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Observing 2017’s Right Tackle Market

My observation of the left tackle market was well-received, so I think it’s only appropriate to follow with a similar addition on the right side, where the need may be even more urgent for the Broncos.

Teams that are set at right tackle

The teams that I’ve identified as being set at the position are the Dolphins (Ja’Wuan James), Patriots (Marcus Cannon), Steelers (Marcus Gilbert), Colts (Joe Haeg), Jaguars (Jermey Parnell), Titans (Jack Conklin), Chiefs (Mitchell Schwartz), Raiders (Austin Howard), Chargers (Joseph Barksdale), Bears (Bobby Massie), Packers (Bryan Bulaga), Falcons (Ryan Schraeder), Saints (Zach Strief), Bucs (Demar Dotson), Cardinals (DJ Humphries), Rams (Rob Havenstein), and 49ers (Trent Brown).

I will admit that a couple of those teams, such as Indianapolis or San Francisco, might not be fully sold on their current solution, but my intuition tells me they have bigger fish to fry in free agency, and will give their young talent another year.

Teams that may be one year away from needing a replacement

Officially I’m placing the Cowboys (Doug Free) in this category, but practically it’s far more likely that they’ll simply replace Free by moving La’el Collins over to his more natural tackle position.  The Cowboys will be more in a market for guard than tackle in 2018.

The only team I could identify that has a real right tackle void possible for 2018 would be the Redskins (Morgan Moses).

Teams that may have a replacement at right tackle in the queue

Unlike with left tackle, this category is a bit more murky.

  • Ravens. I find it a bit hard to believe that Ozzie Newsome would let Ricky Wagner come this close to free agency without having a solid replacement in place.  That could be James Hurst, or it could be everyone’s favorite MIT Ph.D candidate in John Urschel.  If Wagner does walk, I do not expect Newsome to pursue a high-valued UFA to replace him, as he’ll want to preserve a likely 4th round compensatory pick for Wagner.
  • Bengals. I have no idea where Cincinnati is going to end up at this position, because they have so many questions on the offensive line as a whole.  Both left tackle Andrew Whitworth and right guard Kevin Zeitler are pending UFAs, as is longtime veteran Eric Winston.  They do have Cedric Ogbuehi waiting in the wings, but is he more suited for guard or tackle?  And do they consider fellow youngster Jake Fisher more of a left tackle or right tackle?  If the Bengals re-sign Whitworth, I think it’s likely they try out one of Fisher or Ogbuehi on the right side, removing them from consideration for external options. But if Whitworth walks, all bets are off.
  • Giants. As discovered in the left tackle article, they may move Ereck Flowers to the right side, and if so that obviates their need there. If they don’t, they could try to stick with Bobby Hart at the position, or pursue an external option.
  • Eagles. Things could get interesting for Philadelphia if they cut Jason Peters and move Lane Johnson to his position at left tackle.  When Johnson was suspended last season, there was a notable drop-off from him to Halapoulivaati Vaitai.  Then again, Johnson is an elite player, so it was tough for anyone to match his production.  Will the Eagles give Vaitai another chance if they do move on from Peters, or will they pursue another option?
  • Vikings. Andre Smith and Jake Long are both free agents, but they also have third year lineman TJ Clemmings on the roster.  He was forced into the left tackle position last season after Matt Kalil went down and did not play well there, but he fared better subbing for Phil Loadholt at right tackle in his rookie year.  With Minnesota’s offensive line as a whole being a complete mess, I’m thinking that they can’t solve every position in one year, and that they have no choice but to try Clemmings out at right tackle again.

Teams that may need a replacement at right tackle

  • Broncos. The only reason I’m listing them here is because Donald Stephenson is still under contract, but as we all know that’s highly unlikely to remain the case by mid-March.
  • Jets. The feeling I get from followers of the Jets is that they feel the same way about Breno Giacomini as Broncos fans do about Stephenson.

Teams that will need a replacement at right tackle

  • Bills. Jordan Mills is a UFA, and it strikes me that they would want to replace him anyway.
  • Browns. Austin Pasztor is also a UFA, and we’ll see whether the new regime values him or just sees him as comp pick material by letting him walk.
  • Texans. Unfortunately, we all had the displeasure of witnessing Derek Newton’s horrific double patellar tendon tear.  To say the least, I would not expect Newton back for 2017, and old friend Chris Clark will turn 32 next season.
  • Lions. Riley Reiff is a UFA after completing his first round rookie contract that included a fifth year option.
  • Panthers. Old friend Mike Remmers (both because he spent his rookie training camp in Denver, and because of plays like this) is a UFA.
  • Seahawks. Bradley Sowell is a UFA, and suffice to say that the Seahawks were going to move on from him anyway.

Competing teams at the right tackle market

Guaranteed Possible
FA & Draft FA only Draft only
Bills Jets Bengals Ravens
Browns Broncos Giants Eagles
Texans Vikings Redskins

Again, I see the Cowboys only as draft targets for a guard, not a tackle.  I do not expect the Ravens or Eagles to pursue big at the position, and the Bengals and Giants could have no need to pursue the position at all depending on other factors.  But even ignoring those teams, I’m identifying at least eight competitors that the Broncos will have that want to improve the right tackle position.

Available veteran players in the right tackle market

Pending UFAs Possible SFAs
Jordan Mills Breno Giacomini
Ricky Wagner Donald Stephenson
Austin Pasztor
Menelik Watson
Riley Reiff
Mike Remmers
Bradley Sowell

You saw all but one of those names appear above.  But the one exception, Menelik Watson, is a name to keep in mind.  He was drafted in the second round by the Raiders, but had a difficult time finding a place on their line given the splurges they made on Austin Howard, Rodney Hudson and Kelechi Osemele, as well as hitting the Fountain of Youth lottery with Donald Penn.  New quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave will have familiarity with Watson via his tenure as offensive coordinator with the Raiders.  I realize that going after a right tackle that a division rival didn’t retain did not work out well at all last year, but given some of the slim pickings at this position, Broncos fans should prepare themselves for this possibility.

One final thought

Let’s close this piece by thinking optimistically.  Let’s say the Broncos find their right tackle solution, either in free agency or the draft.  Let’s further dream that the right guard position is filled by either Connor McGovern, Billy Turner, or an external option.  That would leave Michael Schofield and Ty Sambrailo competing for the swing tackle position, and it would be likely that there would be room for only one of them.

If this happy scenario emerges, then if I were John Elway I would have Doug Whaley of the Buffalo Bills on speed dial as a possible trade partner.  The Bills may have their own need at right tackle, and remember that old friend Rick Dennison is now their offensive coordinator.  It would not surprise me at all if Elway was able to flip one of Schofield or Sambrailo to Buffalo for a late round pick (like he did with Chris Clark in 2015), or use one of them as ammunition for moving up in the draft to one of the Bills’ spots (like he did with Manny Ramirez in 2015 in order to secure Shane Ray).

UPDATE – 12:15 PM MT: There are two more points that I want to make on Schofield that could affect his future with the Broncos in 2017.

The first is that Schofield should be eligible for the Proven Performance Escalator. The PPE should give Schofield about a $1 million raise in his 2017 salary.  Thus, if Schofield does not retain a starting job, the Broncos will have to decide if about $1.7 million is an appropriate salary for a backup.

The second is that Schofield’s contract will expire next season.  This will make Schofield eligible to become a compensatory free agent for the 2019 NFL Draft if the Broncos allow him to sign with another team as a UFA. While it’s too early to forecast whether the Broncos will be serious players for comp picks that season, that attribute could result in the Broncos demanding for more defined compensation for Schofield should they be willing to trade him at all.