Atlanta Falcons: Alex Mack Should be Prioritized Over Bruce Irvin

Aug 13, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns center Alex Mack (55) in a preseason NFL football game at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 13, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns center Alex Mack (55) in a preseason NFL football game at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s getting to be that time again in the NFL. As the weather begins to warm up a bit, and we get to a point where we’re already a month removed from the super-bowl, the NFL season begins anew once again with the free-agency period.

The deadline for franchise tags has passed, and with it a number of players whom many Falcon fans were hopeful of pursuing have been taken off the market. These players include Alshon Jeffery, Eric Berry, Muhammad Wilkerson, and Von Miller (although Denver would have never let the super-bowl MVP test the market under any circumstance, anyway).

However there are a few big names on Atlanta’s wish list, that have made it to the other side of the franchise tag period as players who are free to test the market.

The two biggest names on Atlanta’s free agency big board are probably OLB Bruce Irvin, who’s coming off of a rookie contract with Seattle; and pro-bowl C Alex Mack, who just opted out of the rest of his contract, which had 3 years remaining at a $24 million total valuation.

The Falcons have been linked to Bruce Irvin for the past year, when he told Black Sports Online that he was “going to be in Atlanta, next season” at the expiration of his contract with Seattle.

Irvin is from Stone Mountain, Georgia. And his former defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is currently the Falcons’ head coach, so Atlanta does look like an appealing destination for the University of West Virginia alum.

ESPN’s John Clayton reported that the battle for the outside linebacker is between Atlanta and Jacksonville (whose head coach, Gus Bradley, is another one of Irvin’s former defensive coordinators from the Seattle days), at a price of around $9.5 million per year.

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Bruce Irvin would somewhat bolster Atlanta’s pass rush. He is a player that Falcon fans have been excited about since his comments about coming home to Atlanta, on that Wednesday Night during an Atlanta Hawks second round playoff game. However, if the going rate is $9.5 million per year with the potential of a possible bidding war with Jacksonville, then the birds would be much better off making Alex Mack their top priority instead.

While Irvin is a very good player at a position of need for the Falcons, he does not completely solve Atlanta’s pass rush problem. His career high in sacks is 8.0 in a season (his rookie year). Since then, he has 15.0 total sacks in the past three seasons.

Yes, that is partly due to the fact that the Seahawks moved him from DE to OLB after that rookie season. But $9.5+ million annually is too much for a player who is not particularly elite at anything (he is very good at coverage, serviceable in run defense, and a decent pass rusher, but he is not elite at any of these things) and who isn’t exactly young, at age 28.

Alex Mack is a different story. He is a three-time pro-bowler (including a selection last season) who would instantly turn Atlanta’s offensive line into a big asset. He would also fit right into Kyle Shanahan’s zone blocking scheme, having already successfully run the scheme under Shanahan in Cleveland, two season ago.

Last season, the interior of Atlanta’s offensive line, occupied by Andy Levitre, Mike Person, and Chris Chester, collapsed on Matt Ryan following the 6-1 start. They were a big part of that six game losing streak which ended up costing the birds a playoff berth.

Center was particularly a big concern. Starting C Mike Person was credited with four fumbles on bad snaps, the most among all non-skill position players. Backup C James Stone was no better in his opportunity. Things got so bad that Gino Gradkowski, who hadn’t played a snap all season, was trotted out as the starting center in Atlanta’s week 17 match-up against the New Orleans Saints.

Bringing in Alex Mack instantly solves two positions on the interior offensive line: center of course, and right guard, as the signing would allow Mike Person to shift to his natural position where he doesn’t have to worry about snapping the ball (his biggest weakness).

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  • The price tag for the pro-bowler will be steep, as he will undoubtedly be looking to become the league’s highest payed center, after opting out of an $8 million dollar annual salary. The current highest paid center is Miami’s Mike Pouncey, who is making $8.9 million on average. Mack will probably be looking for a contract in the $10-$12 million per year range.

    Would that be sort of overpay? Yes. Even at $10 million per year, Mack would be the most expensive interior offensive lineman in the game. However, if Atlanta really wants to make an asset of an offensive line that has been such a liability since Todd McClure got cut, then this is the player they need to overpay.

    The University of California, Berkeley product will have no shortage of suitors in the open market. He has left the door open to a return to Cleveland; Jacksonville will be a player as Mack already signed an offer sheet with them once, two years ago (only for it to be matched by the Browns); the Cardinals, Colts, and others will also be in the mix.

    However, an aggressive pursuit by the Falcons, who have $32 million in cap space after cutting Roddy White, with more cuts probably on the way, can make the birds a favorite to land the pro-bowl.

    I’m not saying to completely ignore Bruce Irvin. He would be a very good signing for the Falcons, just not at a salary of $9+ million per year. I’m just saying that for that kind of money, Atlanta is better off adding a couple million onto that figure and pursuing a player who would make much more of an impact.

    Alex Mack, 30, is also two years older than Irvin. But he is already an established pro-bowler, playing a position which allows for better career longevity.

    For the Atlanta Falcons, Alex Mack needs to be their top priority. Signing him would be a winning move.