Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff (right) congratulates head coach Dan Quinn on a 40-14 victory over the Cardinals in mid-December.
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Falcons make moves to improve offensive line at outset of free agency

On the eve of the start of NFL free agency, the Falcons gained enough salary-cap room to add some much-needed talent along the offensive line.

Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said the team is being creative with its salary cap and plans to find room to add players.

“We just have all of our high-price guys, and we have to be respectfully creative,” Dimitroff said Tuesday before leaving Georgia Tech’s Pro Day. “I’ve seen some things written about us being in a dire situation. We are not in a dire situation.”

A few hours later, the Falcons had agreed to deals to sign veteran offensive guards Jamon Brown and James Carpenter. Neither has been to a Pro Bowl, but have started a combined 135 NFL games. 

The team reportedly gained $7 million in cap space by converting $8.75 million of quarterback Matt Ryan’s base salary into a signing bonus, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Field Yates of ESPN reported the transaction first.

While Dimitroff wouldn’t address specific re-negotiations, he did explain the process of automatic conversions, which are options built into contracts to convert portions of a base salary into either a signing, training or roster bonus. There may be other players with similar conversion options.

“You have automatic conversions,” Dimitroff said. “We’re in a good solid spot as much as it doesn’t look to the eye.” 

He declined to speak about specific player’s contracts, but said the team planned to be creative in finding new salary-cap space. 

The Falcons can add more space by reaching deals with defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and wide receiver Julio Jones. Jarrett currently counts $15.2 million against the salary cap after receiving the team’s franchise tag. 

With free agency set to start at 4 p.m. Wednesday, here’s a look at the Falcons’ situation.

The team was $5,679,182 under the $188.2 million salary cap, according to the NFLPA’s updated salary-cap report Monday.

The move with Ryan’s contract will put the Falcons at $12.6 million under the cap before the Brown and Carpenter deals.

The team also is interested in re-signing linebacker/defensive end Bruce Irvin, special-teams player Justin Bethel, tight end Logan Paulsen, linebacker Kemal Ishmael, safety Jordan Richards, wide receiver Justin Hardy and wide receiver Marvin Hall and will need to create more salary-cap room.

The Falcons are monitoring the situation of running back Tevin Coleman, who has yet to find a new deal.

Brown, a former New York Giant, is expected to sign a three-year contract, a person with knowledge of the deal confirmed Tuesday.

Zach Klein of WSB Channel 2 Action News first reported the Brown deal.

Also, Carpenter, a former Jets left guard, is expected to sign a four-year deal with the Falcons, according to a person with knowledge of the deal.

Adam Schefter of ESPN first reported the deal.

Neither deal can become official until the new NFL year starts.

Brown, who’ll turn 26 on Friday, was a third-round pick by the Rams in 2015. He’s played in 50 games and made 38 starts. He’s 6-foot-4 and 340 pounds.

He played with the Rams and the Giants last season.

Brown, a mauler in the run game, is expected to slide into the right guard position.  

Carpenter, who will turn 30 on March 22, is from Augusta and played at Alabama.

Carpenter was a first-round pick (25th overall) of Seattle in 2011. He has played the past four seasons with the Jets.

Carpenter has played in 103 games and made 97 starts in the NFL.

He has played in the Seattle’s outside zone scheme (2011-14) and started at left guard in Super Bowls XLVIII and XLIX.

He has a reputation for being a solid pass protector, but struggled in the run-game early in his career. 

He signed a three-year deal that averaged $4.7 million per year with the Jets on March 21, 2016. 

The Falcons’ No. 1 offseason priority was to fix the offensive line after the unit gave up 108 quarterback hits and 42 sacks last season.

In addition to poorly protecting Ryan, the line ranked 31st in the league in “stuff runs” of no gain or loss of yards.

The Falcons started six different guards last season.

The team has elected to move on from left guard Andy Levitre, who started the season opener in each of the past four seasons.

Last season, Brandon Fusco opened as the right guard. He suffered a broken ankle after starting seven games.

Ben Garland and Zane Beadles, who also started games at guard for the Falcons, will not be re-signed by the team.

Before the outset of free agency, the Falcons signed tackle/guard Ty Sambrailo to a three-year contract extension that’s worth $14.25 million over three years with escalator clauses that could push it up to $18 million, according to NFLPA documents. 

He received a $3 million signing bonus. The deal averages $4.75 million per year before the escalator clauses kick in for 2020 and 2021. A total of $6 million of the contract is guaranteed.

The Falcons could field a line of left tackle Jake Matthews, left guard Carpenter, center Alex Mack, right guard Brown and right tackle Sambrailo.

Guards Wes Schweitzer and Brandon Fusco would be left to compete along with Ryan Schraeder, who was last season’s opening starter at right tackle.  

The Falcons also carried tackle Matt Gono, an undrafted rookie last season, on the 53-man roster.

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