This week the free agent landscape at left tackle changed with some interesting additions. I’m going to break down some options I see for the Denver Broncos at the left tackle position.
This will not include the draft, as I don’t really believe there is a day one starter at left tackle in the draft and if we go into the draft without the left tackle position filled, we are screwed; and I don’t project screwed. So we’ll stick with free agency and potential trade options. I’ve included the previous year’s Pro Football Focus breakdown for each player. While their offensive line grades are one of their weakest positions in terms of accuracy, it at least gives some helpful context.
Russell Okung - 2016 Team: Denver Broncos
A lot has already been written about Okung and more will likely be written as the deadline to pick up his option gets closer so I won’t re-hash that here. However, I’ve been digging into the tape on Okung and hope to have a piece for ya’ll on it soon. I think we’ll find that he actually had a pretty decent season.
I think he is still our most likely option and won’t be at all surprised if he is our starting left tackle going into this year.
Ryan Clady - 2016 Team: New York Jets
I wrote about him yesterday so I won’t say much more on him here either. Just including him to be thorough. If the Broncos are counting on Ryan Clady to be the answer, something has gone horribly wrong.
Kelvin Beachum - 2016 Team: Jacksonville Jaguars
Word broke yesterday that the Jaguars do not plan to pick up Beachum’s option which would make him a free agent on March 9th. Beachum was a solid left tackle in his last two years with the Pittsburgh Steelers and signed a “prove-it” deal with the Jaguars last off season coming off an ACL tear.
Reports are that Beachum battled swelling and soreness in his repaired knee all year, which is typical after an ACL tear, especially for a lineman, so he was never fully healthy.
If his knee checks out, Beachum could be a decent option and would likely come cheaper than Russell Okung as he signed a very similar deal to Okung’s with the Jaguars, but just less per year.
Branden Albert - 2016 Team: Miami Dolphins
Albert has been on his way out of Miami since they drafted Laremy Tunsil in the first round last year. So the Dolphins saved some cap space and will be able to move to their left tackle of the future.
Connecting dots: Dolphins release LT Brandon Albert. Broncos looking for OT and HC Vance Joseph just spent past year in Miami. #9sports— Mike Klis (@MikeKlis) February 16, 2017
While Albert’s play wasn’t the best last year, Vance Joseph has first-hand experience with him, so if he signed off on him, I could see Denver kicking the tires.
Dolphins have no plans on keeping Brandon Albert. Are attempting to trade him now before officially cutting him.— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) February 16, 2017
However, news broke shortly after, that the Dolphins in fact went back on their decision to cut Albert and are now trying to trade him. I’m not a negotiating expert, but I’m pretty sure that’s the worst move you can make in terms of leverage if the team you’re trading with knows you literally cut the guy, then took it back.
Thus, I’m leaving him on the list, because I think he will get cut, for real this time, within a week or so.
Andrew Whitworth - 2016 Team: Cincinnati Bengals
Whitworth was the #2 ranked tackle last year by Pro Football Focus, and is likely the best left tackle on the market, if he hits the open market. Word is, he would like to return to the Bengals next year, despite them drafting two left tackle prospects in the 2015 draft.
It would be a very Bengals move to keep the soon to be 36 year old, while letting the talented guard, Kevin Zeitler walk.
Therein lies the other problem. Even if he ends up hitting the open market, Whitworth is likely only good for one more year, if that, so Denver would have to be actively developing a replacement left tackle and this year’s draft is pretty thin at the position.
I would like to see this happen from a win-now perspective, but doubt it will; which is likely better for Denver long-term anyway.
Joe Thomas - 2016 Team: Cleveland Browns
Yes, I’m going there. Rumors abounded that Elway almost pulled the trigger on a trade for Joe Thomas before the deadline in 2015, but Cleveland got too greedy.
Joe Thomas has been the best left tackle in the NFL since he joined the league in 2007, and yet has only ended the season over .500 once.
What a great pro bowl!! AFC wins and I double my yearly win total all in the same night!— Joe Thomas (@joethomas73) January 30, 2017
People say that Joe Thomas still insists that he doesn’t want to be traded, but he likely only has a few good years left, and Cleveland’s new regime is stockpiling picks in a full re-build mode. This would be the perfect year to test the trade waters again for a guy who would lock up our left tackle position at an elite level for the next three years. And he would cost as much as we are getting ready to pay Russell Okung.
Compensation is the only issue. What would it take to wrestle Thomas away from the worst team in the league?
Joe Staley - 2016 Team: San Francisco 49ers
If the Joe Thomas trade talks have gone Staley (thanks to Adam Malnati for that one), here’s another option to explore. Joe Staley at 32 years old is still one of the better left tackles in the league.
Rumors swirled last year that the 49ers were open to moving him, but Chip Kelly shot down those reports. However, Chip Kelly is no longer there, and the 49ers are another team in full on re-build mode. Plus, Elway has a decent relationship with the new GM for the 49ers, and San Francisco also just hired one of Elway’s scouts to be their VP of Player Personnel.
So the relationships are in place to make a negotiation amicable, and Joe Staley is on an affordable contract over the next three years at $11m, $7.7m, $7.7m cap hits respectively.
Staley would likely come cheaper than Joe Thomas, but we would still have to fork over some draft capital. I would feel fine with a second round pick.
This one is likely another long shot like the Thomas trade, but it could be a dark horse due to the relationships between the two front offices.
What are your thoughts Broncos Country? Which of these options would you want? Maybe there are some that I missed. Let me know if the comments. Let’s discuss!