draft pick Peter Konz.
Ryan certainly made it clear after the season what he hoped the Falcons would pursue this offseason.
"You never realize how much you rely on those [centers], especially when you have a guy who was as consistent as Todd,’’ Ryan told former teammate Brian Finneran in a season-ending radio interview on 680 the Fan. "[McClure’s] longevity was awesome. He never missed a game.
"Hopefully, we’ll be able to find somebody at that spot that can create that kind of longevity that Todd had because I think it’s a really important position, and critical for the offensive line to have a guy at that spot that runs the show.’’
The Falcons now have that guy in Mack.