clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Five things I think I think: Assessing the top five free agent offensive tackles

New, comments

There are pros, cons to signing all of the top free agent tackles

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos
Russell Okung
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

With less than two weeks to go before the start of NFL Free Agency 2017 the market for offensive tackles, an obvious area of need for the New York Giants, has crystallized. Let’s use today’s “Five things I think I think” forum to look at the five players generally acknowledged to be the best tackles expected to be on the market, and see if any of them are fits for the Giants.

Russell Okung

We have to start with Okung, who will hit free agency for the second straight year after the Denver Broncos declined to pick up the option on his self-negotiated contract. The Giants had serious interest in Okung a year ago, even having him into their East Rutherford facility for a visit. Jason LaCanfora reported Monday night that the Giants are among the teams that have already expressed interest in Okung.

Would signing Okung be a good idea? And how big would the price tag be?

The seven-year veteran, who turns 30 in October, is a good but not great player. SB Nation’s Broncos web site, Mile High Report, says that Okung was “a middle-of-the-pack talent as far as starting LTs in the NFL go” last season.

The numbers back that up. Okung’s Pro Football Focus grade of 73.5 put him 38th among 78 qualifying tackles graded.

Okung allowed four sacks and 46 pressures. He earned a 55.0 grade in pass protection, 48th among tackles. Ereck Flowers surrendered 59 pressures and five sacks for the Giants. Flowers was penalized 13 times, third-most among tackles. Okung had nine penalties, ninth-most.

Okung did block well in the run game, 21st overall with a 79.7 grade. Per NFL GSIS, the Broncos gained 4.77 yards per running play to left end and 4.02 behind left tackle.

So, Okung was somewhat better than Flowers but not significantly better. Was he good enough, though, to justify signing to an expensive contract?

Okung is ranked No. 50 on the NFL.com list of the top 101 free agents. NFL.com says:

Okung was signed to solve the Broncos' pass-protection woes. Instead, he was mistake-prone, contributing to another season of disappointment up front in Denver. He still has a chance to get paid in a weak tackle market.

The verdict

Okung wouldn’t be a bad signing, but in my view he wouldn’t be a great one, either. His lowest PFF grade for a season (64.6 in 2013) is far better than the 48.4 Flowers posted in 2016. I would not, however, pound the table and demand that the Giants get Okung’s name on a contract.

If the Giants can get Okung on a two-year deal, or at least a deal they can get out of after two years without a big cap hit, that might be worth doing. Flowers would likely move to the right side, and the Giants would have bought themselves time to possibly draft and develop a player who could be a long-term left tackle solution.

Andrew Whitworth

This is the guy Giants’ fans have been clamoring for the team to sign to play left tackle for the next season or two. Former Giants lineman and current SB Nation contributor Geoff Schwartz told me “Whitworth would be an awesome bridge to someone else.”

Whitworth was PFF’s second-highest graded offensive tackle last season. He has made the Pro Bowl the last two seasons. He has missed just two games in the last eight seasons. After 11 seasons, many people are really just finding out about him.

Whitworth, though, is 35. It’s fair to wonder how soon Father Time will catch up with him, and how steep the fall will be when that happens. It’s also fair to wonder how Whitworth would adjust to a new environment at this point after spending his entire career with the Bengals.

Offensive line performance consultant Duke Manyweather calls Whitworth “the heavy cream that has risen to the top of a lackluster free agent left tackle crop ... there is nothing that stands out as being textbook or that looks pretty, but what he does is effective and has proven to be consistent, not in only in ability but in availability as well. Overall, Whitworth is still a good left tackle in the NFL and would be a welcomed upgrade for many teams.”

Whitworth is No. 24 on the NFL.com free agent list:

It could be hard for Whitworth to get fair market value because he's 35 years old and there's an expectation he won't leave the Bengals. Despite his age, he's playing better than ever.

The verdict

Whitworth has been a better player than Okung, but he would also be a “bridge” player until the Giants were able to — hopefully — draft and develop someone else to take over. His age and the fact that he has never played with a team other than the Bengals does make him a risk. A short-term Whitworth signing is one I could go along with provided he isn’t asking for an extraordinary amount of money. After using the franchise tag on Jason Pierre-Paul, the Giants don’t appear to have $10-12 million to spend on a tackle next season.

Ricky Wagner

We don’t know yet if the Giants are ready to give up on Flowers as a left tackle. If they aren’t, watch for them to make a run at the 27-year-old Baltimore Ravens right tackle.

Wagner has been a starter in Baltimore for the past three seasons, and was PFF’s 18th-ranked tackle in 2016. One scout told me “there is no better value” among free-agent offensive tackles than Wagner. Spotrac estimates his market value at $27.6 million over four years, $6.9 million annually.

Wagner had a rough 2015, with a 45.8 PFF grade, but was excellent last year. Manyweather said he “doesn't always make it look pretty, but he gets the job done.”

Wagner is No. 34 on NFL.com’s list:

Strictly a right tackle, Wagner improved significantly during last season's contract run, keeping heat off Joe Flacco in a pass-heavy Ravens attack.

The verdict

Going after Wagner makes sense to me. That is, if you believe he is the player he looked like in 2016 and not the 2015 version. Yes, it likely means that Flowers stays at left tackle unless the Giants are able to find an immediate starter at that spot in the 2017 NFL Draft. Wagner, though, should be entering his prime and could be a right tackle solution for several years. There is debate about whether or not he could play the left side in the NFL, but he was a left tackle at Wisconsin.

Wagner could be a longer-term solution for the Giants than either Okung or Whitworth. Also, consider the price tag. If you have to pay two years and $20 million or more for Whitworth or Okung, does it not make sense to instead give Wagner four years and $27 million?

Riley Reiff

Reiff spent four years at left tackle for the Detroit Lions before moving to right tackle in 2016 to make room for Taylor Decker. The 28-year-old 2012 first-round pick is not a star, but he might be a better option than the Giants currently have at either tackle. His 67.5 PFF score at right tackle in 2016 was actually the lowest of his career, 10 points below the career-best 77.5 he post at left tackle in 2015.

The interesting thing about Reiff, especially perhaps at right tackle, is that both Manyweather and Schwartz indicated the pass-heavy Detroit offense did not utilize Reiff’s run-blocking skills to their maximum potential.

Schwartz said that Reiff would fit best in a run-heavy offense but “could be OK with the Giants because Eli throws the ball so quickly. But he's a great, tough run blocker. He would add some toughness to the tackle position. “

Manyweather also indicated that Reiff’s pass protection leaves something to be desired, but that he “is a rabid animal as a run-blocker.”

NFL.com has Reiff at No. 26 on its free agent list:

Reiff is pushed up this list by the scarcity at tackle. He can play on either side of the line and would upgrade plenty of blind-side situations around the league.

The verdict

An interesting option, and I’m uncertain which side he would play if he joined the Giants. Playing Reiff at left tackle might not be ideal, but the “threat” of playing him on the left side might provide some incentive for Flowers. The Giants really have not provided Flowers with competition his first two seasons.

Reiff’s run-blocking ability also has to be appealing. The Giants, per NFL GSIS, averaged just 2.35 yards running behind Marshall Newhouse and Bobby Hart at right tackle last season. The Lions averaged 4.09 yards per play behind Reiff.

Reiff’s price tag also might not be prohibitive. Spotrac estimates his value at $21.4 million over four years, $5.3 million annually.

Kelvin Beachum

A five-year veteran, Beachum missed 10 games in 2015 after suffering a season-ending knee injury. He played 15 games for the Jacksonville Jaguars last season, but did not perform well. His 44.3 PFF grade was 63rd among qualifying tackles, slightly below Flowers and just four spots ahead of Hart.

In the prior two seasons, though, Beachum posted grades of 85.6 and 77.7. What teams have to ask themselves is whether or not, another year removed from knee surgery, Beachum will return to the player was with the Pittsburgh Steelers or if what he put on tape last year is what to expect going forward.

Manyweather said he thought Beachum “played more careful than usual” in 2016 due to the injury.

NFL.com ranks Beachum No. 72 on its free agent list:

Beachum was too often overpowered in the running game last season, but he should get another crack at a starting job with so many teams in need of experienced veterans at left tackle.

The verdict

If the Giants believe they would be getting the pre-injury Beachum he might be an option. In theory, you could sign Beachum to play the left side, move Flowers to the right side, then draft a guard to compete with Brett Jones and Bobby Hart. What you end with then is an offensive line with five starters in their 20s, and perhaps a group that could stay together for a few seasons.

Final thoughts

There are other players to consider on the free-agent market, but these are clearly the top ones. It is obvious that none of these players provided a perfect solution, there are pros and cons to each. We really aren’t considering the draft in this discussion, just available free agents.

The more I have pondered the offensive tackle question this offseason, the more I wonder if the best course of action might end up being to leave Flowers at left tackle, address the right side in free agency and the draft and to make sure you come out of the draft with a player who could eventually slide across to the left tackle spot.

The Giants do have choices. It will be interesting to see which route they take.