Falcons pick up Gino Gradkowski, cut Joe Hawley

The Atlanta Falcons released starting center Joe Hawley, who has been dealing with knee issues, on Monday to make room for center Gino Gradkowski, whom they claimed off waivers from the Denver Broncos.

ESPN Insider Field Yates first reported the Falcons' moves.

A 2010 fourth-round draft pick out of UNLV, Hawley was penciled in as the starter coming off major knee surgery. He played in four games last season before tearing the ACL and MCL in his right knee at Minnesota.

He continued to experience soreness in the knee this preseason, which led to guard Mike Person taking some first-team reps at center. Demoted left guard James Stone, who started at center for Hawley last season, stepped in at center near the end of the preseason.

Hawley, who started 23 games in five seasons with the Falcons, had one year left on his contract. His release provides a $3 million cap savings.

Gradkowski played three seasons with the Baltimore Ravens and started all 16 games in 2013.

Teams were concerned with the longevity of Gradkowski's career prior to the 2012 draft due to a knee issue, according to ESPN's Adam Caplan.

The Falcons have restructured their offensive line over the past few days. First, they traded for Tennessee Titans starting left guard Andy Levitre. Then the Falcons claimed offensive tackle Bryce Harris off waivers from the New Orleans Saints.

How the offensive line will come together for next Monday night's season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles remains unclear. Starting left tackle and anchor Jake Matthews missed the end of the preseason with a back strain. Stone could become the starting center, depending on what the team sees from Gradkowski. Levitre is the likely left guard with Chris Chester at right guard. And Ryan Schraeder has held down the right tackle spot.

The Falcons were dominated up front in their third preseason game against Ndamukong Suh and the Miami Dolphins. Protecting Matt Ryan will be key, as will developing chemistry to successfully run offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's outside zone blocking scheme.

Hawley was known as one of the team's toughest players, so that aspect will be sorely missed.