2014 NFL Free Agents: Highlighting Top Offensive Line Help
There are four teams remaining in the hunt for the NFL championship this postseason.
For the other 28 teams, it is officially time to begin planning for next season. These franchises will look to upgrade the talent on their current rosters in free agency and in the draft in order to make a stronger push in 2014.
With the new league year, and free agency, set to begin on March 11, you can be assured that teams have already begun the process of evaluating the talent expected to be available in the pending free-agent pool.
For many of these teams, especially the offensive-minded ones, player evaluations begin with the big boys up front.
Here is a look at some of the top offensive linemen who are scheduled to hit the open market in free agency. The list is based on players who have wrapped up, or are in the process of wrapping up, the final year of their contracts, though some may be offered extensions in the coming weeks.
OT, Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs selected Central Michigan tackle Eric Fisher first overall in last year's draft, but were not forced to thrust him into the role of left tackle due to the presence of six-year veteran Branden Albert.
After being given the Chiefs' franchise tag, Albert started 12 games in 2013 and was named to the Pro Bowl for his efforts. Albert was ranked as the 11th-best pass-blocking tackle by Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Albert has spent all six of his NFL seasons in Kansas City and has appeared in 85 games overall with 83 starts. At 6'5" and 316 pounds, he is a physical tackle with the poise to hold up against savvy pass-rushers and has the strength to add a little punch to a team's rushing attack.
At just 29 years old, Albert has plenty of football ahead of him and should be one of the most heavily coveted free agents available, assuming the Chiefs do not make a bid to retain him.
G, New York Giants
At 30 years old, New York Giants guard Kevin Boothe is probably looking at his last opportunity for a long-term deal with his current team, but he still has enough tread left on his tires to interest other teams on the open market.
Thanks to a combination of winning experience and reliability, the eight-year veteran is likely to find a team willing to provide him an opportunity.
The 6'5", 320-pound interior lineman is a two-time Super Bowl champion and has appeared in every game for the Giants over the past three seasons.
Booth's biggest asset is his versatility. He has started 42 consecutive games for New York and has filled in at both guard positions and at center.
C, Cleveland Browns
Though he has never had the benefit of working with a top-flight quarterback, Cleveland Browns center Alex Mack has remained one of the top players at his position since entering the league in 2009.
The 6'4", 311-pound former Cal standout is scheduled to make his second Pro Bowl appearance in a couple of weeks, which should give interested teams one last chance to view the skills he brings to the field.
In 2013, Mack was ranked fourth overall among centers by Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
What teams should not question is Mack's toughness and consistency. He has never missed a game in his five-year NFL career, starting all 80 games for the Browns along the way.
In 2011, Mack played through appendicitis, underwent an appendectomy during the team's bye week and returned to start the next game.
G, Kansas City Chiefs
After a rocky two-year stretch that included a season on injured reserve and a backup role with the Minnesota Vikings, Geoff Schwartz found a way to reemerge with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013.
By the end of the season, Schwartz had earned the starting guard job over Jon Asamoah, another pending free agent. Schwartz started five of the Chiefs' final six games and started their playoff matchup against the Indianapolis Colts.
Schwartz is likely to draw interest due to his presence on the league's 10th-best rushing team, which averaged 128.5 yards per game, and because of his mammoth size. Schwartz was rated the 14th-best run-blocker among guards by Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
At 6'6" and 340 pounds, Schwartz is one of the bigger linemen available and should be an asset for a team looking to establish a physical presence up front.
OT, Baltimore Ravens
Eugene Monroe never quite lived up to expectations as a former eighth overall pick during his time with the Jacksonville Jaguars, which is why the team had no trouble dealing him to the Baltimore Ravens this past season.
Monroe took over the starting left tackle role with the Ravens and played himself into desirability. According to Matt Zenitz of the Carol County Times, Ravens coach John Harbaugh is very hopeful that the team can sign Monroe to a long-term deal.
Monroe was rated the 11th-best tackle overall by Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
If Baltimore does not find a way to extend Monroe, the 6'5", 306-pound tackle may command attention due to his relatively young age (he turns 27 in April) and his status as a former first-round draft pick.
Considering that the Ravens gave up a pair of draft picks to acquire him, don't be surprised if Baltimore makes a serious push to include Monroe in their long-term plans.
OT, Baltimore Ravens
Eugene Monroe is not the only former first-round pick that could be leaving the Baltimore Ravens for the open market. Ravens starting right tackle Michael Oher is also scheduled to become a free agent.
Selected 23rd overall in the 2009 draft, Oher has not missed a start during his five-year Ravens career. At 6'4" and 315 pounds, Oher has the size and skill set to perform at either tackle position, although he has spent the majority of his career at right tackle.
Baltimore may not be able (or willing) to re-sign both of its starting tackles this offseason, so do not be surprised if Oher is the odd man out.
However, he should draw interest on the open market as he will bring Super Bowl experience, a fair amount of versatility and will be just 28 years old in May.
OT, Oakland Raiders
A former third-round draft pick out of Hillsdale College in Michigan, Jared Veldheer has been the Oakland Raiders' starting left tackle since his rookie season in 2010.
However, a torn triceps sidelined the 6'8", 321-pound lineman for much of this season. He was activated from the short-term injured reserve list in time to start the final five games of the season.
In a late-season interview with KGMZ-FM, Veldheer stated that he and the Raiders are both interested in reaching a new contract agreement. That makes a tremendous amount of sense for Oakland, considering that he has been one of the most consistent players on the Raiders offense over the past few seasons.
If the Raiders do not find a way to extend Veldheer before the start of free agency, however, expect him to command attention from teams looking for a physical upgrade at the left tackle position.
Brian De La Puente
C, New Orleans Saints
It might have taken former undrafted free agent Brian De La Puente s few years to finally find a home in the NFL, but he has been a valuable member of the New Orleans Saints ever since.
De La Puente bounced between four different teams between 2008 and 2010 before landing a permanent role with the Saints in 2011. During his three years with the team, he has appeared in all 48 games, starting in each over the past two seasons.
The 6'3", 306-pound center should draw interest due to his working relationship with quarterback Drew Brees, one of the most consistent signal-callers in the game. For that reason, there is a strong chance that the Saints move to sign De La Puente to a long-term deal. He was rated 13th among centers in pass protection by Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
De La Puente will turn 29 in May, but he only has three years worth of NFL wear on his mammoth body. This should add value to any potential long-term deal.
OT, Cincinnati Bengals
Originally a fourth-round pick in 2008, Anthony Collins has spent much of his Cincinnati Bengals career as a depth player.
However, Collins has been a very valuable depth player, filling in at either tackle position as required. He appeared in 15 games during the 2013 regular season, starting the final five games plus the team's playoff game against the San Diego Chargers.
Because he has shown starting capability and an ability to play multiple positions, Collins should draw interest on the open market. He was ranked 24th overall among offensive tackles, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
At 6'5" and 315 pounds, Collins has the size and build that line coaches covet and his versatility makes him an interesting option as a backup or a potential starter with a new team.
OT, Carolina Panthers
Now that the Carolina Panthers have officially reached the end of their season, the team can turn its attention to the future of Jordan Gross, the league's third-best offensive tackle, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
At 33 years old, Gross is on the back half of his career, but is still performing at a high level. Originally drafted eighth overall in 2003, he has twice been named to the Pro Bowl and was awarded All-Pro honors following the 2008 season.
Gross has missed just one start over the past four seasons.
If the Panthers decide to move on from the 6'4", 305-pound lineman, expect another team to move quickly in order to pick up a high-caliber player for at least a couple of seasons.
Best of the Rest
Other veteran linemen worth watching:
Rodger Saffold, OT, St. Louis Rams
Breno Giacomini, OT, Seattle Seahawks
Richie Incognito, G, Miami Dolphins
Dominic Raiola, C, Detroit Lions
Shawn Lauvao, G, Cleveland Browns
Zach Strief, OT, New Orleans Saints
Jon Asamoah, G, Kansas City Chiefs
Jeremy Trueblood, OT, Atlanta Falcons
Brian Waters, G, Dallas Cowboys
Bryant McKinnie, Miami Dolphins