Free Agency 2011 – Getting Gaither

| July 26, 2011

Every time I write an intro for one of these things the labor situation changes just as it goes to publish. So I’m doing the NFL world a favor, and not going to comment on it going forward. Instead, I’m going to keep moving right along into breaking down some potential destinations for possible free agents.
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So who to do today? We’ve already looked at Matt Roth and Sidney Rice, so perhaps it’s time to get into the nitty gritty and look at a guy on the offensive line. A player, in my personal opinion, is the rarest of rare commodities to hit the open market.
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A franchise left tackle.
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Some of you may think I’m talking about Doug Free, an extremely talented Cowboy tackle. I’m not – not because I don’t rate him (I do), but because I personally feel as good a left tackle as he was in 2010, he has it in him to be an All-Pro right tackle.
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No, the guy I’m talking about missed all of 2010 and he’s had some character concerns mysteriously appear. Yet Jared Gaither is the kind of blindside protector teams should be falling over themselves to pick up.
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Never forget

Because the Ravens were planning on switching Michael Oher to the left side before even knowing Gaither would miss 2010 with an injury, some people don’t recognize how good the former supplemental draft pick has been. Stats don’t always tell the story, but Gaither had given up six sacks, five hits and 28 hurries in 32 games (including playoffs). Compare that to Pro Bowl tackle Donald Penn, who gave up six sacks, nine hits and 36 hits in just 16 starts of 2010! So, if you think Penn is a franchise LT, what do you think of Gaither?
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Now there are other things to consider. Gaither has given up an extremely largely number of penalties (averaging 10 per regular season). That’s a concern, but given his performance in keeping Joe Flacco upright, and his run blocking (he ranked in our top three run blocking LTs in 2008 and 2009) it’s clear he’s a franchise left tackle.
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So if the medicals check out, plenty of teams need a player like him. Let’s run down the top five.
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5. Buffalo Bills

Why it will happen: Because, even though he improved in 2010, Demetrius Bell still has a long way to go before he’s considered even an average NFL left tackle. Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t afraid to make throws, but his accuracy and decision making take a huge hit when he’s put under pressure. Solution? Cut down on the pressure. They’ve got to find use for a lot of cap room.

Why it won’t: Bell has shown improvement, and it more suited to the left side. The Bills seem pretty happy that he’s coming along at a good pace. They have other needs, especially on defense.
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4. New Orleans Saints

Why it will happen: Not only is Jermon Bushrod a free agent, he’s also been stinking up the joint since he took over the starting job. Simply put, Bushrod gets beat over an awful lot. What’s worse is he really doesn’t appear to have the talent to assist the Saints running game. Bringing in Gaither alongside Carl Nicks – that’s a devastatingly good left side of the line.

Why it won’t: Ah Carl Nicks. The Saints made Jahri Evans the highest paid guard in football, and they’re going to have to pay Nicks pretty handsomely as well. Can they really afford to be paying three offensive linemen top dollar? Especially when you consider they were able to win a Super Bowl with Bushrod a worse player than he is now. The Saints offense with Drew Brees doesn’t require elite tackle play.
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3. Kansas City Chiefs

Why it will happen: Matt Cassel is a prototypical average quarterback. He’s good when given time, and terrible when pressured. You’re going forward with him so you need to make his surroundings as comfortable as possible. Clearly Brandon Albert and Barry Richardson aren’t getting the jobs done at either tackle spots. Gaither will upgrade the left tackle spot, so it’s really just about finding a new home for Brandon Albert, the college guard.

Why it won’t: Again it seems like a team is hitched to a tackle in the shape of Albert. Plus I am being a tad overly critical of Albert, who hasn’t been mind-blowing terrible, as much as maddeningly inconsistent. There’s nowhere to really put him on a line that already looks like it’s returning the same interior, and playing sophomore Jon Asamoah into the lineup. It makes KC a better team, but forces them to turn their backs on one high draft pick (in the short term). Teams hate that.
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2. Chicago Bears

Why it will happen: Gabe Carimi should be better than anything they had at tackle last year. That’s not a ringing endorsement of Carimi as much an evaluation of how badly Frank Omiyale and J’Marcus Webb played. The new CBA means they won’t have to invest too much in Carimi, and he can settle in on the right side as he adjusts to NFL life. Gaither can make the left side his own.

Why it won’t: After throwing J’Marcus Webb into the deep end, there’s a feeling the Bears want him to succeed. When teams want a player to succeed it can lead to this irrational reluctance to yank them from the starting lineup even when they’re underperforming. Perhaps the Bears see Carimi / Webb as the future and don’t want anything getting in the way of that.
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1. Arizona Cardinals

Why it will happen: Levi Brown. The fates conspired against Arizona (well actually they did themselves in) when Matt Leinart was released. It meant former fifth overall pick Levi Brown was protecting the blindsides of three quarterbacks. Simply put, Brown lacks the ability at this level to neutralize pass rushers. Worse still, moving him to the left side seemed to make him worse – previously a pretty decent run blocker, even that dropped off a cliff. If the Cardinals are serious about trading for Kevin Kolb, they must be aware how Kolb struggles under pressure. So then they simply must upgrade the left tackle spot.

Why it won’t: I can’t think of a single reason other than they think Kolb is the next Kurt Warner and doesn’t need pass protection. He’s not, and they do. This is a slam dunk of a move that they need to make.
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