So, I started this post out as an 'offseason' post, but realized it was getting WAY too long for anyone to finish. So, since OL is really the only position that I see major changes, I'm going to try to keep it manageable. Let me begin with saying that I thought that our pass blocking was decent in 2013 with the exception of some very untimely mistakes that were highly visible (Buffalo Rd1, Clabo). However, I think the volume of sacks needs to share some blame w/ RT17 who had several arm tackles he needs to break going forward, and also hung in the pocket too long at times with perfectly good escape lanes. Our run blocking was the major issue IMO. Martin, McKinnie, Garner, and Jerry were all well below average run blockers. Clabo and Brenner were good run blockers, but struggled in pass pro.
When the offseason was nearing and I saw people saying that we needed to replace 4/5 of the OL, I scoffed. OL requires continuity. I thought that was WAY too much change. However, the more I looked into it.. Only 2 of our 'key' OL are under contract, and one of those (Martin) has some mental issues and will not be with the team one way or another. Our other 3 projected starters heading into 2013 (Incognito, Jerry, and Clabo) were all scheduled to be FAs. Throw in that one of the main replacements (McKinnie) isalso up for FA. So, from a financial standpoint, there's really not much difference in whether we try to bring back some of our guys, or start completely fresh. And from a continuity standpoint, the more I think about it - can our run blocking be any less cohesive than it was last year?? So here's the options i'm laying out:
LT - The lazy/cheap choice would be to bring McKinnie back. I'm not opposed to this. He can handle pass pro on his own (in most cases) and that's definitely an asset in the NFL. But he's not athletic enough to run block in a zone scheme even when the effort is there (and it's not always) and he plays way too high to be effective in a power run scheme. The expensive choice would be to sign Branden Albert. Apparently there's interest and personal ties are there, but he's going to be expensive and I need to watch tape to see if I even like him. Even if I do, I would want him for less than Jake Long got, and I'm not sure if that's realistic in an open market. A mid-range FA option would be Anthony Collins. He's basically a younger more athletic version of McKinnie. Pass pro is very good, but run blocking is not. Another option would be a LT in the draft. If i'm getting a starting LT in the draft, I'm doing it in the 1st round. Some initial names to throw out there are Robinson (Auburn), Moses (UVA), and Lewan (Mich).
LG - I find the best FA guard and sign him. Period. Guard is a comparatively cheap position. Go get the best one out there. I'm not sure who that is yet (maybe Schwartz). But we need to reduce risk as much as possible during this overhaul and the most economical way to do that is to get a guard that you can plug in from day 1 and know that he is the answer.
C - Pouncey obviously returns. But we need an eye on the future, he's up for contract next year, and I'm not sure I'm sold on him. He's super athletic but struggles vs. power like Wilfork, Dareus, and whoever the Jets throw out there (they always have someone good in the middle). I'd love for him to return, but I'm not breaking the bank for him.
RG - This is where I let the competition play out. Garner is a very versatile player who can be a stopgap. Brenner was good in run blocking - particularly on the move, but needs to improve his strength anchoring in pass pro. Since he's a rookie, the potential is certainly there. Jerry (if he can be resigned cheap) has been serviceable for several years and can be included in this competition. I was high enough on Dallas Thomas as a G in the 2013 draft that would like to see him get another crack at it rather than starting out at tackle like he did last year. I might even draft an OG in the mid-rounds (Vandy LT would be my choice as of today). Hopefully ONE of these guys can break out of the pack and become a good starter
RT - If we go with a vet (McKinnie, Albert, Collins) at LT, then I draft a RT, probably in the 2nd. This draft is strong in OTs, and I think we can get a day 1 starter in the 2nd round. If we draft a LT, then I go mid-range FA here. I need to do more research.. but I'd be looking for something similar to what we did w/ Clabo, even though that was a failure for the 1st half of the season.
So with this setup, we're going to put big investments in a guard, and maybe Albert. We're going to have at least 1 rookie starter, but no more than 2 rookie starters. I think this approach gets us young enough to put together a line that can gel as we move forward, but doesn't depend on a ton of guys that haven't played in the NFL, and it doesn't break the bank and prohibit us from building up the roster in other places.
Let me know what you think.