All eyes — at least those not on the awful officiating we saw during Championship Weekend — are on the 2019 NFL Draft. The Shrine Game just concluded. We are entering Senior Bowl week. Draft buildup is kicking into high gear.
Still, NFL free agency comes before the draft. The negotiating window begins March 11 and the actual signing period March 13. Between now and then we will occasionally look at some of the positions the New York Giants might target in free agency and see who could be available.
Today, we look at right tackle. Ereck Flowers began 2018 as the Giants right tackle and was replaced after two games by Chad Wheeler. Pro Football Focus graded Wheeler No. 60 out of 61 qualifying NFL tackles in 2018, and only five tackles gave up more pressures. The Giants have to do better at that spot.
Here are some of the players who could reach the market in a few weeks.
Age: 32 | Experience: 9
2018 team: Denver Broncos
2018 cap number: $6.875 million
PFF grades: Overall (62.4) | Pass (68.4) | Run (60.7)
A left tackle when he was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in 2010, Veldheer has transitioned to the right side the past couple of seasons. Veldheer spent four season in Oakland and four with the Arizona Cardinals before joining the Denver Broncos last season.
The Denver Post says Veldheer is still a “well-respected veteran.” The problem is he has missed 15 games the past three seasons due to injuries. At this point in his career he might fit better as a veteran swing tackle, if he were willing to accept a backup role.
Age: 29 | Experience: 7
2018 team: Chicago Bears
2018 cap number: $5.1 million
PFF grades: Overall (71.5) | Pass (78.9) | Run (57.2)
Massie is coming off the best season of his career, having allowed just one sack and 26 pressures in 683 pass-blocking snaps.
Walter Football says “Massie was once considered a liability as a starter on the offensive line, but he has improved each year. He’s become a solid right tackle who pass protects very well.”
Age: 26 | Experience: 5
2018 team: Miami Dolphins
2018 cap number: $9.341 million
PFF grades: Overall (70.8) | Pass (67.3) | Run (69.1)
James is a former first-round pick and if the Dolphins let him reach free agency he figures to have a number of suitors.
Walter Football says “Ja’Wuan James is a stellar right tackle, but had a down 2018 season because he played through a knee injury. He’s still young (27 in June), so he should be able to rebound at 100-percent capacity to open the 2019 campaign.”
The Palm Beach Post says “James is likely to command top dollar as few 26-year-old tackles with his combination of size and athleticism hit the market. Due to the nature of his one-year deal, James was the highest-paid right tackle in the league this season.”
Age: 28 | Experience: 6
2018 team: Buffalo Bills
2018 cap number: $2.25 million
PFF grades: Overall (56.0) | Pass (66.5) | Run (47.7)
A durable player who did not miss a game for the Bills during the past three seasons.
Pro Football Focus does not see Mills as a quality starter:
Jordan Mills has been an example of consistency, as he’s played over 1,000 snaps in each of the past three seasons, making him one of only seven tackles to do so. He is still only 28 years old, but he has never surpassed his career-high 62.7 overall grade, which came in his final season with the Chicago Bears. At this point in his career, Mills has proven that he can be a stable backup offensive lineman in this league but not a quality starter for a team.
Our friends at SB Nation’s Buffalo Rumblings are ready to kick Mills to the curb:
Buffalo’s starting right tackle for the past three seasons has one elite ability—his availability. Mills has not missed a game since 2015; however, his play has ranged from awful to acceptable throughout his tenure in Buffalo and, as a free agent, it’s hard to imagine the Bills making any serious push to keep Mills in town. While it’s definitely nice to know exactly who will be on the field at a given time at a given position, there has to be a time where the coaching staff realizes it’s time to upgrade particular spots. It’s time to make it better here by forgetting about re-signing Jordan Mills.
Age: 26 | Experience: 4
2018 team: Carolina Panthers
2018 cap number: $2.046 million
2017 PFF grades (played only one game in 2018): Overall (78.0) | Pass (78.0) | Run (69.3)
Much like Andrew Norwell a year ago, this is the player most figure the Giants will target as they look for offensive line upgrades in free agency. Norwell, a former undrafted free agent, became an All-Pro after being discovered by then-Panthers GM Dave Gettleman. Williams became a starter, and a good one, in Carolina after Gettleman drafted him in the fourth round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
He’s headed to free agency, has the Gettleman connection and the Giants have a need at right tackle. Put two and two together, and the Giants pursuing Williams seems obvious.
Walter Football says “Williams is Carolina’s best offensive lineman, and he’s only 27 (in August), so he’s still due a large contract despite barely playing last year.”
There is that. Williams played in only one game in 2018 after suffering a knee injury that sent him to IR.
The Charlotte Observer said recently that Williams is “likely to become a free agent” because there is a “monster gap” between what the Panthers are willing to pay and what Williams is looking for.
The top annual salary for a right tackle is the $11.252 million earned by Lane Johnson of the Philadelphia Eagles. Mitchell Schwartz of the Kansas City Chiefs ($6.6 million annually) is No. 10 on the list in terms of right tackle salary.
Will the Giants see Williams as a player worthy of being paid in that range?
Other names to know
Benjamin Ijalana (New York Jets), Joseph Barksdale (Arizona Cardinals), Andre Smith (Cincinnati Bengals), T.J. Clemmings (Oakland Raiders). Oh, and Ereck Flowers, Bobby Hart and Marshall Newhouse could all be free agents, too.