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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Who's In, Who's Out

It's pretty clear at this point that the OL is going to be critical with this offseason. As they justify the decision to promote Deangelo Williams and release Mike Wahle (now a Seahawk) and Deshaun Foster (heavily courted by the Buccaneers), the makeup of the line is both a strong focus and certainly not a complete process.

So, with the linemen working out Saturday in Indianapolis and us watching, time to figure out what we know and what we don't.
  • John Fox doesn't feel that the line was the "biggest problem" last year, but there were things to improve upon.
  • The 2008 NFL draft is stocked with OT talent up high.
  • Jordan Gross isn't under contract, but as Franchise Player, he's likely limited to the team. He can negotiate with other teams, but he doesn't feel as if he's on the move. Realistically, no one would pay two first round picks for Gross, and that'll be a very deterring factor for anyone looking to sign the vet. With the draft market being as it is, two first round picks could get you two starting offensive tackles.
  • Under contract, in order of experience: Justin Hartwig, Travelle Wharton, Jeremy Bridges, Evan Mathis*, Geoff Hangartner*, Frank Omiyale, Ryan Kalil, Rueben Riley. *RFAs are starred since they're expected back, but aren't technically even tendered, much less signed.
  • Other than Kalil, Omiyale and Riley, every player above has started at least a season's worth of games and has been with the team two years. Kalil started three games.

Of the group signed, a few are in limbo.

  • Jeremy Bridges, a solid replacement OT in 2006, was re-signed and moved to G for 2007, drew a gun on a stripper during camp, and was suspended for two games; he struggled through the year and was benched late in the season. In theory, versatile; may work as a backup OT from here, but washed out as a guard.
  • Justin Hartwig, signed in 2006, missed almost the entire year; Started 15 games in 2007, but missed time with injury again. Didn't work out well at guard when they wanted to get Ryan Kalil on the field; his contract isn't too cumbersome, so if they could keep him it would work, but replacements Hangartner and Kalil are just as good at center. He's on the trade block, which means it's probable he'd get cut, money they could use on a guard.
  • Evan Mathis, a 3rd round pick in 2005, was supposed to be the RG for years. Pedigreed, strong, smart, he was expected to be blue chip; his 2006 season was supposed to be beneficial, but struggled through the year. He ended up playing backup OT in 2007 and rarely saw the field. As a RFA, he won't be expensive to keep, but is it worth it if they don't think he can do it?

So, if you negate the above three, we have Gross at one tackle spot, Wharton at a guard or a tackle, and that's about it. Kalil or Hangartner could be at guard, the other at center, or both could be playing guard if Hartwig does stay and Wharton is at tackle, and that's not an upgrade.

So coming into free agency, we're going to assume this:

LT: Gross

LG: Wharton

C: Kalil/Hangartner

RG: (open)

RT: (open)

Unless, of course, the team finds a LT worth starting; that puts him next to Wharton, with Gross staying on the right. That also has an advantage of pairing veterans together with newcomers, as opposed to a free agent next to a rookie.

What's on the market? Alan Faneca's expensive, we've done the aging G with tons of money. There's Jake Scott, the Idahoan LG who used to be a tackle, who made a living and a ring with the Colts, who would fit well in zone and money may be variable; Sean Locklear, former G and current OT for the Seahawks, signed with Seattle to stay, but his backup, Pork Chop Womack is available if the team wants a cheap upgrade (is he enough?); there's the very, very experienced Ruben Brown, or Larry Allen.

At OT, not much; you can overspend for a few years on Flozell Adams, but you really can't put as much as he'll need to sign. The draft will do just fine for an OT, with flavors ranging from nimble LTs (Chris Williams), versatile but raw swing OTs (Ryan Clady), to bulky but athletic RTs (Gosder Cherilus, Jeff Otah).

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