FanPost

Numbers Can't Lie: Keeping Carey

There's been some good discussion around the site the last few days regarding Vernon Carey's impending free agency.  I'd like to flesh that out a bit more by looking at exactly what we have in Carey as compared to our options in free agency and the draft.

I think Carey has taken some unjustified flak from some writers I've seen on the web for not being as visually dominant as they believe he should be.  They've watched the tape and they've concluded that Vernon simply doesn't do a good enough job blowing his man off the ball or generally acting like the mauler his frame and physical abilities would presuppose him to be.  And those observations are certainly correct on more plays than I'd like, but his inability to visually wow us with his run blocking should not cloud the fact that he is an upper echelon right tackle in this league, and our lack of rushing success this season is much more a factor of the middle three linemen than the bookends.

What We Have in Vernon

Here's what the numbers say about Carey.  I'm excluding his rookie season since Dave Wannstedt inexplicably chose to go with John St. Clair over Carey for much of that year.

 

GS

ALY

Rank

Sack

Rate

2005 (RT)

14

4.21

15

3

0.5%

2006 (RT)

16

4.76

2

5.5

0.9%

2007 (LT)

16

5.05

4

3

0.5%

2008 (RT)

16

4.51

9

4.5

0.9%

As far as perspective goes when it comes to sack rates (sacks allowed divided by total passes), in general, anything over 1% is not good.  Both Carey's raw allowed sack totals and his sack rate show him to be a perfectly adequate pass protector.  He isn't killing this team out on the end.

The run-blocking is what I'm more interested in, partly because that's where Carey has been most criticized, but also because this team needs to really improve its power running game.

So how does he stack up in that department?  Well, the numbers show that he is a top-shelf run-blocking tackle, having always placed in the top half of the league in terms of Adjusted Line Yards and only once falling outside of the top ten.  Suffice to say, he may not look dominant when he's grinding it out in the running game, but the production that the running game has found behind him has certainly been outstanding.  And that's what's most important to me.

The other important thing to garner from those numbers?  This team will be hard pressed to find another starting tackle with Carey's durability.  He's played in every game over the past four seasons and started all but two of them.  It's easy to take for granted the kind of security we have with Carey locked in as one of our starters.

Line cohesion is another aspect of offensive line play that I think goes overlooked far too often.  There certainly is something to be said for keeping a similar group of guys together from year to year rather than constantly switching players year in and year out.

What We Have for Options

So if the front office ultimately decides against using the franchise tag on Vernon and can't agree to a long-term contract, what options are available?

The current roster boasts three backups who can play right tackle - Nate Garner, Brandon Frye, and Ikechuku Ndukwe.  I don't know about you, but I'll pass on going into training camp with one of those guys as the starting RT.

Free agency presents the most options.  I'm going to use Scout.com's free agent rankings in order to cut down the list to those players who are more or less of Carey's caliber or better.  These rankings are just one organization's opinions, but for the simple purposes of this article, they do a fine job.

They have Carey listed as a three star free agent, so I'll be looking at any other player who is three stars or better.  That leaves us with 9 players: Jordan Gross, Marvel Smith, Mark Tauscher, Jon Runyan, Tra Thomas, Stacy Andrews, Khalif Barnes, Willie Colon, and Tyson Clabo.

Right off the bat, I'm scratching Clabo and Colon off the list, as they are restricted free agents and would require the investment of both high draft picks and a hefty contract.  Gone too are Runyan and Thomas for being 35 and 34 years old respectively.  This team doesn't need a broken down player on his last legs to come in on a sizeable contract and be little more than a stopgap.  We need to find long term solutions now, not a few years from now.

As for Tauscher, he's 31 years old and trying to come back from an ACL tear that happened very late in the season.  Likewise, Marvel Smith is 30 years old and coming off a season in which he appeared in a mere five games due to serious back problems.  Cross both of those guys off my list.  Stacy Andrews is also trying to make his way back from a torn ACL suffered late in December.  However, he's still only 27 years old and has a lot of potential.

So that ultimately leaves three viable options in free agency that could take over as the starting RT - Jordan Gross, Stacy Andrews, and Khalif Barnes.

Omar Kelly reported that Carey is looking for a deal worth more than $20 million.  I'm just throwing numbers out there, but I think something in the range of 4 years/$22-25 million would be reasonable for Carey.  That averages out to between $5.5-6 million a year.  While Jordan Gross is the best tackle on the market and would be an upgrade over Carey, he made $7.5 million this past season.  He's likely going to want at least that yearly rate from his new team.  Is he that much better than Carey, that the team should shell out another ~$8 million over the next four years?  I'm not convinced that it would be worth it.

Stacy Andrews has the obvious injury issue, but he is intriguing because he is certainly going to come at a sharply reduced price.  If Miami decided to take a flyer on him, they would be wise to use one of their first day draft picks on a player who could step in at RT if Andrews' recovery stalled.  A combo player like Duke Robinson would be a perfect match in that scenario, as he can play both guard and tackle, so if Andrews fully recovered, Robinson would still be able to push for a starting job on the interior.

As for Barnes, well, he doesn't excite me all that much.  He'll probably be cheaper than Carey, but as they say, you get what you pay for.  He's very inconsistent and the coaching staff in Jacksonville never seemed all that happy with him.  Miami could do worse in free agency than getting Barnes, but they have the ability to avoid that scenario altogether simply by re-signing Vernon.

Finally, there's the draft.  I'm not even going to get into specific players here (other than my Andrews/Robinson contingency plan) because using a first-day pick to supplant Carey makes little sense to me at this moment.  With Carey, the RT position is set in stone.  He's young, he's well above average, he starts every game, and he adds cohesion to the line.  To get all that, Miami will need to make an investment of cash only (albeit a hefty chunk of it, but deserved).  Choosing not to re-sign him simply creates a huge hole, to be added to several other huge holes on the roster requiring immediate attention.  Miami can't fix its WR hole by re-signing a stud player.  Likewise, Miami can't fix its need for a playmaking inside linebacker by re-signing Channing Crowder.  These holes require the investment of draft picks.

This team already has very specific needs to address with its first three picks in the draft.  Trying to replace Carey through the draft just creates one more, thus ensuring that one less need can be met with one of those first three picks.

Conclusion

While it is clear that there are better options available than Vernon Carey when it comes strictly to projected performance in the 2009 season, there are so many other factors weighing in that seem to push Carey forward as the best option available.

We need to keep in mind age, durability, fiscal demands, and draft pick investments as well.  When all of that is taken into account, it's hard to see why Miami would choose to let Carey go.

 

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Phinsider's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of The Phinsider writers or editors.

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