With the NFL Free Agency just over a week away, we're continuing our discussion of potential top free agent targets for the Cleveland Browns at each major position. We've already taken a look at the free agent QBs, RBs, WRs, DL, DBs, and LBs. Today we're wrapping up the offensive side of the ball with the offensive linemen.
The Cleveland Browns' biggest need on the offensive line is still at right tackle. Tony Pashos will turn 32 in August and already has a history of injury concerns. We also ended the season incredibly young at guard, starting Jason Pinkston and Shawn Lauvao, both 24. But, that was due to an injury to Eric Steinbach that caused him to miss the entire 2011 season. The hope is that he can return to his Pro Bowl form. With that said, we are definitely set at left tackle and center for years to come thanks to the good graces of Joe Thomas and Alex Mack, respectively. The Browns may still look to add depth on the offensive line. Here are some the potential free agent targets.
- Carl Nicks (NO - 26) – Carl Nicks is easily the best offensive lineman in this free agent class. The problem for the New Orleans Saints is that if they can't get a deal done with Drew Brees, they'll have to use the franchise tag on their QB rather than Nicks. Of course, Nicks doesn't want to be franchised leading some to suggest that he's rooting for Brees not to get a contract done.
- Ben Grubbs (BAL - 27) – Ben Grubbs, who had his first Pro Bowl season in 2011, is the second tier guard in this class. The latest report states that Grubbs' agent said they had a positive meeting with the Baltimore Ravens, but no deal is imminent. While Grubbs very well may stay with the Ravens, it's at least more likely that he'll hit free agency than Nicks with the Ravens' franchise tag going to Ray Rice.
- Evan Mathis (PHI - 30) – After Nicks and Grubbs, there isn't much of a drop off for free agent OGs except at age. That next best available is Evan Mathis, who performed incredibly well in his eighth season in the NFL. He will also definitely hit the free agency market because of NFL policy. Mathis signed a one-year contract worth the minimum salary benefit last year with the Philadelphia Eagles, which means they can't re-sign him until free agency opens.
- Jared Gaither (SD - 25) – Jared Gaither is among the better offensive tackles in an otherwise pretty weak OT free agent class. Despite only starting five games last season, Gaither is widely considered the best free agent LT. He didn't allow a single sack in those five games with the San Diego Chargers. Not surprisingly, the Chargers will look to re-sign him.
- Demetrius Bell (BUF - 27) – Demetrius Bell is the second best LT in this class. I think that's telling. Bell is still in negations with the Buffalo Bills. It's his history of injuries that leave many to believe he's fairly unreliable.
I couldn't write a piece on the free agent offensive linemen without including everybody's favorite offseason targets, the FA RTs. Although, the lack of depth here makes it rather painful.
- Barry Richardson (KC - 25) – Barry Richardson had a very disappointing 2011 season with the Kansas City Chiefs, which probably caused his free agent stock to take a big hit. The poor performance is topped off by a ridiculously high 36 quarterback pressures allowed.
- Khalif Barnes (OAK - 29) – Khalif Barnes struggled at LT for the Jacksonville Jaguars before joining the Oakland Raiders where he was initially moved to guard. Then in 2011 he started as the team's RT and had an acceptable season.
- Kareem McKenzie (NYG - 32) – Kareem McKenzie enjoyed success with the New York Giants, which includes two Super Bowl victories, but he's on the downward slope of his career. He was considered a liability in pass protection last season and will turn 33 before training camp.
Remember, if you think there is a potential FA offensive lineman that the Browns should target that might have been overlooked or is even just worth mentioning, feel free to discuss that here. As always, think of this as a free agency open thread dealing with the offensive line.