The most important pending contract situation in Atlanta is one of the NFL's worst-kept secrets. It's not expected to be long until Matt Ryan becomes the latest $100 million quarterback in the league.
That deal might not be consummated until after next season. Which means it's almost as important for Ryan as it is the Falcons to keep the franchise quarterback out of harm's way in 2013.
When the Falcons take the field in August, they will have three new starters along the offensive line.
With the release of Tyson Clabo and the retirement of Todd McClure, center and right tackle are open. Peter Konz, who ended last season at the starter at right guard, will slide over to center.
Garrett Reynolds and Mike Johnson battled last season for the right guard spot. Reynolds opened the season as the starter, but suffered a back injury that required surgery. Konz took over as Johnson played the short-yardage extra blocker/tight end role.
Reynolds, Johnson and Philipkeith Manley, a player the Falcons signed last season as an undrafted rookie free agent from Toledo, will contend for the starting right guard position.
Lamar Holmes, who was selected in the third round out of Southern Mississippi last season, will battle Johnson for the starting right tackle spot.
As the Falcons prepare to sign Ryan to a long-term deal, Clabo became the latest veteran released for salary cap reasons. On March 1, the Falcons released running back Michael Turner, defensive end John Abraham and cornerback Dunta Robinson.
The move, which was announced as a post-June 1 cut, will save the team $4.5 million.
Holmes nor Johnson has started a game in the NFL at right tackle.
"Tyson Clabo is a great player, a leader and teacher," Holmes said. "Tyson taught me a lot of different things including some of the little ins and outs of the game. Just some little tricks to make things better blocking-wise."
Holmes had a stressed fracture in his foot that slowed his development last season. He spent most of last season working out at left tackle behind Sam Baker.
"I'm ready to do whatever the team needs me to do," Holmes said. "If they want me to play right side, I'll play the right side. Whatever they really need me, I'll play."
Holmes, of Gastonia, N.C., started his career at Itawamba Community College before transferring to Southern Mississippi.
"I went to junior college when I was a freshman with my head down, just basically saying, 'I've got to go in there and take somebody's spot," Holmes said. "I've got to earn a job. I've got to be on the field. I'm not here to make friends.' I think that type of mentality, it carried me to where I am now. I went to Southern Miss with just the same mentality and I've just got to keep doing it."
The Falcons have wanted to get bigger and more athletic at tackle.
Clabo struggled at times against more athletic ends. It could not have helped his standing with the team that he was partially responsible for the missed the block that led to Ryan suffering a shoulder injury late in the NFC championship game. He also struggled against the Saints last season.
The Falcons must believe that Holmes is ready to hold down the job.
"I feel like I can come in there and be a contributor from day one, because I'm going to work and whoever's across from me, I'm going to make them work hard every day, all day," Holmes said.
He played some right tackle and left tackle in junior college. At Southern Miss, he was strictly a left tackle.