Falcons guard Chris Chester decides to call it a career

Veteran offensive guard Chris Chester, who started for the Atlanta Falcons the last two seasons, told ESPN Thursday he is retiring from the NFL.

Chester, 34, played 11 seasons with Atlanta, Baltimore, and Washington. The former second-round pick of the Ravens said he plans to expand on his decision to retire at a later time.

Chester started 143 of 169 games he played in during his career. He started 32 regular-season games at right guard for the Falcons the last two seasons, along with three postseason starts during Atlanta's run to Super Bowl LI.

Chester played 8,929 career offensive snaps and averaged 1,034 snaps per season over the last six years. He overcame shoulder surgery between the 2015 and 2016 seasons.

The Falcons now need to fill the void at right guard. Coach Dan Quinn expressed confidence in returning players Ben Garland and Wes Schweitzer, although neither has started a game in the NFL. Garland, who has played in 24 career games, is listed as a backup center but showed versatility by playing defensive tackle last season. Schweitzer, a sixth-round draft pick last season, was inactive for every game during his rookie year.

The Falcons also added former Indianapolis Colts starting guard Hugh Thornton during free agency one a one-year contract.

The Falcons are doing work on draft prospects, including top guard Forrest Lamp out of Western Kentucky. They hold the 31st overall pick and could target either an offensive lineman or pass-rusher.

Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff talked about this year's class of guards.

"The guard position, most teams are looking for them and realize the importance of having the ability to fortify their interior to protect the quarterback,'' Dimitroff told ESPN's Mike Reiss. ``We saw first-hand the importance of having a center and two guards that were adept at what they did, and they helped us become a prolific offense. That was very important. I think the group this year, there isn't a big number of guys, but we think there are some guys that can be beneficial to teams and can help shore up the interior. Like any position, they'll need their reps to develop."

The Falcons were the only team with the same five starters on the offensive line all of last season.