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Every NFC team’s offensive tackle situation

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NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Chargers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

On Thursday I evaluated every AFC’s starting tackle tandem and ranked them, and today I ... well, you know. The other conference.

A brief synopsis on why I am doing this reads as such:

I understand why you’re frustrated with Germain Ifedi and the Seahawks offensive line in general. It is very frustrating. It is more frustrating when you consider that Seattle had similar frustrations with James Carpenter, and to a lesser extent, Russell Okung. It makes it seem like a “Seattle” problem, but what I’m trying to say is that it is a football problem.

The good tackles are disappearing. It’s evidenced in the fact that almost every team’s fanbase is concerned with the offensive line in some fashion, and many of those are specifically worried about the inability to find a good tackle. And right tackles should be even harder to find because the great ones are almost always moved to the left side at some point; the biggest reason why Lane Johnson and Jack Conklin are elite right tackles is because Jason Peters and Taylor Lewan are elite left tackles.

It’s rare that a right tackle out-plays his counterpart, and it’s very possible that right tackle is the weakest position in football. Let’s go through 16 more.

* denotes a player who has an extensive injury history, was significantly injured last year, or is currently injured

^ denotes a player making at least $9 million per year

Cowboys: Tyron Smith^, La’El Collins

Per PFF before 2017’s season finale: “La’el Collins’ season hasn’t been what many hoped. His overall grade of 51.9 ranks 54th among 87 qualifying offensive tackles. He has allowed 47 pressures on the season, tied for the sixth-most among offensive tackles, and his pass-blocking efficiency of 93.1 is tied for 60th among 81 qualifying offensive tackles.”

It was enough for Dallas to be rumored to draft a tackle early and they took Connor Williams 50th overall, then moved him to guard. His presence must also be Collins insurance. The Cowboys have an all-world left tackle and potential on the right side but even the league’s best offensive line has some concerns. Also of note, Williams hasn’t been great in pass protection at guard so far.

Grade: Half-great, half-maybe

Giants: Nate Solder^, Ereck Flowers

The cost to snag Solder in free agency was $62 million, $34.8 million guaranteed. That is the cost of a solid, unspectacular, no-Pro Bowls left tackle. But the Giants had to do something to replace Flowers, the ninth overall pick in 2015. They can spread a lot of “things will be better now!” talk since it’s preseason but New York has a lot more to prove of its tackles in the regular season. Can Solder play up to his contract and can Flowers — well, he’ll never play up to his draft status but can he at least be serviceable somewhere on the line? There don’t appear to be any solid backup plans if he’s not and frankly things don’t look that good for Flowers:

Grade: Ereck Flowers could be the worst starting offensive lineman in the league.

Eagles: Jason Peters*^, Lane Johnson^

Most likely the best tackle duo in the league, but Peters is 36 and missed nine games a year ago. To get here they had to make Johnson the highest-paid right tackle in NFL history, which still could become a discount if he moves to the left side. Halapoulivaati Vaitai did well enough to get Philly to a Super Bowl victory, but Thursday night was a big reason why Eagles fans are feeling relaxed that the team did not cut Peters:

That’s a scary thought considering Peters’ age and recent injury history.

Grade: Excellent

Washington: Trent Williams^, Morgan Moses ($8m/year)

In an alternate universe, the Seahawks have Williams as their left tackle for a decade, but not in this uni. Moses is a good right tackle, who also comes at a fairly high price after signing an extension last April. Washington also spent a third round pick on Geron Christian; he’s said to have “struggled” so far in game action.

Ken Meringolo of Hogs Haven describes fans as “very happy” with the situation: “Trent Williams is a beastly LT and while Morgan Moses is not necessarily on anyone’s Ring of Honor ballot at this point, he is a solid RT, and he has formed a very professional guard/tackle combo on the right side with Brandon Scherff. Our swing tackle, Ty Nsekhe, could likely start elsewhere and we drafted a 3rd round LT prospect in Geron Christian. I don’t think I can recall being this happy about our tackles since Chris Samuels and Jon Jansen were in their primes.“

Overall, the NFC East could have as many as 6, possibly 7 good starting tackles. Which is extremely rare for any division, as you’ve seen.

Grade: Very, very good and expensive

Bears: Charles Leno^, Bobby Massie

A seventh round project in 2014 originally considered to be a potential guard, Leno has emerged as one of the NFC’s better left tackles. Lester Wilfong of Windy City Gridiron says that the team “could use an upgrade” at right tackle with Massie. Quietly, Chicago could have a pretty good line but right tackle is an issue for them like it is for most teams; one of the backups there is Bradley Sowell.

Grade: The glass is both half-full and half-Bobby Massie

Lions: Taylor Decker*, Ricky Wagner^

It took the 16th overall pick in 2016 to secure the left tackle spot, and Decker missed half of last season. Decker has been useful but not as out-the-gate great as someone like Conklin. From the most recent preseason game: “Decker allowed three hurries and a sack, and had another sack wiped off the board by an iffy Giants illegal use of helmet penalty away from the play. It was the kind of performance we haven’t seen from Decker a whole lot in his first two years in the league. Only once so far in his career has Decker allowed more than one sack in a game. He not only had a tough time with veteran pass rusher Olivier Vernon, but rookie Lorenzo Carter got the better of him a couple times as well.”

The cost to acquire Wagner from the Ravens was $47.5 million and Wagner’s evaluation from Jeremy Reisman at Pride of Detroit is: “quiet and consistent.”

Grade: Solid, but some left side concerns

Packers: David Bakhtiari, Byran Bulaga*

Bakhtiari’s consistently been a top-10 left tackle since entering the NFL as a fourth round pick in 2013. Bulaga came at the cost of a first round pick (23rd overall) and he’s held down the right tackle job every year since 2010. However, Bulaga missed 11 games in 2017 with a torn ACL and they’re hoping he’s good to go for Week 1. Backup Jason Spriggs, a second round pick in 2016, has been a disappointment. At least some of Green Bay’s success with the offensive line has to be attributed with the Hall of Fame play by Aaron Rodgers.

From Evan Tex Western at Acme Packing Company: “The Packers have one of the better pairs of starting tackles in the NFL in David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga, and they are possibly the best pair of pass-blockers in the league. However, if either is injured for any length of time, the team is probably in deep trouble. Jason Spriggs probably should be the next man up at both spots, but he has been inconsistent at best in his first two years. Kyle Murphy has been beaten repeatedly with speed at left tackle this summer and should probably be a right tackle only at this point due to a lack of athleticism. Byron Bell is the other backup option and he has been downright bad this summer after some ugly performances as a reserve in Dallas a year ago. He might not make the final 53.

In short - the starters are excellent, but if the reserves see significant playing time in the regular season, it’s going to make Aaron Rodgers’ life very, very difficult.”

Grade: Rodgers can’t save Spriggs

Vikings: Riley Reiff^, Rashod Hill*

Eric Thompson from Daily Norseman: “The Vikings are satisfied with Riley Reiff at left tackle. He isn’t an All-Pro, but with the mess of injuries and question marks they have along the rest of the line, he’s the least of our worries. Right tackle is still up in the air. Rashod Hill is probably the starter there now with Mike Remmers moving inside to RG. He isn’t a disaster but he’s average at best and has banged up a bit in camp. Second round pick Brian O’Neill was supposed to be too raw to start right away but he’s having a solid preseason so far. I’d imagine he takes over at RT eventually.”

Grade: Right side’s gonna be bad

Falcons: Jake Matthews^, Ryan Schraeder ($6.3m/year)

This is pretty good. Schrader was a UDFA who signed a $31.5 million extension, Matthews signed a $72.5 million contract in July. Over $100 million on your bookends.

Grade: A solid duo and they paid for it

Panthers: Matt Kalil^*, Taylor Moton

Bradley Smith of Cat Scratch Reader: “Real talk, our tackle situation is dire. Both starting tackles are dealing with knee injuries and we’re trying to patch together a line that won’t get Cam killed. It’s gonna be a long year if we can’t get that sorted out.”

Kalil, who had arthroscopic knee surgery on Monday and seems very much in doubt for the opener, wasn’t great to begin with so imagine the backup situation. Moton looks to be the starter at left tackle for the time being, and he saw just 70 snaps last year after being drafted at the end of round two. Now that Moton is on the left side and Daryl Williams* is going to IR following a torn MCL and dislocated patella, the right tackle could be Jeremiah Sirles. The former UDFA started 14 games for the Vikings over the last two seasons, mostly at guard.

The cost of Kalil was $55.5 million in 2017.

Grade: Expensively bad

Saints: Terron Armstead*^, Ryan Ramczyk

This could also be in contention as the best tackle duo (again having something to do with the offensive gameplan and the quarterback), but Armstead has missed just about half of the last two seasons. His career-high in games played for any season is 14. Ramczyk feels like “the one that got away” for a lot of Seahawks fans who were puzzled when the team traded down and passed up Ramczyk for Malik McDowell, but there are so many other factors to consider than just doing a “one-to-one” comp in 2018.

One: Seattle had just used a first round pick on Germain Ifedi in 2016 and like it or not, they were fully intent on giving him a shot at right tackle. The situation was such that they believed in giving him that shot and it was fair to do so given that offensive linemen (and many players at other positions) often take 2-3 years to reach NFL starter potential.

Two: They couldn’t have two right tackles and Ramczyk has yet to prove he can play left tackle, especially as a rookie.

Three: Seattle was hopeful on the return and development of George Fant at left tackle, not knowing that he’d tear his ACL.

Four: For all we know, McDowell would’ve been the steal of 2017 if not for an accident. An accident.

Five: The Seahawks trades down last year netted them extra picks that included Tedric Thompson, Delano Hill, and Chris Carson.

Behind Armstead and Ramczyk, the Saints have Jermon Bushrod and fourth round pick Rick Leonard, who was a developmental selection (Leonard played defensive end for his first two years at Florida State) but there’s been some positive remarks on his play so far.

The Saints have a higher rate of hitting on their offensive line picks than most teams and that should also have something to do with their quarterback and coaches.

Grade: Drew Brees is safe and so are they

Bucs: Donovan Smith*, Demar Dotson*

Smith’s been one of the worst pass protectors at left tackle in the league and despite not missing a game in his three-year career, he’s currently sidelined and in danger of not starting Week 1. Dotson is entering his ninth season in Tampa Bay, and has missed 18 games over the last three years. Said Dotson of Smith’s injury: “That’s a guy that we need,” Dotson said. “He means everything [to this team]. We don’t have [anybody] that can play left tackle the way he can play left tackle.”

That’s a pretty serious statement coming from the teammate of the guy(s) looking to fill-in for Smith. Dotson had offseason knee surgery himself and three tackle backups — Leonard Wester, Cole Boozer, and Cole Gardner — have also been nursing injuries. The situation is looking very bad.

Liedtke is a former undrafted free agent who has bounced around a bit, has played in one regular season game (not as a starter), and was a guard.

Grade: At best below average if healthy and perhaps on the way to well below average since they aren’t

Cardinals: D.J. Humphries*, Andre Smith*

Humphries has flashed above-average skills at left tackle but has also missed 30 of a possible 48 games in his career. Andre Smith isn’t very good, that’s well known, and that’s coupled with injury problems as well. It seems highly likely that Arizona will have to dip into their backup tackles at some point in the year and it’s hard to say if there’s diamond in them roughs.

Grade: Good on the left side but nearly C.J. Prosise-levels of injury concerns

Rams: Andrew Whitworth^, Rob Havenstein ($8m/year)

Whitworth is a highly decorated veteran who turns 37 in December. Havenstein just signed a four-year, $32.5 million extension. That makes LA one of the teams that actually has two good tackles, but having that came at a significant price. Age is an issue for Whitworth, but the Rams hope they found a future in third round pick Joseph Noteboom, who is currently competing to start at right guard for the suspended Jamon Brown.

Grade: A strength, but what’s the expiration date?

49ers: Joe Staley^, Mike McGlinchey

Dave Fucillo of Niners Nation confirms this is a unit the team is very happy with. Fans too. San Francisco got its left tackle from drafting him in the first round 11 years ago and Staley could still play a high level for a few more years. To get their right tackle, they drafted him ninth overall this year. Depth includes Garry Gilliam, who they felt they needed to give a two-year contract to despite having Staley and probably expecting to draft McGlinchey.

Teams spending top-10 picks on right tackles is a new phenomenon and it makes it that much harder for teams outside of the top-10 (like the Seahawks every year since 2010) to draft a good offensive tackle at all. Now that right tackle is a defined need for a team, and not just a premium left tackle, teams that already have a left tackle they’re happy with will still draft McGlinchey, Lane Johnson, and Jack Conklin anyway. Seattle may have felt that New Orleans wouldn’t have drafted Ramczyk given that they have Armstead, but that’s just not a guarantee in this league anymore.

Grade: They seem to have the edges covered

Seahawks: Duane Brown^, Germain Ifedi

Seattle has all that they need and more from the left tackle position with Brown on board. They do however have a player that is not only in competition to be the worst starting right tackle in football, but now also for his starting right tackle job with George Fant* healthy again. Would Fant be an upgrade? PFF ranked him as the worst starting tackle of 2016. While I don’t subscribe to PFF grades, I can at least take it as a hint that he’s not in the top 30.

Rankings

1. Eagles

2. Washington

3. Saints

4. Packers

5. Rams

6. 49ers

7. Falcons

8. Cowboys

BREAK: I just want to take this opportunity to say that if you looked for the top 9 tackle duos in the entire NFL, it might be these eight teams and the Titans. The only other one you’d even consider is the Steelers, but I think that’s about it. I ranked the Chiefs number three in my AFC look and I wouldn’t take them over any of these pairs. We know that the NFC has much better quarterbacks, but those quarterbacks also have much better protection. I haven’t done this with other positions, so I’m not sure yet how other positions compare conference-to-conference, but QB-LT-RT seems to be dominated by the NFC right now. I’d even put Kansas City no better than tied with my number nine team ...

9. Lions

10. Seahawks

BREAK: You say this is crazy? It’s not. Brown is a better left tackle than any of the left tackles remaining on this list, he’s also better than Taylor Decker, and in the conversation with a few more ranked above him. So Seattle is more than set at left tackle, which is very important. It’s the right side that is a problem, but it’s also a problem for teams running out Rashod Hill, Bobby Massie, and Ereck Flowers.

11. Bucs

12. Bears

13. Vikings

14. Cardinals

15. Giants

16. Panthers

Final thoughts

I’ve listed eight teams that are very set at tackle (for right now, which could mean until this next snap given the injury likelihood at this position) and the way they’ve acquired their left tackles is this (in order from above):

1. Traded a 1st and 4th round pick

2. 4th overall pick

3. 3rd round pick

4. 4th round pick

5. Big free agent contract

6. 1st round pick

7. 6th overall pick

8. 9th overall pick

Out of eight left tackles, only two ever played on a “discount contract” for said teams, that being Armstead and Bakhtiari. And Armstead has missed a boatload of games. How about the right tackles, and how many of them are on abnormally-expensive contracts for right tackles:

1. 4th overall pick, big contract extension

2. 3rd round pick, contract extension

3. 1st round pick

4. 1st round pick, contract extension

5. 2nd round pick, contract extension

6. 9th overall pick

7. UDFA, contract extension

8. Exceptional UDFA, contract extension

So let’s look at these 16 tackles that I’ve listed as my top eight duos in the NFC again, in this context: Out of 16, ZERO are playing on a contract that isn’t either a big free agent deal, a contract extension, or a first rounder. That means that no team in the NFC is set at left or right tackle with a “discount” tackle. That means that in the last three years, basically, no team in this group of eight has found an exceptional tackle after the first round. If and when they do, they lock him up.

But keep reading, because it continues down this road.

The Lions have a 1st round pick at left tackle and a big free agent contract at right.

The Seahawks have a big trade/extension at left tackle and a first round pick at right tackle, unless Fant beats Ifedi out for the job. If he doesn’t, then that means that from my top 10 duos in the NFC, 20 out of 20 are not starting as a “discount tackle.”

At 11, Tampa Bay has Smith, who was not a first round pick, but did go 34th overall. And Dotson is a veteran. This is about where things start to break down, which is when we see teams going (or being forced to go with) lesser acclaimed tackles and how much it can hurt them. Note that this is absolutely what happened to Seattle when Russell Okung walked and they went with George Fant, Rees Odhiambo, J’Marcus Webb, Bradley Sowell, Garry Gilliam, and anyone else who couldn’t handle the job. None of those guys cost anything.

Chicago has Leno, but then they rolled with Massie on a three-year, $18 million deal. (A bad right tackle gets a three-year, $18 million deal!) The Vikings are trying to discount their right tackle job, hoping that rookie second rounder Brian O’Neill pulls it out at some point. Arizona is still attempting to get something out of Andre Smith. New York couldn’t cut bait with Flowers (yet). Carolina overpaid for Kalil and are crossing their fingers on Moton, who if he is good will probably start on the left side and still leave a hole on the right side.

Bottom line: It is incredibly difficult to go cheap at tackle and expect positive results. I just don’t see very many examples of it. The Seahawks are actually lucky to have a left tackle again and it’s easy to see why they gave up a lot to acquire Brown then signed him to an extension despite being over 30. Compare Seattle’s tackle duo to those in the AFC, and I’d say they are even close to the top five.

The guards though ... that’s another issue.