The 2013 NFL Draft was historic from an offensive tackle perspective. There have been years where two or three tackles were selected in the Top 10 of the first round (most recently in 2009), but perimeter OL’s at picks one, two, and four is unheard of. Traditionally this stratus is usually reserved for the “skilled” of the college player pool; quarterbacks, defensive corners, wide receivers.
Sign of the times?
A recent national post suggested this may be a new sign of times.
“The game is changing. It has changed in the past 10 years, last five years, and in the past two years,” Kansas City Chiefs GM John Dorsey said. “You have to roll with it and make a decision that best fits your team.” Traditionally, teams have used premium picks on left tackles because of their athleticism and their blindside protection of quarterbacks. Right tackles were considered less important and less athletic. Those road-grading days may be over. Teams are burying the old thinking about right tackles and adjusting as the game becomes faster and more athletic.
Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. didn’t blink when the Chiefs took Fisher to make him a right tackle, at least for the time being. Teams are using more spread offenses and are moving toward a faster-paced passing game — hence the need for more athletic players on the offensive line. “These days with the way offense is going, you see more and more offenses wanting two athletic, bookend tackles that can push outside and block on the run,” Horton said. “I was really impressed by what the Chiefs did. I really like the Albert-Fisher combination.”
Not so fast.
Truth be told, NFL front offices have always coveted athleticism on BOTH sides of the offensive line. The entering player pool hasn’t been able to produce that level of talent to accommodate two “elite athletes” at OT for all 32 teams. Furthermore divvying up the CASH & CAP pie hasn’t allowed for Clubs to maintain two on the roster. So NFL offensive coordinators modify with size/strength to a quarterback’s front side (demanding a cheaper price), while guarding his backside with the more nimble footed player (at a higher price). Hope was, at least in theory, that the athletic OT could counter the same from the blindside rush, while the QB would handle any pressure in his line of sight with his own pocket movement. Land two “dancing bears” and you were simply downright lucky.
The new CBA has made a Top 10 investment at ANY position more palatable. Consider the 2010 NFL Draft (the last prior to the new CBA extension). The first OT selected was Trent Williams at #4. His 3 year cash average over his ROOKIE contract was a whopping $10.9M and currently places him as the 2nd highest paid at the position in the entire NFL. Flash forward to Eric Fisher. The Chief’s new “right” OT, the number one pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, will average $6.25M over the same 3 years. That equates to 20th at the offensive tackle position.
What the Chiefs have done is placed themselves atop the League with the highest average salary of both their bookends, Branden Albert being 3rd overall with his Franchise tag of $9.828M. The Eagles are in a similar situation with Jason Peters and Lane Johnson; as is Cincinnati, Jacksonville, Tennessee, San Francisco, and Minnesota. And just what might that be? Both left and right tackles in the top 32 average salaries at the position. But that leaves 25 clubs outside those parameters, and the disparity is usually massive.
The real question is what will the Chiefs do if and when they lose Branden Albert? Will they use that same cash to resign a replacement right OT (assuming Fisher moves to left) with the equivalent skills? Will they even have the opportunity through the draft or free agency to go after the kind of talent that garners such a contract? Probably not.
A lot left to prove
If the game is truly changing and no delineation is made between left and right offensive tackles, then the agents will quickly figure this out and begin to demand equal contract opportunity regardless of play side. Where will that cash come from; running backs, linebackers, defensive tackles?
I contend that one of the only ways to make the Chiefs plan work (or Philadelphia & Jacksonville’s) is by landing one of your two “elite” tackles in the Top 10 of the Draft, riding out the remaining few years of the vet OT’s contract, and replacing him with an extension to your Top 10 pick. Then best of luck finding an equally talented “left” right offensive tackle without losing 10 to 12 games in order to earn you (or perhaps your replacement) another selection in the Top 10.
The real test to this new theory of “blurred lines” between left and right offensive tackles is whether Clubs are willing to spend the type money to acquire 2 elite level OT’s entirely through free agency. Then and only then will we see if “the League is going that way”.