The purpose of this post is to give everyone a general idea of the importance of the tackle position by reviewing our recent history with said position, other franchises acquisitions at that position, and team’s roster building philosophies. As I understand the importance of objectivity is subjective, I will not be including more than a minimum amount of statistics. Some of the subjects I will be discussing will touch upon, but not necessarily be about, the rest of the offensive line. If any information is missing or incorrect it is not due to sinister motives. Any quotes should have the link provided; everything else should be my opinion.
As the Philbin and Ireland regimes overlapped, I felt starting from the 2008 offseason was an acceptable beginning point. Making it even more appropriate is the fact that our marquee signing of this offseason was from that draft class. Recognizing that we have uncertainty at the guard position as well as having a history of players switching positions along the line, I will be including guards on the list. It’s worth noting that the list will only contain players acquired or re-signed during this particular period of time and not those who were already on the roster and subsequently allowed to leave via free agency.
Jake Long, 1st overall pick.
Shawn Murphy, 4th round, 110th overall pick.
Justin Smiley, signed to a 5 year, $25 million contract with $9 million guaranteed.
Vernon Carey, re-signed to a 6 year, $42 million contract with $15 million guaranteed.
John Jerry, 3rd round, 73rd overall pick.
Richie Incognito, 1 year deal. He was later re-signed for a 3 year, $12 million contract.
Marc Colombo, signed a 1 year, $2 million contract. This was an unforgivable sin.
Jonathan Martin, 2nd round, 42nd overall pick.
Dallas Thomas, 3rd round, 77th overall pick.
Tyson Clabo, signed a 1 year, $5 million contract.
Bryant McKinnie, acquired in a mid-season trade for a 7th round pick, originally had a 2 year $6.3 million contract but voided the final year. He apparently made, roughly, $2.5 million in 2013.
As you can see we haven’t hesitated to acquire players to fill either tackle spot. Despite such an investment, and more considering the draft picks and money we spent on the center position, we still gave up a franchise record in sacks allowed.
Modern Importance of the Left Tackle
http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/91...-espn-magazineSo why the dramatic drop in urgency and currency for such a productive player? Actually, it's not Long who has lost so much value -- it's his position. The left tackle, once considered an essential building block for every franchise, has seen its importance erode in this era of read-option spread offenses. That's something NFL teams with high draft picks need to consider on April 25, when two left tackles, Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel and Central Michigan's Eric Fisher, are expected to be top-five picks.
Times have changed dramatically since 2006, when the Ravens' Michael Oher was the inspiration for The Blind Side. That best-selling book and eventual blockbuster movie helped mythologize the left tackle's role in protecting the quarterback's back. But in '06, the ideal QB still stood in the pocket and worked through his progressions before delivering the ball downfield. Today, QB drops are shorter, the ball comes out quicker, the passers are far more elusive and the pressure is coming from all over, not just the right defensive end. As a result, Oher doesn't even protect the blind side anymore. In Super Bowl XLVII, he started at right tackle…
For decades, old-school thinkers like Parcells and former Colts president Bill Polian considered quarterback, left tackle and pass rusher to be the "holy trinity" of team building. Now the argument can be made that the correlation between victories and elite left tackles no longer exists. "When coaches talk about position hierarchy, left tackle isn't among the top few anymore," an AFC team exec says. "Now it's QB, pass rusher, cornerback, wide receiver. A guy like Joe Thomas shows that a great left tackle isn't nearly sufficient."
Nor is he necessary. After all, Eli Manning won two Super Bowl MVPs with former fifth-round pick and converted guard David Diehl protecting his backside. Aaron Rodgers sets up behind fifth-round pick Marshall Newhouse. And who can name Tom Brady's left tackle? How about Peyton Manning's? Considering that those two legendary QBs had the quickest releases in the league last season -- 3.03 and 3.04 seconds, compared with the league average of 3.46 -- do the names really matter? Linemen simply don't have to hold their blocks as long as they used to.
Meanwhile, to counter quick-strike passing attacks, defenses like the Giants' and Ravens' have started to take a shorter, more direct path to the quarterback by overloading pressure up the middle, which places more value on guards and centers. That's why Alabama's Chance Warmack could become just the seventh guard taken in the top 10 of the draft since 1988. And because running backs and especially tight ends are too valuable in the passing game to stay in and block -- catches by tight ends are up 16 percent since 2008 -- even the right tackle position is on the rise.
In the end, the importance of protecting the quarterback hasn't diminished; it's just that the responsibility and rewards are now more evenly distributed across all five O-linemen. "It used to be you found a great left tackle and built the rest of it from there," Savage says. "Now, because of defenses, you'd better be solid across the entire line. Instead of the super-elite left tackle, it's about five men who block well in a system. You could write a whole book about how the spread offense has impacted the NFL game."
I encourage all to read the entire article in the link. For the sake of size I was forced to cut out some interesting points and quotes. While the focus was on the left tackle position, it could easily cover any other individual spot on the line. The key is to find 5 solid starters and to use coaching to emphasize the strengths of the team while diluting the weaknesses. And, because it will come up, the article was not advocating spending 5 first round picks in order to get said solid starters.
Credit goes to TedSlimmJr for linking that article in the past.
2014 Free Agents
While many lineman hit free agency, there were clearly 4 that stood above the rest when it came to the tackle position. Roger Saffold also hit free agency and while the Raiders considered him to be a tackle, he was ultimately re-signed by the Rams to be a guard.
A disclaimer before we begin: I was unable to find a solid number for Branden Albert’s contract. While searching, I repeatedly found both $46 million and $47 million. I vaguely recall reports stating it was for $46.5 million. For this discussion, I will be referring to the deal as $46 million.
-Brandon Albert. 29 years old, will turn 30 during the season. Signed a 5 year, $46 million contract with the Dolphins. Average yearly salary is roughly $9.2 million.
-Eugene Monroe. 27 years old. Signed a 5 year, $37.5 million contract with the Ravens. Average yearly salary is $7.5 million.
-Jared Veldheer. 26 years old, will turn 27 before the season begins. Signed a 5 year, $35 million contract with the Cardinals. Average yearly salary is $7 million.
-Anthony Collins. 28 years old, will turn 29 during the season. Signed a 5 year, $30 million contract with the Buccaneers. Average yearly salary is $6 million.
It’s worth noting that Jason Peters re-signed with the Eagles at the end of February with a $51.3 million contract. It could be argued that he set the market with that deal. That being said, its clear teams didn’t completely buy into that argument and agents had to fight for deals that were cheaper than the contract Peters received. It’s important to remember that most of the negotiations took place on the weekend before free agency officially began. Thus agents were able to leverage teams against one another while the franchises themselves were able to explore the other players without a ticking clock.
Despite that, Albert’s deal is considerably more expensive than the rest. In fact, it’s closer to the deal Jake Long got last offseason than any of the others in this free agent class. At 28 years old he received a 4 year, $36 million contract from the Rams, averaging at around $9 million per season.
Undoubtedly this forum will react vehemently to the mention of Jake Long. His injury history has been the overwhelming excuse given for his lack of extension. Coincidentally, Espn recently wrote up a mini-scouting report on Albert that covered ground similar to the discussions we’ve had about Long in recent history.
http://espn.go.com/blog/miami-dolphi...branden-albert“The Dolphins are getting a solid left tackle in Albert. He was a guard in college but the Chiefs plugged him in at left tackle immediately after drafting him in the first round in 2008 and there were some anxious moments his first few seasons as he struggled to develop as quickly as the team hoped. Albert kept working at it and eventually turned into the player the Chiefs envisioned when they drafted him, one who is a better pass protector than run blocker. He missed five starts in 2012 because of back spasms and four games because of a hyperextended knee last season, so he hasn’t been reliable in that regard.”
A more complete list of Branden Albert’s history can be found here:
http://www.kffl.com/player/18301/nfl...branden-albertBranden Albert injury history
Comparatively, here’s the injury history for Jake Long, Eugene Monroe, and Jared Veldheer.
http://www.kffl.com/player/16021/nfl...tory/jake-longJake Long injury history
http://www.kffl.com/player/20736/nfl.../eugene-monroeEugene Monroe injury history
http://www.kffl.com/player/22507/nfl...jared-veldheerJared Veldheer injury history
I excluded Anthony Collins due to his background as a backup. For those that can’t or don’t feel like clicking on those links, it can be briefly summed up as: Jake Long consistently missed multiple games almost every year with season ending injuries, Branden Albert consistently missed multiple games almost every year with injuries that weren’t season ending but still detrimental to his play and aggravating to him until the season ended, Eugene Monroe missed a handful of games due to a shoulder and ankle injury in 2011, and Jared Veldheer was healthy for the majority of his career until tearing a triceps in training camp of this past season.
In today’s NFL it’s extremely rare for a player to never be injured. Serious injuries that were a rarity and what used to be potentially career ending injuries such as ACL tears are now common place. The rate of injuries has been so alarming that the league has made safety a main focus. With all of that in mind, it should come as no surprise that big name free agents have a history with injuries. Freak injuries happen and it shouldn’t necessarily be held against the players.
That said, reality must come into play and teams must take into account injuries that have the trademark of being chronic. Branden Albert’s back absolutely falls into that category. I believe Albert when he says it’s under control at the moment, but it’s probable that he will have issues in the future now that he is entering his 30’s.
While one of the main talking points concerning this particular draft is how deep the receiving class is, people should keep in mind that the offensive line class is considered strong as well. As is the case with every position, there are a few that stand above the rest, but a sentiment exists that you could potentially find a quality starter in the 2nd or 3rd round. Though I have some reservations about this list, it should give everyone a good idea of the type of quality this draft class has to offer.
http://nfl.si.com/2014/04/03/2014-nf...kings-tackles/2014 NFL draft position rankings: Jake Matthews, Greg Robinson headline tackle group
I've also seen this topic discussed numerous times in our very own draft forum. I encourage all to visit it and see if any questions you might have on specific prospects has been addressed by those who have put in quite a bit of time in on reviewing each player. I've been on this forum for 7 years and during that time I've found many of our own members to be consistently more accurate than those on the television or in a front office.
As we approach May 8th with apparently holes on the roster a divide has occurred on the forum. Some argue drafting for need while others insist on taking the most talented player. This is a common debate with all teams and one our current regime happened to address:
http://blogs.sun-sentinel.com/sports...-strategy.html“The best team in the NFL if you study their draft history they taken the best players that are available,” Philbin said. “There’s a system in place to evaluate players to the best degree that we can, eliminate the guess work and make good decisions on guys that are gonna have productive, lengthy careers in the National Football League.”
http://espn.go.com/blog/miami-dolphi...-dennis-hickeySpeaking of scouting, Hickey was clear that his draft philosophy is always to select the best available player over need. A lot of personnel types like to say that, but not everyone applies it. Hickey says Miami plans to rank its top 500 players and stay true to its board on draft day.
Many on this forum make up a few ill-conceived notions that become accepted as fact. I’ll be addressing a handful of them. Do note, I am not attempting to call out any individual posters and am just addressing pervading themes that exist from thread to thread. If you’ve made these arguments yourself do not take it personally, simply adjust your opinion as you see fit.
-Albert contract isn’t “really” for $46 million.
Every single team in the league creates language in the contract that is beneficial to the team while also acceptable to the player. Contrary to much of the praise heaped upon Dawn Aponte, Miami isn’t unique in how much we actually pay a player per season. Here’s two examples of this practice from this very offseason:
http://espn.go.com/blog/nflnation/po...heers-contractVeldheer’s base salary in 2014 is $1.25 million, which is fully guaranteed. Add in the signing bonus, and Veldheer will earn $7.5 million.
In 2015, Veldeer’s base salary jumps to $6 million -- $3 million of which is guaranteed in the event of an injury, and the rest becomes fully guaranteed on the third day of the league year. He’ll earn a $500,000 roster bonus, as well.
Its common practice when discussing a player’s salary to refer to the max number the contract is worth. Why? Because that is how much he could potentially make. It’s up to his agent, the player himself, and the coaching staff to make sure he makes everything he possibly could.
And common sense dictates that a player with a cheaper contract will almost always make less than someone with a more expensive contract.
-We filled the hole, so who cares if we overspent or signed the wrong player?
Winning a Superbowl is exceptionally difficult. In order to be a contender you need to make the shrewdest decisions you can and use your limited resources in the most efficient ways possible. Every dollar we spend on one player is a dollar we cannot spend on another. And for every player we miss out on another team gets the benefit of their services. Mistakes we make this offseason can not only be the difference between a win and a loss, it can be the difference between wins and losses for years to come.
A good example can be found just in this thread. Let’s say Brandon Albert plays just as well as Jared Veldheer for the entirety of their contracts. Ignoring the obvious fact that one is cheaper than the other, by the time they are up for an extension Veldheer will presumably still have a couple more years of productive play left in him while Albert is settling down to retire.
We fired Jeff Ireland this offseason. There is no reason to continue to settle for less than superior decisions. If we want to be one of the best teams in the league on the field, then we need to start being one of the best teams off the field. It’s not something that’s beyond this franchise. It just requires hiring the right people. We shall see if Hickey is right for the job.
-We are a tackle away from taking off, we should just spend our 1st on it and be done with the problem!
To be blunt, we are not a tackle away from being a Superbowl contender. We aren’t a single player away from being a contender no matter the position. We averaged less than 20 points a game last season. Granted, the line being historically terrible did affect our ability to score, but we still didn’t have enough players who can put up points in less than ideal circumstances. We still didn’t have enough players on defense to prevent the other team from scoring. Years of mistakes in the 2008-2012 offseasons have left this roster depleted. With the exception of our defensive line and our quarterback, there isn’t a position group on this team that couldn’t use an upgrade of some sort.
Regardless of that, we can still find a superior player at the right tackle and/or guard position later in the draft. Last season had an excellent example of this:
https://www.profootballfocus.com/blo...s-and-centers/One could have easily predicted we’d have Warford high on this list after we voted him our overall rookie of the year this season. The third round pick played like the steal of the draft and he outplayed his contemporary, Chance Warmack, by leaps and bounds. Warford ended up with the fourth-highest grade for guards as he excelled equally well in pass (+12.1) and run (+6.9) blocking.
Admittedly this example concerns the guard position and not tackle, and no singular example should ever be taken for law and used in all circumstances. Still, it shows quite vividly that you can find solid production later in a draft for “non-impact” position while investing in a potential impact player with your higher picks. As our own draft history has shown, the reverse is not always true.
If we have a choice between walking out of the draft with a potential playmaker and a solid lineman or simple a solid lineman and some project at a position required to put points on the board, the superior option is obvious to me.
-Our line was horrible last season, we have to fill those needs.
If you always worry about your previous year you will never be successful. Nothing happens in a vacuum, every teams roster will always have issues cropping up on a yearly basis. Players get injured, players get old, players get too expensive to keep…something is always coming to a head. One team above all the others attempted to build their team by focusing on the past instead of the future. A high ranking front office officially admitted as much:
http://mmqb.si.com/2014/02/21/nfl-pl...in-didnt-know/Want to know why the Cowboys are one of two teams (along with the Steelers) already over the projected $130 million cap, and consistently dealing with cap issues? This quote from Stephen Jones says it all: “Our philosophy over time has been that what you know is better than what you don’t know.” That means the Cowboys would rather retain their more expensive veteran players who may not live up to their salary than just go with cheaper younger players. That may have been OK in previous years, but it’s burned them with the flat cap since ’11. No wonder the Cowboys haven’t finished better than .500 the past four years.
While that quote was primarily focused on free agency, it’s not difficult to project it onto their draft philosophy as well. Not after picks like Travis Frederick.
-How do you know those free agents would want to sign with us?
I don’t. But Joe Philbin and Dennis Hickey are being paid millions of dollars to convince potential players to play for us. Some players will decide matters with their emotions and no amount of reasoning will change their mind. But those players are in the extreme minority. For the right money and the promise of success, players will gladly sign with almost any team.
Not to mention the fact that we have many benefits other teams do not simply because of our location. Players will keep more of their paychecks due to tax breaks. Many are from Florida and already have homes and/or families in the area. And, despite the utterly ridiculous notion of some on here that the team is 2 minutes away from moving, in a league that doesn’t lack for small market locals such as St. Louis and Buffalo, sunny and active South Florida sounds like a paradise.
If the people running this franchise can’t convince players to sign a giant contract with us while we have those factors in our favor, then we need to reexamine their employment status.
-You just want our quarterback to get sacked!
-If we draft a right tackle now, we can kick them over to left tackle in a few years.
Often this can be the case. But it’s not a law unto man. Ck explained it quite well:
While kicking them over to left tackle isn’t necessarily a problem, it’s a grossly inefficient way to address the situation. We just spent $46 million on that position. That position needs to be fixed. If we are forced to deal with it in the future, we can always plug in a rookie and have the reasonable assumption that they would play competently. Unlike receivers or pass rushers who typically require a year or two to develop, it’s not unheard of for lineman to be plugged into the lineup and play well. Assuming the lineman is worth drafting in the first place.
To prevent people from assuming they know my opinion on this subject I’ll briefly go over my views on free agency and the upcoming draft.
-What I think we should have done
Of the top 4 free agents I believe we picked the worst option. Does Albert help this team? Absolutely. That goes without saying. But we very easily could have done better. Age, cost/value, talent, durability…he was second or third on the list of available players in every category.
I believe there is a direct correlation between our lack of success and the amount of resources we’ve dumped into our offensive line during Jeff Ireland’s tenure. Every pick we spent on lineman was a pick we did not spend on someone who could score a touchdown. Every dollar we spent on guards and centers was a dollar we did not spend on someone who could prevent touchdowns. With this crop of free agents I believed we could fix the problem for years to come. Instead, it appears that we will have to revisit this issue again in a season or two. We are spinning the tires when we could be moving forward. Even if Albert is the best player, which I disagree with, will he be the best player 3 years from now? I sincerely doubt that.
Before free agency officially began I wanted Jared Veldheer, as I felt his deal would bring the greatest value. Though I thought Monroe was the best tackle on the market, but I felt Veldheer would come considerably cheaper while still providing a very solid level of production, production that would far outplayed whatever contract we handed him. Hindsight being what it is, Monroe was easily the best choice. I believe he will be more productive then Albert in both the short term and long term.
-What I think should happen (draft)
My draft philosophy has been “best player available so long as it makes logical sense.” The attached idea to my “rule” is value. I worship value. It’s not enough to get a good player with a high pick, I truly believe what makes a general manager great is understanding they can get the same player later in the draft.
Just like I wouldn’t draft a kicker in the first round, it doesn’t make logical sense to draft a right tackle or guard that high. I wouldn’t get great value in return for that pick. As well, I understand that any lineman that is available at 19 probably wouldn’t be a solution at left tackle, even down the road.
This particular draft has more than a few players with impact potential. I’ve personally fallen in love with a handful of the receivers in this class. I’d draft Sammy Watkins, Odell Beckham, Mike Evans, Eric Ebron, Kelvin Benjamin, and Marqise Lee over any lineman not named Jake Matthews or Greg Robinson.
In the divide between want and realism, the player I’d like us to land with the 19th pick is Odell Beckham.
-What I think will happen
We will draft Zack Martin at 19.
I also think there is an outside-the-box possibility that we trade up with Minnesota and select Matthews or Robinson. Minnesota hasn’t even hidden the fact they want to trade back and would probably be willing to accept a deal similar to what we gave Oakland last year. As most of the teams in the top 7 have heavily invested in the tackle position, and I don’t believe their records and past draft history are a giant coincidence, I think there is a fair chance at least one of those two, if not both, drop to the Vikings at 8.
Everyone wants our line fixed. I doubt anyone who watched any of our games last season came to the conclusion that it played in any sort of acceptable fashion. The key disagreement concerns how we fix it. For myself, I believe the best way of using our resources is by avoiding tackles high in the draft. I still believe in our team’s spoken philosophy when it comes to the draft. Despite the moves we’ve already made, this team can still find considerable success if we make shrewd moves in the immediate future.
Thank you for reading. As a gift, here’s how I hope our 2014 season goes: