For those of us who are watching NFL Free Agency still and wondering if our teams are going to solve that gaping hole at right tackle it seems odd that so many talented players at the position continue to sit on the market. Is Andre Smith really not worth paying? If the Bengals who “have more cap space than the GDP of some small countries” don’t want to re-sign him, what’s wrong with him? Why is Tyson Clabo still on the market despite reported interest? How is it that Eric Winston is cut and lingers on the market but Gosder Cherilus proved he is worth being picked up immediately?
All of these questions make this year’s free agency period incredibly odd. Right tackle is by no means a premium position (Cherilus signed a $7 million dollar contract this free agency period) but it is still a crucial position that dictates how the run game performs and can still be an important factor in pass protection. You need look no further than the Jacksonville Jaguars to see how detrimental it can be to have a rotating door of players acting as a sieve to decimate one of the better running attacks in the NFL.
So, what is up with right tackle?
It appears that there is a consensus among NFL front offices that right tackle simply isn’t worth investing in anymore. For those players that can’t play left tackle and are shifted over, that’s a tough break. Players like Doug Free are unlikely to make nearly as much money after shifting to the right side. Having an “L” in front of the “T” is simply more valuable in this quarterback-driven league.
In order to “get by” (as if making $7 million is just getting by) a right tackle needs to be the complete package. Perhaps the best example of this is Tyson Clabo, recently released by the Atlanta Falcons. Clabo has been incredibly consistent during his time in the NFL. He consistently ranks among the best right tackles in the NFL, he’s a workhorse, and he shows that he can be dependable and a team player. That’s pretty much all you look for in a guy who acts as 1/5 of an offensive line unit. He is a strong link at the other end of the chain from the left tackle. Because of this he is getting immediate interest from the Dallas Cowboys and the Jaguars.
Those that aren’t the complete package, like Andre Smith, have had some mediocre to poor years in their time on the gridiron. Coming off a year being the best right tackle in the league, Smith has some poor years that act as red flags which teams lookign to sign him seem to be wary of. Handgun possession at an airport (just check it, man!) outside of Montana is a big no-no and since the Plaxico Burress debacle a lot of teams will steer clear of players with gun-related incidents. Smith’s red flags, despite a great year, are just too much. The fact that he was the best right tackle of the 2012 season and can’t be signed, no matter the reason, seems to have put a damper on right tackle on the whole.
Neil Hornsby of Pro Football Focus thinks that right tackle and left tackle have now become two separate positions entirely. While some left tackles can effectively play on the right side, not many right tackles can play on the left. Left tackles have simply become more valuable.
Because there is less importance placed on right tackle I think a lot of teams are waiting until the NFL Draft, where they can snag a right tackle for cheap in a deep draft class, to see if they can fill their need. If the need isn’t met in the draft, players like Winston and maybe even Clabo will still be available on the free agent market. It’s a tough year to be a right tackle because of the depth of the draft class and the continued minimization of the position’s value. As Hornsby notes, “Mammas don’t let your babies grow up to be right tackles.”
– Luke N. Sims