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Offensive Line: Biggest Holes, Best Remaining Free Agents

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With the initial wave of free agency and the NFL draft in the rear-view mirror, NFL teams can now start shifting their focus to filling out the rest of their roster. While a lot of the big names go off the board early in the offseason, there’s still plenty of talent available in free agency.

 

Last week, I ranked the offensive lines heading into the 2022 season while focusing on overall talent and continuity across the five starting linemen. However, that exercise showed there are still plenty of teams with noticeable holes in their offensive line units. This article will look at the best remaining free agents and the teams that should target them.

Remaining Free Agents

Interior offensive linemen

J.C. Tretter, C

J.C. Tretter, the former Browns’ center who was an offseason cap casualty, is not only the best remaining offensive lineman on the free-agent market, he’s in the conversation for one of the best unsigned players overall. The eight-year veteran just finished up five straight seasons in Cleveland with at least 1,000 snaps played with fewer than three sacks and 25 pressures allowed per year. Tretter would instantly upgrade many offensive lines across the NFL and should find a home shortly now that the first waves of free agency and the draft have passed.

Matt Paradis, C

Matt Paradis hit free agency this offseason after a three-year stint in Carolina. Paradis was arguably the Panthers’ second-best offensive lineman last season behind right tackle Taylor Moton. Unfortunately, Paradis tore his ACL in Week 9 of the 2021 season, which is the primary reason he is still waiting to find a landing spot for this season. The seven-year veteran is a league-average center but would provide solid depth and experience to a lot of teams once he is healthy enough to contribute.

Ereck Flowers, G

Originally drafted by the Giants as a tackle, Ereck Flowers flopped before eventually moving inside to guard, where he has put together some strong seasons. The seven-year veteran just finished his second stint with Washington, manning their left guard position for all 17 games of the season. Flowers ranked as PFF’s 17th overall guard last season, allowing just six sacks and 26 pressures in 1,061 snaps. Washington decided to cut Flowers to save money this offseason, but he can still be a very useful piece to any team that needs help on the interior offensive line.

Quinton Spain, G

After spending most of his career bouncing around the league, Quinton Spain landed in Cincinnati during the 2020 season before eventually working his way into a full-time starting role this past season. Spain started 16 games for the Bengals last season and had a very up-and-down campaign. Spain surrendered five sacks and 23 pressures in 995 snaps and finished as PFF’s 43rd-ranked guard from last season. At this point, Spain is more of an asset in the run game than he is in the passing game, but he can still provide depth and experience to plenty of teams in the league.

 

Tackles

Daryl Williams

Like many of the names above, Daryl Williams finds himself in free agency thanks to salary cap maneuvers. Williams was cut from the Buffalo Bills after a two-year stint that saw him start all 33 games. Williams had a stellar 2020 season (three sacks and 21 pressures in 1,050 snaps at right tackle) before a 2021 season that saw him shuffled between right guard and right tackle due to an array of injuries for Buffalo’s linemen. Williams’ play suffered, causing him to allow a career-high in quarterback hits (9) and pressures (40) last year. At the very least, Williams is one of the few free agents remaining that can not only provide at least average starting ability, but also versatility. The former Bills and Panthers lineman has played left tackle, left guard, right guard and right tackle throughout his seven-year career.

Eric Fisher

Eric Fisher signed a one-year deal with the Colts after tearing his Achilles tendon during his last playoff run with the Chiefs. Fisher ended up making 15 starts during his only season in Indianapolis and started slowly at the beginning of the season before rounding into form around mid-year. Ultimately, Fisher allowed his most sacks (7) and quarterback hits (11) since 2014. Fisher also allowed 41 pressures in just 874 snaps. Fisher never became more than a league-average tackle, but he can still provide solid play and a veteran presence for teams needing more help on the edges.

Duane Brown

After 10 years of excellent tackle play, age seemingly caught up with Duane Brown during the 2021 season. According to PFF, Brown had his lowest overall blocking (71.5) and pass-blocking (69.9) grades since his rookie season in 2008. Additionally, the veteran tackle gave up the most sacks in a season (8) since his rookie year and allowed more pressures in the last two seasons (67) than in his previous three years in Seattle combined (57). Seattle allowed Brown to hit the open market and drafted two tackles in the 2022 NFL draft, signaling the end of his tenure with the team. Brown is still a very solid offensive lineman and would be a fantastic mentor to teams that are depending on young or developmental tackles soon.

Bobby Massie

Bobby Massie once again hit the free agency market after one season with the Denver Broncos. Massie fought through injuries in 2021 to play 13 games. Massie struggled in pass protection (five sacks and 36 pressures in 796 snaps) but was great as a run blocker while playing right tackle. Massie has struggled to stay healthy the last three seasons, but when he is healthy, he has shown the ability to be a solid veteran on the right side of the line. For teams lacking talent at tackle, Massie would be a great piece to add, assuming this offseason has allowed him to return to full health.

Teams with Holes to Fill

Now that the first wave of free agency and the NFL draft has passed, we have a clearer view of what holes teams need to address along the offensive line. Below are the teams with the most glaring holes across their offensive lines as we gear up for OTAs and training camps.

Buccaneers LG

The Buccaneers were hit hard across the offensive line after having the same offensive linemen for two straight seasons. The Buccaneers chose to let right guard Alex Cappa walk in free agency and had starting left guard Ali Marpet retire. Thankfully, the Buccaneers were able to bring center Ryan Jensen back after Tom Brady decided to return, and they traded for Shaq Mason to man the right guard position. Unfortunately, Tampa Bay wasn’t able to add a surefire veteran to the left guard position. As it stands, the Buccaneers will be starting career backup Aaron Stinnie or moving second-round pick Luke Goedeke inside to guard after he played tackle in college. Tampa Bay would be a good fit for Ereck Flowers given his strength as a pass-blocker (PFF’s sixth-best pass blocking grade in 2021) and their need to provide a strong pocket with Brady under center.

49ers LG

Like Tampa Bay, the San Francisco 49ers have had one of the most talented and stable offensive lines in the NFL the past few seasons. The 49ers chose to move on from Laken Tomlinson during the offseason, leaving them with a void at left guard. San Francisco is hoping that reserve guard Colton McKivitz (371 career snaps, three sacks, 16 pressures in two seasons) has developed enough to provide solid guard play. Unfortunately for the 49ers, they are cash-strapped until they decide on Jimmy Garoppolo and his contract, so there aren’t many free agents they could afford to bring in to serve as an upgrade.

 

Steelers LT

The Steelers invested resources into their offensive line, signing right guard James Daniels (three years, $26.5 million) and center Mason Cole (three years, $15.75 million) to big deals. However, the Steelers should still be actively searching for an upgrade at tackle. Dan Moore struggled throughout his rookie season at left tackle, surrendering seven sacks and 46 pressures in 1,079 snaps. The Steelers have over $12 million in cap space currently and could bring in one of the veteran tackles like Duane Brown to hold down the left side of the line and mentor their young players like Moore and right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor. Brown (or Eric Fisher) would serve as solid veterans but wouldn’t require contracts that would keep the young players on the bench if they struggled once again.  

Chargers RT

The Chargers have one of the best left sides of the offensive line with Rashawn Slater at left tackle, Matt Feiler at left guard and Corey Linsley at the center. Los Angeles also invested their first-round pick in the 2022 draft in Zion Johnson, a guard out of Boston College. Unfortunately, that still leaves a pretty big hole at right tackle. Storm Norton, last year’s starting right tackle, will return to the Chargers in 2022. However, Norton struggled mightily last season. Norton played 1,078 snaps and led the team in sacks surrendered (9). Norton also gave up over twice as many hurries (42) and pressures (60) as the next-closest offensive lineman on the team. Los Angeles could also try backup tackle Trey Pipkins at right tackle, but with over $18 million in cap space, they could try to add Daryl Williams to provide a veteran presence and flexible depth piece to the offensive line.

Vikings C

The Vikings have spent the last two seasons trying to build up their offensive line around right tackle Brian O’Neill. Minnesota invested a first-round pick last year in left tackle Christian Darrisaw. Darrisaw missed the first four weeks of the season thanks to an injury but ended up having a successful first year in the NFL. The Vikings gave a two-year, $4.5 million contract to Chris Reed from Indianapolis in free agency and spent a second-round pick in the draft on guard Ed Ingram to compete with incumbent starter Ezra Cleveland. Current center Garrett Bradbury has struggled the last three seasons, never finishing with a PFF pass-blocking grade above a 44. Minnesota could use their $12.2 million in cap space to bring in Matt Paradis (he’s likely going to be the more affordable of the available centers) to shore up their interior offensive line.

Dolphins C

The Dolphins have spent this offseason investing heavily into their offense, adding wide receiver Tyreek Hill, left tackle Terron Armstead and left guard Connor Williams. But if the Dolphins are truly committed to going all-in on the 2022 season, they should try to upgrade the center position. Michael Deiter, the current projected center, gave up one sack and 10 pressures in just 546 snaps last season. Even with their offseason spending, the Dolphins still have over $20 million in cap space available and could afford to bring J.C. Tretter onto the team. Tretter would not only provide another veteran on the offensive line but is still capable of high-end play to anchor the line. According to PFF, the veteran center hasn’t had a pass-blocking grade below 78 or an overall blocking grade under 69 since 2014. The addition of a veteran center would give Miami one less variable on the line and would allow the Dolphins to truly assess if Tua Tagovailoa is the quarterback of the future.

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