2011 Free Agents: Offensive Tackle

Not on is the offensive line a position group the Seahawks need to improve, it’s also the reason I wanted to write this series of articles in the first place, starting today with the offensive tackle position.  The team’s left tackle will be Russell Okung, but the right tackle for 2011 is not so clear.  The starting RT in 2010, Sean Locklear, is currently a free agent and will either be re-signed at a reduced salary (I hope) or move on to another team.  But regardless of how that works out, I think that it’s fair to say that we have a need at right tackle, plus the injuries to Okung last season showed us that the team lacks depth at the tackle position.  The Seahawks need to draft a tackle, sign a few in free agency, or both.

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I knew coming in to this article that Tom Cable had a history with Alex Gibbs, but what I didn’t know was whether or not they favored different types of linemen.  Did Cable prefer his linemen to be bigger?  Gibbs was notorious for wanting his players to fit a very specific size and build — his guards averaged 289 lbs, and his tackles averaged 313 lbs.  That differs from Pete Carroll’s ideal, as he seems to want bigger linemen who will match up against the larger defensive linemen in the 3-4 schemes that are popular around the league.  That difference in opinion leads us in to some potentiall interesting territory.  The Hawks ahve made 300 roster moves since Carroll and John Schneider took over the Hawks, and the o-line was no exception.  Would the hiring of Cable mean the team would be starting over in terms of its o-line personnel to fit Cable’s needs?  After some searching, I found the answer in a sound bite from an interview with Schneider at this year’s Combine:

Coach Gibbs liked a little bit lighter player, and Tom is willing to play with a bigger man.  So, as we’re putting our board together, that helps us.

This tells me that not only is Cable more than willing to be flexible in the size and type of lineman he wants, but also that we probably see bigger players running the zone blocking scheme next year.  Under Gibbs, the desire for smaller, more athletic linemen was a bonus from a personnel perspective because most NFL teams don’t want smaller players on their offensive line.  As a result, the team would have been able to wait until the later rounds to pick up linemen, leaving them free to use their high-round choices on other positions.  If Cable is going to use larger bodies on his line, he’s still going to need them to be fairly athletic, and those two qualities are difficult to find outside of expensive, high-round draft picks.

Another aspect of the zone-blocking scheme that doesn’t get talked about much is the intelligence required to run it effectively.  The team will need players who are able to diagnose and dissect blitz schemes as well as any QB.  And you always want your linemen to have mean streaks; Mora’s infamous “We need dirtbags” quote comes readily to mind here. 

If you see a player on this list and I spend time discussing him, it’s because they fit a lot of the criteria I just listed.  Marcus McNeil is a player a lot of Seahawks fans were begging the team to pick up last offseason, but he isn’t the type of lineman we’re looking for.  McNeil is an excellent player, but the player has to fit the scheme just as much as the scheme has to fit the player.  One of the best parts of having Cable as our o-line coach is that a lot of his linemen in Oakland are going to be free agents this year.  If we can bring in a few and combine them with the talent already on the roster, the Seahawks will be off to a great start.  Now on to the list:

Tyson Clabo (ATL)

29 years old, 6’6″, 331 lbs
Seeing as how he’s been a dominant, run-blocking, pro-bowler right tackle for Atlanta, Clabo is a dirtbag in a very good way.  He’s primarily a run-blocker, which Lynch and Forsett would appreciate, but he’s developed into a steady pass blocker as well.  Clabo started his career in Denver as an undrafted free agent back in 2004, then was waived and picked up by the Giants for their practice squad.  Finally he ended up with the Falcons, where he seemed to flourish in 2005.  He was coached by Gibbs from ’05 – ’06 and by Cable in ’06 so he’s already familiar with the system Cable will be implementing.  Clabo is a little older than I’d prefer, but he should still have three to four years of quality playing time left in his tank.

Jammal Brown (WAS)

29 years old, 6’6″, 313 lbs

Brown has seen time as a starter at both tackle positions, first as a right and then left tackle for the Saints, and last year as a right tackle again for the Redskins.  He played injured last year, but still showed a lot of ability and comfort on the right side of the line.  Signing Brown would work well for the Hawks — not only would they get a potentially good right tackle, but also one who is comfortable enough playing on the left side of the line to serve double duty as a backup to Okung.  The Redskins run a zone-blocking scheme, so Brown has experience in the system.  Oh, and did I mention that he has two pro bowls (one of them all-pro) under his belt?  Just like with Clabo, we should be able to get three or four dependable years of service out of him before age starts to catch up.

Mario Henderson (OAK)

26 years old, 6’7″, 300 lbs
 Henderson was drafted in the third round (91st overall) of the 2007 draft by the Raiders.  Tom Cable was serving as offensive line coach that year, and while I assume that he had some input into what type of lineman he wanted out of the draft, this is the Raiders we’re talking about here.  Did the coaches and scouts all buy in as a group on this selection, or did Al Davis pick him by throwing a dart at the draft board?  It’s hard to know what goes on in wacky Davis/Raider world.  There are a few sites out there declaring Henderson to be a bust, but there’s always a chance that a change of scenery would boost his production on the field.  Either way, he should be cheap to sign as depth.  If he figures out how to play better, then sweet, but if he continues to struggle the team can always cut its losses and move on.

Khalif Barnes (OAK)

28 years old, 6’5″, 325 lbs
Barnes doesn’t have a long history with Cable (he joined the Raiders in 2009), but he was picked up by the Raiders for a reason.  I think that he is very similar to Clabo in that they both are larger RT who thrive on run blocking.  Barnes is a bigger RT who understands how to play in a zone blocking scheme.

Rashad Butler (HOU)

28 years old, 6’4″, 307 lbs
Butler was considered a project coming out of Miami due to his being too light.  Later it was discovered that he suffer from ulcerative colitis, which was the reason that he wasn’t able to gain much weight.  Butler joined the Texans in Alex Gibbs’ first year in Houston, which means he was taught zone-blocking by the master.  He isn’t as big as some of the other players we’ve discussed, but he is familiar with the scheme the Hawks will be running with Cable.

Stephon Heyer (WAS)

27 years old, 6’6″, 320 lbs
Heyer started 28 games for the Skins before being pushed out of the lineup after Trent Williams was drafted last year.  He would be good depth.

Sean Locklear (SEA)

29 years old, 6’4″, 310 lbs
For Seattle fans, Locklear is a lot like religion and politics: any time he’s discussed, strong emotions are sure to follow.  We’ve all read (or written) a lot of comments about how Locklear should be thrown out of the state as soon as possible, but for this evaluation I’ve tried not to let my feelings on the matter get the best of me.

I think that Locklear should be brought back, but not as a starter.  Ruskell gave him a huge contract he didn’t deserve, but if he’s willing to agree to a more reasonable price he could kept around as depth for the line until the until the team can build the quality of its o-line personnel back up.  Again, I know we’d all like to see him go away, but right now we don’t have much in the way of decent, proven, replacement-quality depth.  If he does return, it should be with the understanding that he will be competing for his roster spot every day, which shouldn’t be hard to get across since the fact that he is without a contract right now should already be telling him something.

Ryan Harris (DEN)

26 years old, 6’5″, 300 lbs
Harris is a solid tackle who excels in zone-blocking schemes. He wasn’t at his best in Josh McDaniels’ offense, but could raise his level of play in the right system. He’s also only 26, so his stock should be solid.  He was also a teammate of John Carlson’s at Notre Dame, which could be a selling point during free agency.

Matt Light (NE)

32 years old, 6’4″, 305 lbs
At age 32, :Light is too old to consider as a solution to the Seahawks’ line issues.  We would all like to see the Hawks pursue someone still in their mid-20s so that the offensive line can be built into a cohesive unit and play next to each other for years.

Other Notable Free Agents (who don’t have experience in the zone-blocking scheme):
Doug Free (DAL)
Jared Gaither (BAL)
Jermon Bushrod (NO)
Willie Colon (PIT)
Alex Barron (DAL)
Corey Hilliard (DET)
Charlie Johnson (IND)
Ryan O’Callaghan (KC)
Pat McQuistan (MIA)
Ryan Cook (MIN)
Zach Strief (NO)
Wayne Hunter (NYJ)
Trai Essex (PIT)
Jonathan Scott (PIT)
Jeromey Clary (SD)
Barry Sims (SF)
Adam Goldberg (STL)
John Greco (STL)
Jeremy Trueblood (TB)

In conclusion, even if the Seahawks draft a right tackle of the future, I would love to see them both re-sign Sean Locklear and bring in a quality free agent or two as added depth.  We’ve had a turnstile at both tackle positions the last few seasons, and we need to get that under control if this team is going to have any chance of running the football effectively or providing adequate protection for the quarterback.  Tom Cable has been brought in to stabilize and improve the offensive line’s play, which has been a sore point for years now.  He is going to want to put his own stamp on the unit, which means among other things that we can expect to see new linemen added to the roster.  It’s just a matter of who and when.

(As before, thanks goes out to Football’s Future for the free agent list).