Tampa Bay should pass on paying San Francisco guard Mike Iupati anything close to $8 million per year. The Bucs should not think about dishing out $7 million per year for the likes of Denver offensive lineman Orlando Franklin or Green Bay right tackle Bryan Bulaga.
By most accounts, those are the top-rated offensive linemen available in free agency this year, and they will command the most money on the open market. Some desperate team will come along and overpay those decent linemen huge sums of money that they truly aren’t worth.
Just like Tampa Bay did last year with free agent offensive tackle Anthony Collins, who wasn’t worth the five-year, $30-million contract he signed that was set to pay him an average of $6 million per season.
Keep in mind that if Iupati, Franklin and Bulaga do indeed hit free agency it’s because their own teams do not believe they are worth what they are about to be paid.
Bucs general manager Jason Licht learned his lesson last year with the expensive signings of overhyped players like Collins, defensive end Michael Johnson (five years, $43.75 million) and quarterback Josh McCown (two years, $10 million), and will likely sit out the first wave of free agency while the mediocre offensive line talent available is set to cash in on ridiculous contracts.
Some Tampa Bay fans will surely howl at Licht for immediately not addressing the team’s biggest need – the offensive line – by (over)paying for the top available talent (even though it’s not very good).
These would be the same fans that got excited and applauded Licht and the Bucs last year for actually signing Collins. And they would be the same fans that now want the underwhelming left tackle cut.
Tampa Bay fans see holes on the offensive line and a plethora of salary cap room – about $34 million right now – and want action. But the Bucs have to be careful with their cap money going forward as they have to extend the contract of linebacker Lavonte David and will need to think long-term about other extensions that will be coming down the pipe for players like wide receiver Mike Evans and cornerback Johnthan Banks in the coming years.
Missing in the draft on offensive linemen is one thing, but missing on a guard or tackle and overpaying them in free agency is quite another given the millions of dollars that are dished out compared to the relatively cheap rookie deals incoming linemen receive after being drafted out of college. PewterReport.com takes a look at some of the money spent on the so-called best offensive linemen switching teams in free agency over the past two years, how much many was spent and the type of impact that they made.
Free Agent O-Linemen That Switched Teams In 2014
OT Brandon Albert – 5 years, $46 million – from Kansas City to Miami
OT Jared Veldheer – 5 years, $35 million – from Oakland to Arizona
OT Anthony Collins – 5 years, $30 million – from Cincinnati to Tampa Bay
G Zane Beadles – 5 years, $30 million – from Denver to Jacksonville
OT Austin Howard – 5 years, $30 million – from NY Jets to Oakland
OT Michael Oher – 4 years, $20 million – from Baltimore to Tennessee
OT Donald Penn – 2 years, $9.6 million – from Tampa Bay to Oakland
G Jon Asamoah – 5 years, $22.5 million – from Kansas City to Atlanta
OT Breno Giacomini – 4 years, $18 million – from Seattle to NY Jets
G Shawn Lauvao – 4 years, $17 million – from Cleveland to Washington
Collins and Oher were busts. Oher was released after one year with the Titans, and the Bucs are poised to release Collins. Tampa Bay was concerned about Albert’s back and knee injuries in free agency a year ago, and Albert proceeded to injure his knee in Miami, missing the final seven games of the year. Veldheer, Penn and Beadles were slightly above average in terms of their play, while Howard, Asamoah, Giacomini, and Lauvao were just average despite getting between $4-6 million per season.
The bottom line from the 2014 free agent class is that none of these players made the Pro Bowl or were named to the All-Pro squad with their new teams despite the millions they were paid. Only Albert (2013), Beadles (2012) and Penn (2010) had even made the Pro Bowl before. Was their return worth the investment the teams made in these expensive free agent linemen?
Four of the higher-regarded free agent offensive linemen were re-signed by their own teams last offseason, including Baltimore tackle Eugene Monroe (5 years, $37.5 million), Cleveland center Alex Mack (5 years, $42 million), St. Louis guard Rodger Saffold (5 years, $31.7 million) and New Orleans tackle Zach Strief (5 years, $20.5 million).
Free Agent O-Linemen That Switched Teams In 2013
OT Jake Long – 4 years, $34 million – from Miami to St. Louis
G Andy Levitre – 6 years, $46.8 million – from Buffalo to Tennessee
OT Jermon Bushrod – 5 years, $35.965 million – from New Orleans to Chicago
OT Gosder Cherilus – 5 years, $34.5 million – from Detroit to Indianapolis
G Louis Vasquez – 4 years, $23.5 million – from San Diego to Denver
G Geoff Schwartz – 4 years, $16.8 million – from Kansas City to NY Giants
G Donald Thomas – 4 years, $14 million – from New England to Indianapolis
The only Pro Bowlers from this group from their prior teams were Long (2011 in Miami) and Bushrod (2011, 2012 in New Orleans), but neither earned that distinction with their new teams in either 2013 or ‘14. However, Vasquez did make the Pro Bowl with Denver in 2013 after leaving San Diego.
Despite getting paid an average of nearly $8 million, Levitre has never made the Pro Bowl in his entire career – either in Buffalo or Tennessee. Thomas tore his quadriceps in the second game of the Colts’ 2013 season and re-tore it prior to the 2014 campaign, missing all of last year.
The 2013 offseason saw Denver re-sign Pro Bowl tackle Ryan Clady (5 years, $52.5 million), the New York Giants re-sign tackle Will Beatty (5 years, $37.5 million), Atlanta retain tackle Sam Baker (6 years, $41.1 million), Cincinnati re-sign tackle Andre Smith (3 years, $18 million), Minnesota re-up tackle Phil Loadholt (4 years, $25 million) and New England re-sign tackle Sebastian Vollmer (4 years, $17 million).
For teams like the Buccaneers that need offensive line help the best and most proven way to get them is to draft them and develop them. Of course, Tampa Bay has struggled with that in the past with the likes of the following linemen drafted by the team over the past decade:
Tampa Bay’s O-Linemen Acquired Via The Draft
OT Chris Colmer – third round, 2005
G Dan Buenning – fourth round, 2005
G Davin Joseph – first round, 2006
OT Jeremy Trueblood – second round, 2006
G Arron Sears – second round, 2007
OT Chris Denman – seventh round, 2007
G Jeremy Zuttah – third round, 2008
OT Xavier Fulton – fourth round, 2009
G Kadeem Edwards – fifth round, 2014
OT Kevin Pamphile – fifth round, 2014
Only Joseph made the Pro Bowl (2008, 2011) out of the 10 offensive linemen Tampa Bay has drafted over the last 10 years. The most notable item is the fact that the Bucs drafted just one offensive lineman – Fulton – during former general manager Mark Dominik’s tenure. Prior to Licht drafting Edwards and Pamphile in the fifth round last year, the Bucs had drafted just one offensive lineman in the previous five years.
That’s a pretty strong reason why the cupboard is relatively bare in Tampa Bay along the offensive line. There has been no draft and development with the Buccaneers at that position outside of offensive tackle Demar Dotson, an undrafted free agent Dominik discovered in 2009.
Signing notable offensive linemen in free agency is often expensive and doesn’t typically produce the desired results for the new team. The Bucs have whiffed on several high-priced offensive linemen in free agency in years past, including tackle Derrick Deese and guard Todd Steussie in 2004, tackle Luke Petitgout in 2007, guard Carl Nicks in 2012 and Collins last year, while finding modest success with centers John Wade and Jeff Faine in 2003 and 2008, respectively.
The Bucs have to go back to the early 2000s to find any real success in free agency along the offensive line, as they did with center Jeff Christy and guard Randall McDaniel in 2000, and tackle Roman Oben and guard Kerry Jenkins in 2002.
Drafting and development – not free agency – is the proven method for building a successful offensive line. Look no further than Dallas, which had the best offensive line in the NFL last year. Left tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin were all Cowboys’ first-round picks and all made the Pro Bowl last year, while right tackle Doug Free, who was recently re-signed to a three-year deal, was a previous fourth-round pick by Dallas.
The ultimate proof that the top offensive line talent doesn’t come from free agency is the fact that 15 out of the 16 offensive linemen that made the Pro Bowl this past year were drafted by their respective teams. The only one who wasn’t, Philadelphia tackle Jason Peters, was acquired via a trade from Buffalo, rather than free agency.
Adding a value-priced free agent like Dallas reserve tackle Jeremy Parnell, a fifth-year pro, to a modest contract would likely help the Buccaneers this year. But after selecting a quarterback in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft – likely Florida State’s Jameis Winston – the team would be wise to pick a couple of offensive linemen to man the right guard and right tackle positions in Tampa Bay. Drafting and developing offensive linemen is the proven way to go in the NFL.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com
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