In the time between OTAs and the start of training camp, it’s a good opportunity to assess where teams sit for the upcoming season. But teams aren’t just built for the upcoming season, especially ones like the New York Giants, who are looking to the future as much if not more than 2019.
With that in mind, we’re going to take a look at how the teams in the NFC East stack up at each position, not only for 2019 but over the next three seasons. For these rankings, we’ll consider the starters, overall depth, and salary cap implications to get a full view of how each of these position groups is set up for the next few years.
All contract data courtesy of Over The Cap.
Today we’ll take a look at an often discussed team building block, the offensive line.
Like the wide receiver and tight end group, the Eagles take the top spot here due to the best current group and a plan in place to transition over the next few seasons. Philadelphia has a potential claim for the best player in the league at two positions on the line, center Jason Kelce and right tackle Lane Johnson. Despite some retirement rumors in the offseason, Kelce (32 years old in November) signed a contract extension through the 2021 season. Johnson (29) is also signed through 2021 and even with a recent restructure that increased the cap hit in 2020 and 2021, Johnson is set to count for less than $14 million in each of those seasons. 10 tackles will count for more than $14 million on the cap in 2019 but only one (Trent Brown) is expected to play right tackle. Despite recent data and trends showing the difference in impact at left and right tackle is negligible, the Eagles are benefiting from the historical premium put on the left side of the line.
At left tackle, the Eagles have the 37-year-old Jason Peters, who is still one of the league’s better tackles when he’s healthy. He returned to play all 16 games in 2018 after appearing in just seven during the 2017 season. Philadelphia knows Peters’s playing career won’t go on much longer, so they traded up in the draft to select Washington State’s Andre Dillard, who some believed to be the best pass blocking tackle in the class. Dillard will sit the year behind Peters — if all goes to plan — and take over as the starter next season.
Philadelphia’s guards aren’t too shabby, either. Brandon Brooks (30) is a top-10 guard in the league and is signed through 2020. Left guard is the biggest weakness on the line between Isaac Seumalu (a 2.02 percent blown block rate on 496 snaps last season per Sports Info Solutions — though much better in the run game than pass blocking) and Stefen Wisniewski (1.3 percent blown block rate on 600 snaps). The league average blown block rate for guards last season was 1.59 percent. Neither player is really a weak link and the other will provide decent depth behind the rest of the line.
This isn’t the dominant Dallas Cowboys offensive line from years past, though left tackle Tyron Smith, right guard Zack Martin, and center Travis Frederick have a claim to be among the best at his position. Of course, there are heath concerns with two of those three. Tyron Smith will only turn 29 years old in December, but he’s missed three games in each of the past three seasons and the Dallas offense has seen a dip in production in each of those stretches. Smith had just a 1.01 percent blown block rate last season — eighth-best among tackles — but the ability to stay on the field is a question. Still, 13 games of Tyron Smith and three games of a backup is still better than a lot of left tackle situations around the league. It also wasn’t as bad in 2018 with Cameron Fleming serving as the backup and he was re-signed for another two years in the offseason.
Fredrick’s situation is much different. He missed all of the 2018 season due to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an autoimmune disease, but the most recent reports suggest Frederick is feeling healthy and will be ready to play in 2019. His presence in the middle of the line is what really makes it go, both for pass and run blocking. He’s signed through 2023 and will be one of the league’s highest-paid centers in each of those seasons, but if he’s healthy, he’s worth it.
Zack Martin had his first two missed games of his career in 2018 but was excellent in the 14 games played. He’s one of the league’s best guards and hasn’t been called for a hold over the past two seasons. He’s also signed through 2024, which would take him through his age-34 season.
The other two spots on the offensive line are where the questions of quality come in. Connor Williams, a 2018 second-round pick, was up and down at left guard during his rookie season. He had an above average blown block rate for guards, but some of the misses were quite bad. Due to that, he was replaced by Xavier Su’a-Filo, who was the league’s worst guard last season by blown block rate with at least 400 snaps. Williams has worked to add more muscle in the offseason and Su’a-Filo remains on the roster as a backup.
Right tackle will be the biggest question for the Cowboys going forward. La’el Collins is the starter now after starting his career at guard. The undrafted Collins was believed to have first-round talent, but that has yet to truly show in the NFL. Collins had the third-most holds called against him among tackles and struggled in pass protection by blown block rate. While Collins did better sticking with blocks in the run game, Dallas had its worst production by Adjusted Line Yards when running outside to the right last season. Collins is in the last year of his contract, so the Cowboys will need to make a decision on what to do with him and at right tackle for the future.
3. New York Giants
There has been an overhaul of the Giants’ offensive line over the past two offseasons and while it looks better than it previously did on paper, there aren’t many long-term solutions. Will Hernandez is the best bet at that. The 2018 second-round pick was a Day 1 starter and continued to improve as the season went on. He finished the year with a sub-1 percent blown block rate and 14th overall among guards. The Giants were also excellent when the run game featured a Hernandez pull. He has the potential to continue to grow into one of the league’s top guards. He’s already above average after his rookie season.
He’ll be joined in the interior by Kevin Zeitler, who has long been one of the better players at the position. Zeitler just turned 29 years old and is signed for the next three seasons. The Giants restructured Zeitler’s contract after he was acquired from the Cleveland Browns to lower his 2019 cap hit to $5 million. The restructuring of the deal increased his cap hits to $12.5 million in 2020 and $14 million in 2021, both numbers just below Zack Martin. Zeitler hasn’t missed a game since the 2014 season and should have play that warrants a top of the market deal.
The Giants handed out a top of the market deal to Nate Solder last offseason in an attempt to sure up the left tackle spot. He was mostly solid — he finished 33rd among tackles in blown block rate — but at age-31 with cap hits of $17 million over the next two seasons and $18 million in 2021, the Giants are paying “solid” prices.
Questions going forward come at center and right tackle. Jon Halapio (28) and Spencer Pulley (26) will battle at center. Both were up and down in their time there during the 2018 season and neither appears to be the long-term solution. At right tackle, the Giants signed Mike Remmers to a one-year/$2.5 million deal thanks to history with both Dave Gettleman and Pat Shurmur, but Remmers is 30 and coming off a back injury that delayed his ability to sign with a team in the offseason. Remmers is also coming off a bad season at guard and while he’s more natural at tackle, he wasn’t significantly better there in 2017.
While there’s been a lot of work on the starting line, depth is still a significant question. Chad Wheeler, last year’s starting right tackle for much of the season, will be the top swing tackle, but he was one of the league’s worst starters when he was on the field in 2018. Interior depth mostly includes the backup centers and would likely cause one of them to play out of position should an injury happen at guard.
This could potentially continue to be a problem into 2020 when the Giants are already committed to the ninth-most cap space for the offensive line with only three positions really figured out.
Ereck Flowers is penciled in as a starter at guard if that gives you all you need to know about Washington’s offensive line heading into 2019 and beyond. The issues run deeper than that, though, and much of Washington’s offensive line outlook hinges on what happens with left tackle Trent Williams.
Williams has long been among the league’s top tier of tackles and he wants to be paid like it. He has two years remaining on his contract at cap hits of $14.7 million and $14.6 million and has held out of the team’s mandatory minicamp this offseason in hopes of a new one. The holdout could likely go into training camp, though there has been communication between the two sides. Williams’s presence is important not just because of his quality as a player but also the quality behind him. There is no easy way to replace Williams, but that was made even harder when Washington allowed super-sub Ty Nsekhe to leave in free agency. Now 2018 third-round pick Geron Christian is listed behind Williams on the depth chart.
Washington’s standout offensive lineman is Brandon Scherff at right guard. Scherff was a first-round pick in 2015 and has two years including the fifth-year option remaining on his contract. His pending contract extension could be a piece of what is holding back a new deal for Williams. Washington already has the fifth-most cap space used for the offensive line in 2019.
Elsewhere on the line, Washington has Morgan Moses (28) at right tackle and Chase Roullier (26) at center. Both were fine, but unspectacular during the 2018 season. Moses is already on his second contract that brings him through the 2022 season and Roullier has two years remaining on his rookie deal at under $1 million in each season.
That brings us to Flowers, who was supposed to back up at tackle but has now worked his way into a starting role at guard. The hope should be that one of two 2019 draft picks — fourth-round pick Wes Martin or fifth-round pick Ross Pierschbacher — beat him out before the season begins.