Falcons’ cap needs factored in Clabo release
ATLANTA — One of the overriding themes of the
Falcons’ offseason has been to rid themselves of numerous higher-paid
veterans, even the ones who are still productive.
latest casualty was 31-year-old right tackle Tyson Clabo, who earned a
Pro Bowl berth following the 2010 season and received a contract in 2011
for five years and $25 million, with $11.5 million
Cutting Clabo follows the March 1 purge
in which the Falcons released big-salaried veterans Michael Turner, John
Abraham (team-high 10 sacks last year) and cornerback Dunta Robinson,
who started on playoff teams for the past three
Perhaps more than any other unit on the
field, continuity and teamwork is of the utmost importance on the
offensive line; and Clabo was a cornerstone of those concepts. He
started every game over the last five seasons and 101 of the team’s 112
regular-season games since 2006.
With the club’s
decisions to pass on re-signing long-time center Todd McClure, pushing
McClure into retirement after 13 seasons, and release Clabo, the Falcons
are essentially going with a youth movement on the
The left side of the line is set, as the
Falcons re-signed tackle Sam Baker and guard Justin Blalock remains
under contract. But the other three positions — center, right guard and
right tackle — loom as something of a mystery. The Falcons have not had
this much upheaval on the line since head coach Mike Smith and general
manager Thomas Dimitroff arrived in 2008.
One of the
three vacancies will likely be filled by Peter Konz, the team’s
second-round draft pick last year. Konz, who played center in college at
Wisconsin, started 10 rookie games at right guard and is sure to be
stronger and improved in the coming season. The Falcons have the option
of playing him at center or right guard.
also have re-signed Garrett Reynolds, who has started 13 games at right
guard over the last two seasons with mixed results. In Clabo’s place,
the Falcons could see a competition between Mike Johnson, a third-round
pick in 2010 out of Alabama, and 2012 third-round pick Lamar
Both players would be relatively green.
Technically, Johnson has one start in his career, but that came in a
short-yardage situation as a sixth lineman. Last season, he moved up the
depth chart and played the jumbo tight end, which the Falcons reserve
for their top lineman, who is not a starter.
was hurt for all of the offseason and most of training camp last year
and so it’s hard to get a read on where he stands. He played in only two
regular season games. At 6-foot-6, 333 pounds, he is a behemoth, more
in the mode of Clabo.
A less likely prospect is that
Joe Hawley, who started 12 games at right guard and center in 2011,
could compete for a spot. Hawley was suspended four games last season
for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.
The Falcons could also go the free-agent route or
look to the draft for linemen. But considering that both their top two
picks in 2012 went on linemen (no first-round pick) and with their
pressing needs on at cornerback and linebacker, it’s doubtful the
Falcons will use high picks to do so.
The move to cut
Clabo also marks something of a philosophical change. With Dirk Koetter
entering his second year as offensive coordinator, the Falcons went
from a team that pounded the ball with the run — Clabo’s forte — to one
that passed first and used the screen game.
addition, the change at offensive line coach from Paul Boudreau
(2008-11) to Pat Hill last season ushered in a more technique-oriented
shift — from one of physical brute force and
Clabo was more in the mold of the
latter. His struggles to pass protect came to light in a 30-28 win over
Carolina (Week 4), in which quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked seven times
and Panthers end Charles Johnson victimized Clabo numerous times. In
that sense, Johnson could be the favorite, as he is smaller and likely
better on his feet. Potentially, he’s also more suited to the demands of
In the bigger picture, the
Falcons gave themselves very little room to maneuver under the salary
cap after signing Baker, safety William Moore, tight end Tony Gonzalez,
running back Steven Jackson and, most recently, defensive end Osi
Cutting Clabo might have simply been
necessary for the Falcons to sign their draft picks. He is a good player
and will continue be a good player for another
However, with his salary and with skill set,
the Falcons apparently no longer felt they could keep
That is the business of the