Happy Saturday, friends. I was asked by Doug to consider the question posed in this morning's Lard, under the assumption that Ryan Clady gets signed away by another team for the cost of two first-round picks. It would take a team with cap room, and which wants an absolute sure thing at the LT position to do it. Really, given Clady's rotator cuff surgery, it's not exactly a sure thing, but it's close to one.
Let's consider what the Broncos' options would be, given the following parameters:
- An extra 2013 first-round pick - since it's generic, let's call it the 16th pick.
- Cap room savings of $9.828 million, since the franchise tag wouldn't be in effect any longer.
- No left tackle on the roster, not even a reasonable project kind of player.
The Broncos would own two first-round picks, a second, and a third in the first two days of the draft, and they'd have about $17 million in cap space, with $9 million more easily available when/if D.J. Williams and Joe Mays are cut.
Referring to Spotrac.com, the list of free agent tackles is excellent, as Doug mentioned this morning. The following are players who I view as candidates to be signed by some NFL team as starting LTs:
Sebastian Vollmer, New England - I've always thought that Vollmer could be used on the left side. My only real issue with him at this point is that he came into the NFL as an over-age player, and he'll be 29 in July, entering his fifth year in the NFL. He portends to have a shorter career than other players at that stage, and you have to wonder how soon he starts to decline physically.
Brandon Albert, Kansas City - Albert is a slightly above-average LT, who could be a dominant guard. I've always thought that he was used out of position. If I were Kansas City, I'd consider franchising Albert, moving him to LG, and drafting their favorite LT first overall.
Sam Baker, Atlanta - I view Baker as being limited athletically, and soft. He had his best season, by far, in 2012 - when his contract was up. I find that suspicious. Yeah, I just questioned a white player's grit and blue-collar work ethic, and suggested that he may have turned on his effort only to get paid. Will the world end?
Jake Long, Miami - He used to be good, but he's struggled with execution and injuries the last two years. Also, I am suspicious of what it says that Miami doesn't seem to care much about retaining him.
King Dunlap, Philadelphia - I'm frankly shocked that he had a positive grade on PFF. He's always looked terrible to me.
Demetress Bell, Philadelphia - I liked him a lot in Buffalo, and then he couldn't get any traction in Philly. He's potentially worth a low-dollar (~$3M) one-year flier.
Bryant McKinnie, Baltimore - He's talented, but he's a problematic guy in terms of fitting into a team concept. He tends to show up out of shape, and then not do what he's supposed to do. I wouldn't sign him at all, and if a team did, it would have to include a lot of incentives.
Max Starks, Pittsburgh - I've always thought Starks was underrated. He's not an elite LT, but he's better than several guys who have played the position in Super Bowls.
Jermon Bushrod, New Orleans - An example of a player who's lesser than Starks, and who has started a recent Super Bowl.
I'd be shopping at the bottom of that group, if I was shopping for LTs at all. My preference would be Starks, first, and Bell, second. The problem is that LTs tend to be priced at a premium in the free agent market, and that kind of gets away from what I'd consider to be an optimal strategy.
In free agency, there are four kinds of players who make optimal signings to me:
- Players coming off bad years, or injury, who need to play on one-year "prove-it" deals.
- Thirtysomething near-stars who will take a short-term deal, because they want to win.
- Minimum players who can fill clearly-defined roles on a new team.
- Middle-class veterans at non-premium positions, where middle-class salaries aren't killers.
There are two kinds of players who make for sub-optimal signings:
- Stars who want to get paid top-of-the-NFL money.
- Middle-class non-star veterans at premium positions.
I don't think that you can do a very good job of replacing Ryan Clady in free agency at reasonable cost, because LT is a premium position. The better thing to do, then, is to focus on the draft.
2013 Draft Class
I view the OT class as being excellent this year. You have Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel, who is an excellent technician. There's Lane Johnson of Oklahoma, who was a QB a couple years ago, and who is an exceptional athlete. Then there's Eric Fisher from Central Michigan, who's kind of a cross between Joeckel and Johnson. I expect those three players to be drafted in the top 10-12 picks.
The secondary group is where I am interested. I think Alabama's D.J. Fluker has long enough arms to be competitive at LT, even if he has RT feet. I think Menelik Watson from Florida State is a good prospect too, despite his lack of experience. And Terron Armstead out of Arkansas-Pine Bluff was just as impressive as Lane Johnson at the combine. I even think Brennan Williams from North Carolina, who looks like a late second- or early third-rounder can be a quality starter in the NFL.
It's always best to draft the premium positions, because you're locking in four years of cheap pricing. As Doug mentioned recently, drafting well is the way to cap health. I'd much rather have a hole at right guard, where I can get a solid veteran for $2.5 million, than have a hole at LT, where I have to pay a comparable guy $5 million.
I don't expect anybody to want to part with two first-rounders for Ryan Clady, but if anybody did, I wouldn't match the offer. I'd take the cap savings and the picks, and view it as a good deal that can be used to help either retain or replace guys like Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Zane Beadles. I wonder how much Mike McCoy loves Clady, and whether San Diego would view signing him to be a double whammy that helps the Chargers and hurts the Broncos? That 11th pick would look nice, and might bring back a guy like Lane Johnson to the Broncos. I'd take that deal any day, with a QB like Peyton Manning who protects himself pretty well.