One of the biggest question marks as the Falcons head into the off-season and specifically into free agency is what to do with the right side of the offensive line. Both guard Harvey Dahl and tackle Tyson Clabo are due to become free agents as March approaches, but the labor deal at issue right now will make them restricted free agents if no new collective bargaining agreement is reached. The issue is murky at best right now, but from listening to all the pundits and analysts, there will likely be no new deal. This will make the 2010 season an uncapped year, but will have ramifications for many players like Dahl and Clabo who have not played 6 years in the NFL. Currently, players have to play a minimum of 4 years to become eligible for free agency, but with no new deal on the horizon, 2010 will mandate that players now play 6. So right now, Dahl, Clabo, and even Norwood will be restricted free agents and any team who wants to sign them will have to part with draft picks and the Falcons have a chance to match any offer.
Harvey Dahl played his college ball at Nevada through 2004, where he was named to the All-WAC team two years in a row and named to the Outland Trophy watch list. Dahl went undrafted and caught on with the San Francisco 49ers and rotated on and off the active roster over the next two years. He was then signed by the Atlanta Falcons to their roster, but was inactive for most of the time and finally saw some action against the Seahawks in the season finale. Then came the breakout year of 2008. The former undrafted free agent started all 16 games and help lead the Falcons to the second best rushing offense in the NFL, sending Michael Turner to the Pro Bowl. O Line Coach Paul Boudreau worked his magic with two guys formerly destined for the practice squad.
The Falcons offensive line as a whole took a step back of sorts in 2009 and had many spots where they struggled mightily to run the ball and had times when Ryan and Redman were under duress the entire time. Even though the Falcons ranked 10th in pass protection according to Football Outsiders, Ryan (and Redman) were rushed many times and had to get rid of the ball many times before they wanted to. Dahl has earned the reputation of being one of the nastiest, meanest players in the NFL. Pete Prisco from CBS Sports wrote a little piece on Dahl and being named one of the meanest players in the league, “As if on cue, the NFL’s meanest player, and some might say the league’s dirtiest, livened up a ho-hum May practice a few weeks back by doing something he does a lot, which is to brawl. Atlanta Falcons guard Harvey Dahl is a nasty player who pushes the whistle on almost every play, so it wasn’t surprising to see him in the middle of a violent practice fight that ended with Dahl getting eight stitches across his nose, courtesy of a helmet to the face.” Along with Tyson Clabo on the right side, a nickname came about calling them “The Nasty Boys”. Question is whether TD will re-sign Dahl, Clabo, both, or neither?
Harvey Dahl was an undrafted free agent, former practice squad player that evolved into a beast in the running attack and was largely responsible for the Falcons quick turnaround. Dahl may let his emotions get the best of him sometimes, but he comes ready to play every game is rarely if ever over-matched or beaten in games. He is a big road-grading, guard listed at 6’5 and over 300 lbs. He is a tireless worker that makes sure he will out-muscle his opponent and wear them down both physically and mentally. The Falcons want to continue to build their team, fill holes, and create good depth and not re-signing a player that you brought from the practice squad to excellent starting lineman would be ludicrous.
The Falcons are likely locked in on the left side with Sam Baker (some have even called for Baker to move to Right Tackle) and Justin Blalock, but the other three are in complete limbo. The Falcons will be in the 3rd year of “The Process” and should be ready to make the leap to making a deep drive in the playoffs and taking away one of your best lineman would make no sense at all. It is true that Dimitroff will be armed with 8 picks in the upcoming draft, but will it be wise to expect a rookie to be any better than Dahl? And wouldn’t it be smarter to go ahead and spend the money on a guy you developed and knows the system well than going out in free agency? Dimitroff should have ample money to re-sign Dahl, Clabo, and Norwood if he wants even of there were a salary cap in 2010. Seems likely that Dimitroff will keep Dahl at least for another year and see if he truly is worth the money. If Dimitroff absolutely had to choose between keeping Dahl or Clabo, smart thinking would be to keep Dahl and either give Garrett Reynolds or Will Svitek a chance at tackle, or get their own guy at tackle in April’s draft.
While Dahl had a very good year in 2008, along with the rest of the line, much of that we know now was due to an extremely weak schedule because they all took a step back this year. Dahl may be one of the nastiest players in the league, but he also has fits where he costs his team dearly with his extra activity. His failure to keep his emotions in check often result in personal foul penalties, which are complete drive killers. Dahl had pretty good size at 6’5 and over 300 lbs, but not great size when running up against some of the behemoth nose tackles that push over 330+ lbs. Who knows how much Dahl will be commanding for a guard that regressed from his breakout year to the next. Not saying that Clabo would do it, but if given the choice where Dimitroff had to choose between Dahl and Clabo, they would re-sign Clabo and try to move him to guard where he can be a true road-grader with his bigger size (6’6, 330) and not worry as much about pass protecting, his given weakness. Brett Romberg was brought in as a possible replacement for Todd McCLure at center when he retires, but with Coach Smith and Coach Boudreau’s philosophy of cross-training, Romberg has shown capability of playing guard. Dimitroff will also have many options in the draft or free agency.
So, should the Falcons re-up Nasty Boy Dahl or let him walk into the free agency sunset?
If given the choice of only re-signing one, which would you choose, Dahl or Clabo?