Alex Mack was safest and best choice Falcons could make in free agency

Center is the least glamorous position on a football field. It’s also one of the most important and where the Falcons made one of their mistakes, telling Todd McClure a few years ago, “You might as well retire because we’re going to cut you anyway.”

But the Falcons took a significant step toward making up for that mistake Wednesday. After three years of mostly misery at center, from handing the job to a touted draft pick (Peter Konz) to giving it to a vagabond free agent (Mike Person), the team isigned coveted free agent center Alex Mack, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, to a five-year, $47.5 million contract. (Official press release at bottom.)

Free agent signees don’t come with guarantees. But this was about as safe of a choice as the Falcons could have made.

Offensive linemen generally don’t have ego problems so the only risk is health, and Mack showed his toughness and resilience by coming back to have a Pro Bowl season in 2015 for Cleveland after suffering a broken leg in 2014. He had an opt-out clause in his contract and exercised it only two years into a five-year, $42 million deal, knowing he could cash in (most likely from the Falcons).

The only other risk the Falcons are taking with this signing is that they’re going to spend so much money on one player — albeit at their position of greatest need — that there might not be much left for other needs (defensive end, linebacker, safety, wide receiver). Their prioritizing of Mack in free agency was likely the reason they couldn’t also afford to also sign linebacker Bruce Irvin, who had expressed an interest in coming to Atlanta but instead agreed to a four-year, $37 million deal with Oakland.

FILE - In this Jan. 3, 2016, file photo, Cleveland Browns center Alex Mack is shown during an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, in Cleveland, Ohio. A person familiar with the decision says Browns Pro Bowl center Alex Mack is voiding the final three years of his contract and will become a free agent. Mack was set to make $24 million over the next three years, but chose to opt out of the deal, said the person who spoke Wednesday, March 2, 2016, to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson, File)

The Falcons have come to terms with free agent center Alex Mack, who has played the last seven years in Cleveland. (AP photo)

Center was the Falcons’ greatest need, even with their anemic pass rush. We saw last season what happens when their offense doesn’t work. Much of the blame for offensive struggles was put on coordinator Kyle Shanahan and/or quarterback Matt Ryan. But abysmal center blame also was a contributing factor. The center needs to recognize blitzes, call our protections and, oh yeah, snap the ball accurately.

Person’s four fumbles in 14 games tied for the NFL lead among non-skilled position offensive players.

Former Falcons receiver Roddy White, before he was released by the team, said the team’s decision to force McClure into retirement was regrettable and contributed to Ryan’s struggles for the following the 2012 season.

“We should’ve had Todd McClure for two more years,” White said. “I believe if we had him, we could’ve gone to a Super Bowl. He literally fixed everything. Todd always made sure somebody was on a body, which alleviated pressure on Matt. He was the ultimate at that, making calls, reading blitzes and letting Matt do his thing. When Todd left, Matt couldn’t be as good at the other stuff.”

Whether you agree with White or not, his comments on what McClure did illustrate the importance of a center. The Falcons had a nice stopgap in Joe Hawley in 2014 but then released him without a viable option. And then I Tweeted this:

So it was a series of bad mistakes by the Falcons. But they should be commended for this signing, even if a positive move at center was long overdue.

Official press release:

The Atlanta Falcons today announced that they have agreed to terms on a five-year deal with three-time Pro Bowl center Alex Mack.
“We knew we needed to add an established presence along our offensive line,” said general manager Thomas Dimitroff. “Alex is a three-time pro bowler and is an ideal scheme fit for our offense. We understand the importance of solidifying the center position and we have been able to do that today. We are pleased to be able to add Alex to our roster and believe he will be an anchor to our line.”
Mack, 6-4, 311 pounds was originally drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the first round (21st overall) of the 2009 NFL Draft out of California. He has started all 101 games he’s played in. During his rookie season, Mack became the fifth rookie to start all 16 games at center, and helped his team record four consecutive games with more than 160 rushing yards.
In 2010, Mack was anchored an offensive line that helped Peyton Hillis rush for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns. He continued his consecutive games started and offensive snaps streak during the 2011 season starting all 16 games. Then in 2012, he was a part of an offensive line that helped Trent Richardson earn a Browns’ rookie rushing record with 950 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns. During the 2013 season, Mack was one of three Browns offensive lineman who played every offensive snap.
Mack played and started in five games under offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan during the 2014 season in Cleveland before going down with an injury. During those five games the offense averaged 26.8 points per game, 383.2 total yards per game, 146.4 rushing yards per game, and 4.4 yards per carry. Last season, Mack returned from injury to play in all 16 games and was selected to his third career Pro Bowl.
During his senior year at the University of California, Mack was awarded the Draddy Trophy, which is given to college football’s top scholar-athlete. He was also a two-time Rimington Trophy finalist, which is given to the nation’s top center. Mack did not allow any quarterback sacks or pressures on 397 pass plays during his senior year in 2008, and he was only penalized twice in a total of 832 snaps.

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32 comments
MikeS777
MikeS777

Well, the Falcons have a history of ignoring the offensive line and spending all their money on QB and WRs.   The O line is the foundation of your offense.  If you don't have an O line nothing else matters on offense.   A good O line can make average skill players look good.  So I took this as a great sign...the Falcons finally get it.

Then I read today's headline where they spent a bunch of money on WR Sanu haha.   2 steps forward, 1 step back?   Is Sanu that good that we needed to spend that kind of money on him vs other needs?  It just seems like another same old Falcon mistake.  

Columbus68
Columbus68

Hmmm. Interesting Demitroff said "We decided" when he was the one who blew up and never repaired the OL to start with. He acutally KEPT blowing it up instead! Putting any able body out there and the Falcons offense went downhill from there.  I mean, how can an NFL GM do that when we ALL know that the foundation of the offensive and defensive units are the...LINES!! That is like GM 101 right?  I am assuming the "We" was about everybody in the decision making process BUT him.  Hopefully he is not ALLOWED to have a say in personnel EVER!  Hopefully he is only the "mouthpiece" for the personnel side of the management team and NOTHING more.  Better be nothing more...for everybody's sake. 

E983
E983

Alex Mack is it guys. He's a big boy. He's a bulldozing bully. He moves the pile.

slydawg
slydawg

I do not think the retention of Todd McClure was the centerpiece to a Super Bowl run the past 3 seasons.

DawgNole
DawgNole

JS: "But abysmal center blame also was a contributing factor."

_______________________

Who'd he blame?

UGA76
UGA76

Jeff, how much cap space does Atlanta have factoring in the 5 draft choices and the Mack signing? 

slydawg
slydawg

@UGA76 Basically $25 mil. The 5th draft choice (7th round) wil probably not make the team unless they draft a kicker to compete with Matt Bryant or place him on the practice squad. The team will probably spend no more than $5-7 mil (no more than 2-3 cheap players) of that for the rest of FA because they'll need about $6-7 mil to sign the picks and Desmond Trufant's contract comes up in 2017.

DarlaLewis
DarlaLewis

We need more good news and good signings than bad ones.

CrimeaRiver
CrimeaRiver

I'm encouraged by the prospect of having Alex Mack but honestly they need to rebuild the rest of the OL to make sure Ryan stays vertical and the run game clicks. That should be the top priority.

UGA76
UGA76

@CrimeaRiver I 100% agree.  Draft at least one guard this year and then another one next year if we didn't get two in 2016.  These need to be 2nd-4th round picks that can start after letting Mack mentor them.  We are still two starting guards away from being a solid offensive line.

Columbus68
Columbus68

@UGA76 @CrimeaRiver Think they are going all defense in the draft and taking care of offense in free agent market. Unless there is an offensive player too good to pass up sitting there, I think it is ALL defense. Even got a back up QB today and one better than anything we have had in quite awhile. Sanu stretches the field.  Still desperately need....a TE. Doubt we can plug all of the holes but signing Mack takes care of the BIGGEST ONE!  This is a good day! Demitroff would have NEVER plugged the biggest hole, he would have put some fix a flat in it! Heck HE is the one who blew the hole in it to start with and how many years ago and we have been sinking ever since! And I tell you what, hate on Ryan all you want but I do not think Tom Brady would have done much better. It would be for him ALL season what it was like when Denver pummeled him all game in the playoffs. I do NOT blame Ryan, even for most of the bad INT's last year because he had to do everything, too much and had nobody to throw to except Jones and half the time he didnt have much time to do that, much less check down to options 2, 3 and 4! I think sometimes he was frustrated and let it fly over the middle on a wing and a prayer and hoped. I ASSURE EVERYONE that if Ryan has just AVG time in the pocket and not running from his life or someone all in his face and a decent TE to go along with Jones, Freeman, Sanu and Hankerson Falcons will EASILY have a top 10 offense again. 

kerryb
kerryb

I have posted what White said many times on blogs.  The dumbest move of the last 3 years was TD forcing McClure out when he wanted to come back.  It ruined the line for the next 3 years and your franchise QB has been running for his life ever since.  TD should have been fired for that move alone.  We will see a different Matt Ryan now.

Clete27
Clete27

@JeffSchultzAJC Have a feeling Irvin will be a good "no sign." He'll likely look good opposite Mack, but not sure he would've shined here

ATLFan
ATLFan

Not to beat a dead horse, but after reading Roddy White's comments about the value of Todd McClure you have to wonder again just HOW IN THE HELL the front office didn't understand all that before they pushed him out the door.

CarasikS
CarasikS

@JeffSchultzAJC They have over 19M under the cap more than likely. The money is there. the willingness isn't.