In the first of a series of articles focused on team needs by position, I'll take a look the offensive line for each team and how many or how few improvements they need to make to consider this off-season a success. Instead of going team-by-team and giving little perspective of how difficult it will be to satisify those needs, looking at needs by position allows for easier valuation of the market.
Broken into tiers of need, we'll take a look at some who need a whole overhaul (Falcons/Seahawks), who needs offensive tackle help (Dolphins), who needs interior line help (Chargers) and who should target more depth overall along their offensive line. So even though Seattle's chances look good when referencing the likes of NFL Super Bowl Odds at Topbet.eu, their offensive line may prevent them from fulfilling that destiny."
Seattle Seahawks (#4 OT need, #3 interior need)
A combination of Breno Giacomini, and Michael Bowie couldn’t keep Russell Wilson upright from the right, and Giacomini will enter free agency. Unger has not done well this year but should bounce back next year. Unfortunately, Paul McQuistan (a pending free agent), James Carpenter and J.R. Sweezy can’t be counted upon to protect the quarterback and will need to be replaced.
Atlanta Falcons (#2 OT need, #8 interior need)
The only ray of light for the Falcons at the tackle position is Sam Baker, who started off the year pretty poorly before entering injured reserve. Otherwise, there’s a black hole of talent protecting Matt Ryan from edge pressure. Atlanta needs to focus on the interior after a spotty and makeshift year, but not as much as they need to on tackle. Between Peter Konz, Joe Hawley, Garrett Reynolds and Justin Blalock, they should at least have two of the three interior positions resolved and will have to hammer out a solution on the last.
Baltimore Ravens (#9 OT need, #9 interior need)
The Ravens are in a complicated spot, as it looks like they will try to re-sign both Eugene Monroe and Michael Oher,. Oher hasn’t been particularly magnificent, so it seems a foregone conclusion that this spot will require work. Gino Gradkowski and A.Q. Shipley shouldn’t be considered starters and will need to be replaced. Fifth-round pick Ricky Wagner was a good pick for value at tackle, but it is unlikely he will immediately step in to start, and sixth-round pick Ryan Jensen is third on a weak depth-chart for center so a starter here is needed.
Arizona Cardinals (#1 OT need, #22 interior need)
A well-known need for some time, Bobby Massie’s late-season surge in 2012 didn’t carry over, and neither Nate Potter nor Bradley Sowell could fill the left tackle spot. Eric Winston seriously underperformed this year as well, and his fit in the scheme deserves a serious look, especially given the importance of pass-protection for a team specializing in deep shots and his impending free agency. In the interior, John Cooper’s return should fill the space left by Fanaika.
Miami Dolphins (#3 OT need, #18 interior need)
All things considered, the Dolphins massively outperformed what observers would expect at tackle, but the Martin controversy, McKinnie’s age, expiring contract and ability, and Tyson Clabo’s free agency make tackle a priority need for the Dolphins. Their guard situation seems extremely worrisome, but no player performed exceedingly below average in Incognito’s absence, and this shouldn’t be considered as much a priority as other needs on the roster unless they cannot re-sign John Jerry.
Chicago Bears (#5 OT need, #26 interior need)
The Bears offense do not rely on edge protection nearly as much as they did in the Martz era, but rookie Jordan Mills has still been troubling. He’ll have time to develop, but the Bears need to think about generating competition here right away, especially because Jermon Bushrod hasn’t been great. Two of their depth tackles will also be hitting free agency as well. Kyle Long and Matt Slauson have been amazing on the inside and Roberto Garza has been a good center but may need to be replaced in FA.
Kansas City Chiefs (#6 OT need, #14 interior need)
Branden Albert will likely leave to enter free agency and as the Chiefs hope for Eric Fisher to live up to his billing, this time on the left side, they’ll need to make sure that their right side is shored up as well. Donald Stephenson has not shown that he can fill in. Their interior combination is fantastic, but they don’t have a lot of cap space and their two best interior linemen are hitting free agency.
Jacksonville Jaguars (#7 OT need, #15 interior need)
The debate over the value of trading Eugene Monroe is in the past, and the Jaguars clearly have a hole to fill at right tackle while Luke Joeckel recovers, presumably to play left tackle in 2014. Austin Pasztor has done better than expected, but he’s best served as depth in a swing role than as a starting right tackle.
Houston Texans (#8 OT need, #19 interior need)
Duane Brown is playing like one of the best tackles in the league once more, but neither Ryan Harris nor Derek Newton can get the job done. Perhaps third-round rookie Brennan Williams or sixth-round rookie David Quessenberry can fill in after returning from injured reserve, but it’s by no means guaranteed. Chris Myers remains a top-tier center and Wade Smith is the only worry on the inside.
Pittsburgh Steelers (#10 OT need, #23 interior need)
Replacing Mike Adams with Kelvin Beachum on the left and Guy Whimper on the right has surprisingly improved the edge protection in a large way, but this position is by no means settled, even if Levi Brown comes back to play. Whimper will hit free agency and should be considered a depth option at best. Once Maurkice Pouncey returns from injury, their interior should flesh out well.
Starting Interior Offensive Line
San Diego Chargers (#21 OT need, #1 interior need)
The Chargers have improved massively on the outside and should be set for years, even though they do not have an elite option at either end. On the inside, however, they have an extremely worrisome group that doesn’t look to have developing talent to replace the underperformers on the line (unless Johnnie Troutman takes a massive step).
Indianapolis Colts (#19 OT need, #2 Interior need)
Neither of the Colts’ starters at tackle have been standouts good or bad, but the interior is a mess that needs an upgrade at all three positions. Not only has the interior been the worst-performing group in the league, but it is unlikely that both rookies (third-round pick Hugh Thornton and fourth-round pick Khaled Holmes) will be able to step in and start. Even then, Jeff Linkenbach shouldn’t be trusted start. They will also have several linemen hit free agency.
Buffalo Bills (#13 OT need, #4 interior need)
The Bills have a top-tier tackle in Cordy Glenn and an acceptable right tackle with Erik Pears, but Eric Wood and Doug Legursky leave a lot to be desired on the interior. None of the options behind them on the depth chart are reliable options to fill in, so the Bills will have to look to free agency or the draft to restart their moribund run game and protect Manuel from inside pressure.
New York Giants (#11 OT need, #5 interior need)
Will Beatty has overperformed on the left, and Justin Pugh could turn out to be a solid investment on the right, but Kevin Boothe and David Diel have been astonishing problems, and their center position has been ravaged by injury. Chris Snee and David Baas should resolve two of those three issues, but the Giants still have one spot to fill on the line.
Cleveland Browns (#24 OT need, #6 interior need)
Alex Mack is an elite center ripe for a new contract and John Greco is average, but Shawn Lauvao and Oniel Cousins are not reasonable starters on the inside, while Garrett Gilkey is unlikely to develop into a starting option. On the outside, Mitchell Schwartz is doing well, while Joe Thomas has been consistently excellent.
Oakland Raiders (#16 OT need, #7 interior need)
With Menelik Watson ready to fill in when needed, the Raiders look to better on the edge than they were this year (which wasn’t bad), but Lucas Nix is a massive liability, while Brisiel and Barnes do not inspire confidence. The center position is solid, but the Raiders will have to take a long, hard look at the interior for 2014.
St. Louis Rams (#18 OT need, #10 interior need)
Jake Long and Joe Barksdale are both performing admirably and Rodger Saffold looks like he’ll provide good value at right guard if the Rams re-sign him, but his free agency and Chris Williams’ abysmal play should raise red flags for a team on the rise and Scott Wells’ recent injury and age should give the Rams pause at center, too.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (#30 OT need, #12 interior need)
The Buccaneers will be happy to return Donald Penn and the breakout Demar Dotson at tackle, with Gabe Carimi backing them up. Once Carl Nicks returns from MRSA, they’ll be able to resolve the hole they have at left guard but still have big questions elsewhere given Davin Joseph’s massive underperformance and Jeremy Zuttah’s inconsistency. The depth behind them is empty as well.
Overall OL Depth
Carolina Panthers (#12 OT need, #10 interior need)
The Panthers are in a massive bind with big potential free agents to re-sign, and both 33-year-old Jordan Gross and 32-year-old Travelle Wharton are up for a new contract. Both are important and would need to be replaced soon. Nate Chandler has been disappointing in the interior and Byron Bell has only been average on the outside. They should be able to put a plan to re-sign some of their starting talent, but not everybody.
New England Patriots (#17 OT need, #11 interior need)
Logan Mankins’ age notwithstanding, the Patriots need to invest in interior line play if only because Dan Connolly has been disappointing all season and Ryan Wendell has massively underperformed. Both can probably be said to have underperformed and should bounce back, but the slate of young talent behind them is underwhelming. On the outside, they’ve been fine and should be better next year with Sebastian Vollmer slated to come back.
Swing OT Depth
New Orleans Saints (#15 OT need, #29 interior need)
New Orleans only has one player backing up their interior line and a third-round rookie at left tackle, while their right tackle—Zach Strief—is about to enter free agency. Their interior line remains among the best in the league, but they’ll need depth across the line.
Green Bay Packers (#14 OT need, #25 interior need)
The Packers were ravaged by injury, but fourth-round pick David Bakhtiari performed well enough for someone with his expectations and can only be expected to improve. Between Don Barclay, Marshall Newhouse and Derek Sherrod, they should be able to figure something out. Inside, Green Bay has perhaps the best guard tandem in the league, and Evan Dietrich-Smith has been a surprising fill-in at center. Dietrich-Smith will hit free agency and may be an issue, but the bigger problem may be that there is no one in the interior worth calling a reliable backup.
Minnesota Vikings (#22 OT need, #16 interior need)
The only weakness for the Vikings heading into next season should be left guard, as the rest of the line has put together an incredible second half to the season, save for a struggling Matt Kalil who should bounce back and replicate his Pro Bowl rookie year.
New York Jets (#20 OT need, #17 interior need)
New York’s tackles and center have been solidly average (although marked by inconsistency) and the guards have been below average. A weakness, but a small one for a team with loads of them.
Dallas Cowboys (#27 OT need, #20 interior need)
Doug Free will never live up to his contract, but he and Tyron Smith have put together a solid year while Dallas looks smart for selecting Travis Frederick. They have some questions at guard, but do have the pieces to put together a solid starting line, even with Brian Waters leaving. Depth, however, will be a big concern, as they only have one interior backup.
Developmental OL Depth
Tennessee Titans (#23 OT need, #21 interior need)
Tennessee’s interior play has been shockingly weak given the massive investment they made, but another year should solidify those spots as none of the three starters have played there, and they’ve shown signs of collective solid play. Their bookends have been good for a while and were once again.
Philadelphia Eagles (#25 OT need, #24 interior need)
Philadelphia has a fantastic argument for being the best offensive line in football, with the only question being the already impressive Lane Johnson. Despite a very strong starting corps, there are serious questions backing up every position
Denver Broncos (#27 OT need, #25 interior need)
Aside from Louis Vasquez, the line isn’t particularly talented and Zane Beadles will hit free agency, but Denver shows a capacity to manufacture line play. Both Chris Clark and Orlando Franklin have been surprising and Manuel Ramirez has been stunning in relief. They should be better if healthy next year.
Detroit Lions (#28 OT need, #29 interior need)
Surprise LaAdrian Waddle and developing OT Riley Reiff are locking down the outside, while Larry Warford deserves consideration for offensive rookie of the year. Rob Sims is an average guard and Dominic Raiola, who they should re-sign, is performing like one of the best. They have solid backups behind them.
Washington Redskins (#31 OT need, #27 interior need)
Washington has excellent bookends, average guards and a good center. They’ve invested in good depth and shouldn’t be particularly concerned with any position, but if the line needed work, it would be at guard.
San Francisco 49ers (#26 OT need, #31 interior need)
The 49ers’ interior underperformed this year, but generally ooze talent and could produce Pro Bowlers at any position, while maintaining perhaps the league’s best depth at guard. They do not have reliable backups at tackle, and that should be a target in the draft.
Cincinnati Bengals (#32 OT need, #32 interior need)
-With Clint Boling coming back from injury, the only question that remains is at center, where the Bengals “only” put forth an average performance. Their depth at tackle and guard is mind-blowing, and their line versatility is a big reason.