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Free agent offensive tackles - What are the Browns’ options?

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The big question is: Will Cleveland invest in a proven offensive tackle?

Los Angeles Rams v Tennessee Titans
Jack Conklin
Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Last season, the Browns were supposed to become this offensive juggernaut with the trade for Odell Beckham, Jr. and his three Pro Bowl appearances to jingle next to four-time (now five) Pro Bowler Jarvis Landry and running back sensation Nick Chubb.

As we all know, none of that happened. Chubb had an exceptional season as did Landry, but OBJ wasn’t the same downfield threat he had been when he caught passes with the New York Football Giants. TE David Njoku was hurt for much of the year, WR Antonio Callaway was cut, the club traded away running back and receiving threat Duke Johnson, Jr. plus the sensational guard Kevin Zeitler. And basically, the offense stunk.

Part of that equation was the protection – or lack of it.

Cincinnati Bengals v Cleveland Browns
Drew Forbes
Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Did the Browns ever really find Zeitler’s replacement? Second-round pick Austin Corbert was supposed to be this offensive line gem in waiting and was initially penciled in as the starter, yet could not break the starting lineup and was eventually traded to the Los Angeles Rams. Justin McCray and Wyatt Teller were brought in via trades as competition for multiple positions. Rookie guard Drew Forbes was another option but was placed on IR after a knee injury early in the season. McCray ended up mainly at either tackle position. Eric Kush began the year as the starter at Zeitler’s former spot, but was pushed out of the lineup by bad play to which Teller became the default starter basically.

All the while, both tackle positions were a roller coaster - well, mainly the screaming, struggling to survive and holding both hands up in the air in frustration to whatever these two were doing. Right tackle Chris Hubbard was horrid all season whereas left tackle Greg Robinson had a terrible first half and then settled down some. McCray did start one game for Robinson, but was not much better. Backup Kendall Lamm showed flashes whenever he came in, but is clearly a backup choice and many feel is a better player than McCray.

Two offensive linemen are about to enter the free agent market.

Robinson is an unrestricted free agent whom the Browns have no control over whether he remains in Cleveland except for the time period leading up to the beginning of free agency. After that, he can sign with whichever club offers him the best deal or job opportunity. McCray is a restricted free agent to which the Browns may place a draft round tender on him.

So, does that leave both tackle positions needing to upgrade? Could Robinson move back to right tackle where he has played while with the Rams? Should Robinson be re-signed as backup material and depth? Is McCray a better right tackle option? Or should the Browns start over and bring in two new guys? Hubbard is just not the answer to any question regarding Cleveland and Robinson was only signed to a one-year deal.

The 2020 NFL draft is very deep at the offensive tackle position. For argument sake, let’s say Cleveland takes one of the plum offensive tackles with their number 10 slot in the first-round. That would solve one side. And the other side?

The cinnamony goodness of King Cake

Glad you asked that. You did ask that, correct? Because there was some mumbling and since it is Mardi Gras season your mouth might have been full of King Cake.

We here at DBN want to answer your query about solving the other OT spot with a glance at the available offensive tackle free agents when the period begins officially March 18. We looked at a list of the Top 15 free agent offensive tackles acquirable this off-season, then narrowed our list down to five we believe would be perfect for the Browns.

Just picture it: draft a blue-chip offensive tackle, sign a top shelf free agent veteran, and then see if Forbes can unseat Teller for the right guard spot. Would the situation then trend on the uphill swing?

Let us know what your thoughts are, leave a comment if you agree/disagree, or if you need an address of where to send any leftover King Cake.

Free agent offensive tackles (listed alphabetically)

Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

RT Bryan Bulaga – 6’, 5” 314 pounds

Current club: Green Bay Packers

Drafted: 2010 Round 1, pick 23

Age: 30

NFL games played: 115

NFL starts: 111

Injuries: 2009 thyroid disease, 2012 hip injury (IR), 2013 ACL left knee (IR), 2015 sprained ankle and sprained MCL, 2017 sprained ankle and ACL right knee (IR)

2019 cap hit: $8.3 million

Awards: Freshman All-Big 10 Team (2007), Second Team All-Big 10 (2008), Big 10 Offensive Lineman-of-the-Year (2009), Super Bowl Champion (2011)

Top 100 free agents ranking: 54

Chris Pokomy: Bulaga is an interesting player for contract-related reasons. He is a very reliable pass protector at right tackle and can get the job done in the running game too. Although he started all 16 regular season games last year, hip injuries in 2012 and 2017 forced him to miss significant time, and he also missed all of 2013 with a torn ACL. Yes, he has bounced back from those injuries, but as he gets up there in age at 31 years old, his shelf life might be a bit shorter than some other veterans. He can be signed for much less money than Jack Conklin, though — so if Cleveland wants to draft a young left tackle and go for Bulaga as a veteran for a few years, that makes for an intriguing move as you try to address other areas of the roster.

Barry Shuck: When healthy, is one of the best right tackles in the league. Was moved to the left side briefly in 2013, but that was short lived. Very experienced and his versatility is a huge plus. Is a trustworthy and talented player who has proven he can handle the speed rushers and seal off the backside. The main issue has been his ability to remain a starter without the injuries. From 2011-2013 he missed 27 games. Gave up only four sacks last season with a mere six penalties.

Thomas Moore: Brian Bulaga is coming off a very nice season as he finished as the 15th best offensive tackle in the league, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF). After only playing 19 combined games the previous two seasons, Bulaga answered the bell for all 16 games in 2019. He is about to turn 31, which while not necessarily old for an offensive lineman, is approaching the age that the Browns may want to avoid. Speaking of age, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers is 36, so the Packers may not be willing to let Bulaga leave in free agency and hamper that final few years of contention with Rodgers under center. Even if the Browns were to show interest, the Packers may do what needs to be done to keep Bulaga on the team and protecting Rodgers.

Indianapolis Colts v Tennessee Titans Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

LT Anthony Castonzo – 6’, 7” 307 pounds

Current club: Indianapolis Colts

Drafted: 2011 Round 1, pick 22

Age: 32

NFL games played: 132

NFL starts: 132

Injuries: 2013 MCL sprain, 2015 knee sprain, 2018 hamstring

2019 cap hit: $11 million

Awards: Freshman All-ACC Team (2007), Second Team All-ACC (2008), Two-Time All ACC (2009-2010)

Top 100 free agents ranking: 10

Barry Shuck: One of those “under the radar” type of guys who quietly does his job and does it very well. He graded an 84.4 on PFF and is an excellent pass blocker. Would solve the left tackle position for at least three years. As long as he has been in the NFL, he has yet to be named to the Pro Bowl so he does not have that upper echelon pedigree. He did play right tackle in high school and also at Boston College as a freshman and had success, but was moved to the left his sophomore year and upon being drafted has stayed on the left side. Has only missed eight games in his nine NFL seasons and is very durable. For his first three seasons, he was the most durable offensive lineman in the league regardless of position. He shows up week-in and week-out.

Thomas Moore: Anthony Castonzo might be the best tackle to potentially be hitting free agency. He has been ranked as a Top 15 tackle for the past three seasons, and his pass-blocking grade was the league’s eighth-best, according to PFF; and while he is not as good in the run game, the site still graded him at No. 16 among tackles in run blocking. Castonzo will turn 32 before the season begins and was talking about retirement following the end of last season, so that would be a concern for any team looking to potentially sign him. The Colts are also one of the teams rumored to be interested in quarterback Tom Brady if he leaves the New England Patriots, and not having Castonzo protecting his blindside would certainly be a deterrent to Brady coming to the Colts.

Chris Pokomy: The Indianapolis Colts would love to re-sign Castonzo to a new deal rather than letting him hit the free agent market, but a few things are weighing on him. He has played for the Colts for nine years. And while he is a spring chicken at 32 years of age compared to guys like Jason Peters (38) and Andrew Whitworth (38), he is contemplating retirement — something that Joe Thomas did when he was 33. The upside for Castonzo is that he is coming off of his best season as a pro, playing in every snap and ranking among the top 10 best offensive lineman in the NFL in 2019, according to PFF. The hidden connection here is that new Browns’ GM Andrew Berry was part of the Colts’ scouting department in 2011 when the team drafted Castonzo, so the familiarity is there. For a top-tier pass protector and an adequate run blocker, this would be a nice long-term move for Castonzo’s final contract — the predicament I see is that I feel the Colts will pay him whatever he wants, and his comfort level will keep him in Indianapolis if he decides to continue playing.

New York Jets v Tennessee Titans Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

RT Jack Conklin – 6’, 6” 308 pounds

Current club: Tennessee Titans

Drafted: 2016 Round 1, pick 8

Age: 25

NFL games played: 57

NFL starts: 57

Injuries: 2018 ACL, 2018 concussion protocol, 2018 knee injury

2019 cap hit: $5 million

Awards: First Team All-American (2015), First Team All Big 10 (2015), 2016 NFL All-Rookie Team, NFL First Team All-Pro (2016)

Top 100 free agents ranking: 13

Thomas Moore: Jack Conklin is exactly what a team is looking for in free agency - a talented player coming off their rookie contract. Conklin finished last season as PFF’s 12th-best offensive tackle and fifth-best in the run game. He is not very good as a pass blocker, but can mostly hold his own if he receives help. Conklin would fit in well with the Browns, but if the Titans decide to re-sign running back Derrick Henry, then they will likely do everything it takes to keep a top run blocker like Conklin as well.

Chris Pokomy: The Browns took a chance that Chris Hubbard would be a viable right tackle option, despite his limited reps there in Pittsburgh. The move never panned out, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone if Cleveland cut ties on the rest of his contract, creating the need for a right tackle signing. That’s where Conklin enters the mix as the top right tackle on the market. He is still a young player at 25 years of age and has started 57 games over the past 4 years — more than enough of a sample size for teams to know what type of player they are getting. Conklin won’t set the world on fire, but he excels in run blocking, helping pave the way for the league leader in rushing (Derrick Henry) in Tennessee. It would be nice to have that luxury in Cleveland too, but this is where the question becomes, “How much will a team invest in a starting right tackle when they already need a left tackle?”

Barry Shuck: What is odd is that the eighth pick used to select Conklin in 2016 belonged to the Browns. He is very durable and has only missed seven games in four years. In 2018 game. While at Michigan State he was predominantly their left tackle with 35 starts versus three starts at right tackle. While with the Titans he has played exclusively at right tackle. Conklin is at the conclusion of his rookie contract to which Tennessee did not accept the fifth-year option thus making him a free agent, but is not a guarantee he will leave Nashville and will probably be their deepest competitor to land the landed right tackle. But the Titans also have RB Derrick Henry and QB Ryan Tannehill to pay, so they may decide to find a cheaper solution. Conklin is still a young man and the best right tackle on the market. Was the sixth-highest run blocker grade last year. His PFF rating is 78.3.

Atlanta Falcons v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

LT/RT D.J. Humphries – 6’, 5” 307 pounds

Current club: Arizona Cardinals

Drafted: 2015 Round 1, pick 24

Age: 26

NFL games played: 43

NFL starts: 43

Injuries: 2016 concussion protocol, 2017 dislocated knee cap and MCL (IR), 2018 knee injury (IR)

2019 cap hit: $9.2 million

Awards: Anthony Munoz Award winner (2011), Freshman All-American (2012)

Top 100 free agents ranking: 44

Chris Pokomy: After being red-shirted as a first-round pick in 2015, Humphries’ stock fell when he missed 21 games over the past 3 years due to injury. 2019 was much different, though, as Humphries worked his way back and started all 16 games at left tackle for Arizona. His pass protection was very good, making him look like one of those prospects a team can steal for a cheap price. It’s worked for some players for Cleveland (J.C. Tretter at center), but not for others (Chris Hubbard at right tackle). One of the glaring stats to look at is that Humphries was one of the most penalized lineman in 2019. Because of his age and potential, he’ll be looking for a big-time contract. There is some temptation with that, but I don’t think I want to risk ending up with another Hubbard — the injuries and penalties are scary to think of too.

Barry Shuck: Durability is an issue as he missed most of 2017-2018 but played every snap last year. Cardinals had picked up his fifth-year option so it is a bit surprising they are willing to allow him to test the market. Strong athlete and can play both sides. Has had a bit of an attitude. His nickname is “knee deep” as coaches have stated they need to keep “a knee in his ass everyday.” Played right tackle until midway through the 2016 season and was switched, so versatility is a hallmark of his play. Has a tenancy to gain penalties which is a bit unsettling for a young player. Has a 64.5 PFF rating.

Thomas Moore: D.J. Humphries played a full season in 2019 for the first time since the Arizona Cardinals selected him in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. The good news is that, according to PFF, he only gave up 30 pressures on 677 pass plays. The bad news is that he was one of the most penalized tackles in the league. Humphries is one of those high draft picks that continue to get second chances as teams hope that he “figures it out” at some point. The Browns tried that route with Greg Robinson that past two years; going down that road again with Humphries is something that the Browns can do without.

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

LT Andrew Whitworth – 6’, 7” 310 pounds

Current club: Los Angeles Rams

Drafted: 2006 Round 2, pick 55

Age: 38

NFL games played: 215

NFL starts: 211

Injuries: 2019 left ankle

2019 cap hit: $16.6 million

Awards: National Champion (2003), Two-Time All-SEC (2004-2005), Four-time Pro Bowler (2012, 2015-2017), Second Team All-Pro (2014), Two-Time First Team All-Pro (2015, 2017), Offensive Lineman-of-the-Year (2018), Super Bowl runner-up (2018)

Top 100 free agents ranking: 38

Barry Shuck: Is a quality blocker and has played left guard some. Allowed zero sacks in 2014. Very durable player despite his age. Is an unrestricted free agent so the Browns could nab him if he decides to leave Los Angeles. Dependable player with quite a bit of success on the left side. Might take a pay cut and remain with the Rams and has recently stated he will play at least one more season, so retirement is on his mind despite his current $33,750,000 deal. Has Pro Bowl pedigree.

Thomas Moore: Shave about a decade off of Andrew Whitworth’s age, and the Browns would be all over him in free agency. But Whitworth is old (38) and his play is clearly in decline as he committed 14 penalties last season. It would be hard to argue that Whitworth would not be an upgrade over Greg Robinson, but he might only have a year or two left and he is not going to get any better, so he would not be a solution for the Browns.

Chris Pokomy: Whitworth is still kicking it at 38 years of age, along with Jason Peters of the Eagles. I think both Whitworth and Peters will be finding new teams this season on 1-year deals, considering their age. For the Browns, that gives them the chance to have some stability at left tackle in the first year of a new head coach, and for the first time in Baker Mayfield’s young career. It also gives them more flexibility with their draft picks to take either a right tackle in the first round, or a tackle prospect in the second round. As far as Whitworth’s abilities go, according to PFF, he wasn’t his elite self last year but he was still one of the game’s top pass protectors.

Analysis

Thomas Moore: Offensive tackle is one of those positions where good players rarely hit free agency, and more often than not you are going to find yourself signing players like Chris Hubbard. The Browns clearly need an upgrade at both left and right tackle, but it is difficult to see a long-term solution coming via free agency. Anyone good is either not going to reach free agency or have better options, but if I have to pick someone off this list for the Browns to sign it would easily be Conklin. Favored free agent: Conklin

Chris Pokomy: Cleveland has a lot of options to consider with their tackle positions between the draft and free agency. Landing a left tackle in the draft and Jack Conklin in free agency is probably my dream scenario, but right now, I just can’t imagine the top free agent tackles desiring to choose Cleveland when they will likely receive offers from their current or other competitive teams. Favored free agent: Conklin

Barry Shuck: Make no mistake about it, if this offense is going to fly to new heights, it is going to need stability on the offensive line. Hubbard and Robinson were both painful last year and replacements should be found. If the Browns can land one of the four best OT’s in the draft, then they must put out the funds needed to grab one of the better veterans tackles and fix this fiasco. Just think how great this offense could be with a bully line. And not just sign anybody, but bring in proven talent. What does this offense need other than some new blood on the O-Line? If the Browns spend good money on this unit and buy Baker Mayfield some added time, it will pay off on gameday over and over and finally allow receivers to complete their routes and get open for a change. Most of the top choices in the draft are left tackles, so signing a proven, true right tackle would indeed solve both ends of the line. Favored free agent: Bulaga

Poll

Out of the five free agent offensive tackles featured, which should the Browns sign?

This poll is closed

  • 16%
    Bryan Bulaga
    (136 votes)
  • 20%
    Anthony Castonzo
    (172 votes)
  • 57%
    Jack Conklin
    (481 votes)
  • 3%
    D.J. Humphries
    (29 votes)
  • 1%
    Andrew Whitworth
    (14 votes)
832 votes total Vote Now