It happens every year. I grind it out, writing, trying to figure out how 32 lineups will look, crunch all the grades, and turn in my lovingly crafted article to the editors. It gets published.
And then, seemingly minutes later, a bunch of offensive line news breaks! Every. Single. Year.
Usually we wait until training camp to update the offensive line grades but there are major updates to three lineups, and a grab bag of more minor news to cover. Let's get to it:
San Francisco RT Anthony Davis has retireD
Citing concussions and a concern for his future, Niners' right tackle Anthony Davis announced his retirement. In a carefully worded statement, Davis seemed to imply that he would be open to returning to the game after a year or two, and in that scenario the Niners would still hold his rights. A former first round pick, Davis was never an elite player but he was above average, and could be counted upon to be a solid run blocker when healthy. In his place, it is not entirely clear what the team will do. At this point there are three, maybe four, options for the Niners: They could start recently acquired Erik Pears, who was the Buffalo Bills' starting right tackle prior to 2014. They could start Trenton Brown, the gigantic (360+ pound) late round rookie out of Florida. They could bump stud right guard Alex Boone out to right tackle. Or they could even take a look at Clemson left tackle Isaiah Battle in the July 9 Supplemental Draft. Out of all those options the most likely is the veteran Erik Pears getting the first shot. But the lineup that gets the best players on the field would be shifting Alex Boone out from guard to tackle. That is the lineup I feel most comfortable projecting currently, and should it play out that way, the Niners' line would remain at 12th overall. With Pears, Brown or even Battle in the lineup, the model would likely drop them further. There is a scenario where Trenton Brown steps up and makes everyone forget about other options, and it's a non-zero chance. The coaching staff likes him. However in general the rankings do not like starting rookies, even first rounders, as history has proven these players usually need a year or two to season before being actually ready for work in the NFL trenches. Brown, with his notorious conditioning issues, could need that extra year or two more than most.
Denver lost LT Ryan Clady for the year with a torn ACL
Ryan Clady tore his ACL during organized team activities and has been placed on injured reserve for the entire season. Clady is actually underrated by most casual fans, but not to the league insiders, as he made his fourth Pro Bowl last season. Clady has been a cornerstone for that line for many seasons, and his prescence protecting Peyton Manning's blindside will certainly be missed. How will the Broncos' move forward? Well the Footballguys' very own Cecil Lammey has been covering the Broncos as a beat writer for several seasons. For the latest on this team, I usually defer to his impeccable research. In his latest "state of the union" article, Lammey emphasizes the promotion of Rick Dennison to offensive coordinator. Dennison will introduce a change of philosophy from man to zone blocking schemes, and that could help the team overcome the loss of Clady. As Lammey notes, right tackle Chris Clark is a finesse player and should be more comfortable in a zone scheme. Rookie left tackle Ty Sambrailo (who will get the first shot at replacing Clady) spent his entire college career in this scheme and he should be comfortable executing these concepts in the pros. However there's no good way to spin the replacement of a multiple Pro Bowl left tackle with a true rookie.Teams will target this player early in the season and the Broncos could plan on keeping tight end Virgil Green in as a blocker to help Sambrailo. While there are some silver linings in this news, overall, the Broncos' line plunges to 27th overall in the offensive line rankings. To lose a player like Clady, it's just not good news.
Philadelphia cut LG Evan Mathis, signed John Moffitt
The Eagles released All-Pro left guard Evan Mathis recently and this isn't an improvement for the line. In our latest rankings the Birds drop from 1st overall to 5th. Not a huge drop as the tackles and center are still excellent players. Replacing Mathis is going to be tricky. The Eagles have not drafted an offensive lineman in two seasons, and with the departure of Todd Herremans, there will be two new guard starters this season. We can talk about the true market value of Mathis (and it is telling that he is still on the market, a couple weeks after his release) but the problem for the Eagles is they don't have a coherent plan for replacing this player. It is assumed that Allen Barbre (who missed most of last season with injury) will man the left guard spot. Barbre has played well as a spot starter in the past and that should be decent. But that leaves a free-for-all at right guard, with Matt Tobin getting the initial edge over Dennis Kelly and Andrew Gardner. Tobin (originally out of Iowa) was showing well in 2014 preseason before injuries sent him to the training room. But none of these guards are proven options.
The team knows this and has brought in John Moffitt, a former third round pick who retired from football before last season dealing with injuries and "personal issues." These issues were not completely detailed to the media but they were the type to send him to a lengthy stay in a substance abuse rehab facility. Moffitt is an interesting player on paper but he hasn't been in football for a while. His knee could still be an issue (he once failed a physical that would have traded him to Cleveland), and it's not certain that he will make the roster, let alone start. Still he does have almost 20 games of starting experience on his resume, more than Tobin and Barbre combined. It is feasible he could be the starter but for now it's probably safer to pencil in Tobin. Whoever starts, overall this is a small (but significant) four slot drop for the Eagles' line. At five overall, the Eagles are still a very good offensive line but can no longer be considered elite. (Baltimore will be the new number one, for those interested in such matters, with Dallas close behind at number two overall).
WHAT's NEXT FOR EVAN MATHIS?
There are Eagles fans claiming that because Mathis is still available, two weeks after he was cut in June, it's a sign that the team did the right thing and he wasn't worth his salary. That might be true. It also might be the case that teams are basically maxed out on cap space after the draft and free agency. Had Mathis been released in the winter, it's an entirely different market. Mathis is reportedly looking for 5 million dollars per season, and it might stretch into preseason before he finds his new team. What team will that be? Without the foreknowledge of injuries, the most likely destinations are Miami, who are unsure about their guard situation and reportedly tried to trade for this player during the draft, or San Francisco, who lost Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis and are reportedly shifting to a zone scheme which fits Mathis better. There aren't many teams with the cap space remaining to pay his price, but these two could make it happen. As a darkhorse, the New York Giants could look at this player as a way to overcome the loss of Beatty early in the season (and possibly stick it to their NFC East rivals). When Mathis signs, look for that team to rise in the rankings.
NO - With no sign of first round pick Andrus Peat at guard, the team appears to be set on promoting Tim Lelito to start in place of the departed Ben Grubbs. The coaching staff are fans of Lelito and there is no downgrade in the Saints' 6th overall ranking at this time. Peat would likely be on the bench, in the swing tackle role.
BUF - Cyrus Kouandijo is getting more reps at right tackle than Seantrel Henderson. Some sources have Henderson in Rex Ryan's dog house after missing a mandatory practice. But others report that Henderson is being groomed for left tackle, and could displace Cordy Glenn. In related news, the team could cut Chris Williams, and start John Miller and Ritchie Incognito at guard. No change in their grade at this time.
ATL - Left tackle Sam Baker was released by Falcons. Lamar Holmes suffered a broken foot but should be fine for the start of the season. The team is reportedly very interested in Clemson OT Isaiah Battle and could use a late round pick on him in the Supplemental Draft.
NYJ - Practice squad tackle Brent Qvale (formerly of Nebraska) getting first team right guard reps with Jets, and could be a long shot for that position, or more likely, a swing tackle role. The new coaching staff is evaluating all the players from a fresh slate and they seem to really like Qvale. The team also signed Charles Brown, who will also compete for that swing tackle position.
CHI - All Pro guard Kyle Long was moved to tackle during OTA. This is probably for the future as Long is a gifted athlete who could be moved to tackle at some point.
DET - Center Travis Swanson is keeping Manny Ramirez on the bench. Cornelius Lucas is taking first team right tackle reps over LaAdrian Waddle. These changes constitute a small downgrade (one slot to 28th overall).
SEA - Center Lemuel Jeanpierre is leading a competition with former practice squader Drew Nowak for the starting job. Patrick Lewis and Kristjan Sokoli are also in the mix.
KC - Laurent Duvarney-Tardif (also known as LDT) saw some first team RG in minicamp. At center, Eric Kush is holding off Mitch Morse for now.
TEN - Titans signed Fernando Velasco for center depth.
OAK - J'Marcus Webb is pushing Khalif Barnes for right guard.
As usual, if you have a question about a team not specifically talked about in this article, please feel free to contact me via twitter or in the Shark Pool.