Ranking the 2013 Free Agents: Offensive Tackles
PFF's Ben Stockwell lines up the top free agent offensive tackles and finds a variety of worthwhile options... some riskier than others.
Ranking the 2013 Free Agents: Offensive Tackles
Every day this week we’ve been breaking down the top free agents at each position. It’s more than just looking at our grades, but factoring in longevity, age, injuries and so much more in order to tell you who we think are the best gets out there.
We’re not going to insult your intelligence though when it comes to guys unlikely to hit the open market because of restricted free agency, so don’t expect to see names like Victor Cruz or Brian De La Puente in these pieces. Instead we’re focusing on guys with a real shot at dipping their feet into the free agent pool and making your team better.
We’ve recently run down some of the other top offensive free agents (quarterbacks, running backs, fullbacks, wide receivers, tight ends) and now we start into the linemen. First up, the offensive tackles:
1. Sebastian Vollmer – stays in NE: 4-year, $16.7m
2012 Grade: +28.2
2012 Snaps: 1,261
Summary: The truly elite “franchise” left tackles don’t hit the open market, that’s why you’re not seeing Ryan Clady on this list. However, Vollmer leads a class of free agent tackles who are in the class of ‘very good’ and, more is the point, excellent value for money in a position that will not directly win you football games.
In his four-year tenure in New England, Vollmer has experience at both left tackle (five starts in 2009, +17.5 grade) and right tackle, and has excelled at both positions. The talk of the town in the AFC East was what the arrival of Mario Williams would do to the division’s tackles. Well, Vollmer didn’t allow a single pressure to Williams in the one game that he faced him this season (with Williams deployed primarily on the right side in the return encounter).
A tremendously consistent performer on both sides of the line, Vollmer has only four single-game grades of -3.0 or worse in his four years with the Patriots. If you look at offensive tackle as a mistake-driven position, then Vollmer is an extremely safe pair of hands. In fact, his only letdown performance this season came against Cameron Wake when he was playing with a bad back.
2. Jake Long – to STL: 4-year, $36m
2012 Grade: -0.4
2012 Snaps: 745
Summary: Two years ago Jake Long was playing in a manner that made many hesitate when judging the Miami Dolphins for passing on Matt Ryan; the Falcons’ signal-caller was elite, but so was Jake Long at the “crucial” position of left tackle. Right now Long is just another example of the “what have you done for me lately” attitude in this league, with the Dolphins seemingly set to let him walk rather than pay him mega-bucks to hang around. Remember, two years ago Long was coming off of three consecutive seasons with a PFF grade of +30.0 or greater and was in the conversation as the league’s best left tackle.
Now, after two injury-affected seasons, Long has seen his performances and his league-wide stock slip somewhat to the extent that some may view him as damaged goods. Even so, Long is still a more than capable left tackle and with the knowledge of the “upside” of the first three years of his career it wouldn’t be a surprise to see someone take a risk on him.
Though he didn’t match his prior level this season, his issue was a couple of dodgy games in pass protection that accounted for a combined -7.4 pass protection grade, as he yielded two sacks, four hits, and four hurries to the Colts and Seahawks. If Long’s value is driven low and he can put the injuries behind him, someone could get a steal here. If not, someone could waste a lot of money on a worn down player entering a downward spiral.
3. Andre Smith – stays in CIN: 3-year, $18.1m
2012 Grade: +26.9
2012 Snaps: 1073
Summary: It’s taken Smith a while to get to where he’s at, but as one of the league’s top right tackles (and a man who finished with our highest grade of all his RT peers last year) now that’s he there it’s kind of surprising that the Bengals appear set to let him hit free agency. Smith is unlikely to ever be an elite pass protector as players like Brandon Graham have shown how you can get past him. But in the run game his ability to manhandle defenders and work to the second level put him at the top of the class. Character concerns may see interest in him drop and there seems to be a fear if he’ll be motivated after getting paid, but if he is a team will have themselves a fine player on their hands.
4. Phil Loadholt – stays in MIN: 4-year, $25m
2012 Grade: +15.9
2012 Snaps: 1056
Summary: In a similar fashion to the Andre Smith, Loadholt is a prototypical right tackle-much better going forward than moving backwards. The big concern with him is in pass protection where at times he can get beat, but then to a degree this is overplayed with there plenty of worse tackles in pass pro than the Viking. His real strength is in the run game though and he has the kind of power and mean streak that gets movement at the point of attack. Adrian Peterson didn’t nearly set the rushing record without some help from those around him after all.
5. Gosder Cherilus – to IND: 5-year, $34m
2012 Grade: +23.4
2012 Snaps: 1,229
Summary: A player much maligned during his entire spell in Detroit, the inclusion of Cherilus this high up may surprise some people. In reality, his perceived performance level is not in line with his actual. Cherilus was in fact knocking on the door of All-Pro consideration at right tackle this season, and in the Lions’ extremely pass-heavy offense he played extremely well, recording a Pass Blocking Efficiency among the league’s Top 10 tackles (96.3).
The downside with Cherilus is that for a right tackle (if you still believe a right tackle needs to be your best run blocker) his run blocking is not overpowering and he has no experience on the quarterback’s blindside, having been held at right tackle by the Lions. Cherilus may not create any buzz with some very good tackles of a higher profile hitting the market, so some team may well get a bargain if they have to “settle” for Cherilus after the initial rush.
6. Jermon Bushrod – to CHI: 5-year, $36m
2012 Grade: +1.5
2012 Snaps: 1,130
Summary: Season 2012 was not the year for Bushrod, or the Saints, that 2011 was. A year removed from being among our Top 15 tackles, Bushrod got off to a slow start and, after a midseason resurgence, didn’t finish the season well either. For a player whose greatest weakness in his tenure as a starter has been consistency that isn’t a good thing and he didn’t grade positively after the Saints’ Week 11 victory in Oakland.
To his credit, though, Bushrod has made big and clear strides from some of the abject performances that were common place in his first two seasons as a starter for the Saints in 2009 and 2010. Investing Pro Bowl money in Bushrod would be an unwise risk to take, but at the right price Bushrod is a serviceable starter. Serviceable if you either accept his inconsistencies or have the right leadership and coaching staff around him to iron out those letdown games that seem to come along at least once a month.
7. Sam Baker – stays in ATL: 6-year, $41.5m
2012 Grade: +12.5
2012 Snaps: 1,204
Summary: When Will Svitek went down with an injury in late August the Falcons lost their insurance policy on Matt Ryan’s blindside and some were starting sweepstakes on how long Ryan would last. However, just a year removed from being taken apart by Philadelphia, and benched soon after, Baker rebounded with a much improved season as a pass protector, even if his run blocking still left something to be desired.
If you have a short memory you might be willing to invest in Baker as a left tackle, a five-year pro for whom the light finally came on. Well, that short memory could serve you well, but just to refresh, he earned a pass protection grade of -11.4 in 2011 and his run blocking in 2010 was even worse. His 2012 season shows that he can achieve his potential as a left tackle, but if you sign him to start you’d best have a decent insurance policy if his old form returns.
8. Bryant McKinnie – stays in BAL: 2-year, $6.3m
2012 Grade: +5.6
2012 Snaps: 418
Summary: The Super Bowl run may have been the last ride for a number of veteran Ravens. As Bryant McKinnie hits the open market it’s a pertinent to question whether he has anything left in the tank for another go. He struggled all season with fitness and motivation which led to the Ravens using him sparingly until Week 17, at which point he became an integral part of their run to the title.
McKinnie has never been a great “effort player” but he is an excellent pass protector who understands where he needs to be and how to get there to neutralize even the best of pass rushers. If he has the motivation to stay in shape for another season, then someone should get at least one quality season of play as a potential holdover to a longer term solution.
9. King Dunlap – to SD: 2-year, $3.9m
2012 Grade: +6.6
2012 Snaps: 838
Summary: At the lower reaches of our free agent rankings we’re getting into players who can start in a pinch and offer quality performances when called upon. When Demetress Bell struggled in place of Jason Peters, it fell to King Dunlap to fill that void and he did an admirable job. You’re never going to mistake him for Peters, but his pass protection was, outside of a couple of games, excellent… though he struggled as a run blocker in the Eagles’ system.
Considering some of the tackles who were forced into starting last season and their performance levels one of those teams with dreadful tackles could do worse than offer Dunlap the chance to come in and win a job at one of their tackle spots.
10. Winston Justice
2012 Grade: -0.5
2012 Snaps: 812
Summary: Having started the season like a house on fire (+8.2 after Week 6) Justice’s season tailed off as the year went on and he ended the season playing at a level similar to the rest of the Colts’ line, which was not very good. That said, what he did avoid in Indianapolis this season were the absolutely disastrous single-game performances that blighted his time in Philadelphia and sapped the confidence in him, coloring the opinion of fans and media on his talent.
You have to understand the limitations you’re getting with Justice, and no one will be signing him as an unrivaled starter this offseason, but his performance in the first half of the season for the Colts should at least see him get a chance to win a job somewhere.
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Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.