Editor’s note: This is the second of an eight-part position-by-position series analyzing the Falcons’ roster before the rookies report Tuesday for training camp. The veterans report July 25.
The Falcons’ offensive line was assessed as the franchise’s weakest link during the downfall of the former regime.
But now, the unit is considered one of the team’s strengths as three players drafted by former general manager Thomas Dimitroff have received new contracts worth $192.5 million since January 2023.
Left tackle Jake Matthews signed a three-year extension worth $55.5 million Jan. 7. Right guard Chris Lindstrom signed a five-year $102.5 million extension March 16 and right tackle Kaleb McGary signed a three-year contract worth $34.5 million March 31.
Center Drew Dalman, who selected by new general manager Terry Fontenot, is set to enter his second season as a starter and Matt Hennessy, a Dimitroff draft pick, held down the left guard spot over the offseason. However, Matthew Bergeron was drafted in the second round in 2023 and is being converted from a college tackle to a pro guard.
“It’s amazing that we were fortunately able to keep intact a large part of our group,” Lindstrom told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We are continuing to build those relationships both on and off the field. On the field, we’re working on communications and sharpening everything while continuing to learn the offense.”
Lindstrom, who was named second-team All-Pro last season, was made the highest paid player at his position in the NFL.
“I’m super fortunate,” Lindstrom said. “I’m looking forward to everything that’s keeps coming once camp is here.”
Matthews, who’s started 145 games and is set to enter his 10th season in the NFL, is the veteran of the group. He still absorbs and passes along lessons from his dad, Bruce Matthews, who played 19 seasons and was inducted in to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007.
“One thing I learned from my dad, who I personally think was the best to ever do it on the line for the longevity and playing every position and everything that he did,” Matthews said. “Even in his 19th year and 300-plus games or whatever it was (308), he still accepted that he never really arrived and the moment that he did was usually when he was going to get checked in some type of way.”
The message was simple.
“There is always something to work on,” Matthews said. “It’s funny how some of the things you are thinking about and working on, is stuff that you couldn’t process years ago because you’re just ahead of where you were. Hopefully, less things to work on and each thing is more advanced than the rudimentary stuff in the beginning.
“So, that’s how I feel. It’s a never-ending process.”
The Falcons, who had six different starters at left guard last season, are not going to hand the job to Bergeron. He must beat out Hennessy, who was drafted in the third round of 2020 and has played in 41 games with 22 starts.
“Henny is doing a great job,” Matthews said. “I think one thing that’s kind of a testimonial to last year is that we had all of those different guys playing left guard, but I think we still, for the most part, were running the ball and projecting the quarterback in a lot of ways.”
Bergeron played tackle at Syracuse.
“Bergeron has come in and you can tell he’s talented,” Matthews said. “He’s a smart guy. He’s got the right mindset. I think he fits in well with our (group).”
Matthews was forced to start at left tackle as a rookie after Sam Baker went down with an injury in the exhibition season in 2014. He was set to ease into the NFL at right tackle.
“I remember when I was a rookie, and it was about consistently coming in here and feeling comfortable playing in the NFL, in a different scheme, different style and knowing what to do,” Matthews said. “You have to trust that the guy next to you knows what he’s doing or else we all are in trouble. He’s doing a really good job, and Henny is as well.”
Bergeron is going to need a strong push in training camp to overtake Hennessy.
“It’s definitely an adjustment,” Bergeron said.
He hopes to land the starting sport.
“I don’t put pressure on myself,” Bergeron said. “I’m going to give my 100% every day and see where that takes me.”
Jalen Mayfield, a third-round pick in 2021 who started 15 games at left guard as a rookie, spent the offseason at right tackle, where he played at Michigan. The Falcons tried to convert him to guard, too.
“If you’re not going to start, you need to have versatility because of how you problem solve on gameday if you’re in the top eight,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said when asked about Mayfield. “So, you’re going to have to have versatility up front. If you’re a one position guy, you better start.
“Obviously, with Jalen, just out of necessity, he played left guard. With where we’re at, we feel good – and these are conversations that we have, too. ... Jalen has been working at right tackle for versatility. So, we’ll see. He’s doing well, so we’ll see what he looks like in camp.”
In 2023 the Falcons will seek to end their streak of five consecutive losing seasons. Matthews is the only projected starter who’s played in a playoff game.
“We just have such a better idea about what we want to accomplish and exactly what we are intending to do on each play,” Matthews said. “You can just tell how much more advance we feel in our calls and identifications. Plays we are running at this point last year … two years ago was nothing to compared to this. So, I think we’re in a good spot.
D. Orlando Ledbetter, Esq is the award-winning Atlanta Falcons beat writer for the newspaper, has been on the staff since 2003. Every day D. Orlando strives to provide inside in the Falcons and the NFL. He finds the most joy in providing insight into the team, the coaching moves, the offseason business moves, the draft and the games.