For the next position in my free agent spotlight series, I will delve into the Tennessee Titans's offensive line. Since the Titans' season has ended the two constant need positions offensively have been a right tackle and running back.
It's been clear for some time now that David Stewart and Chris Johnson are on the chopping block, and would save the team in excess of $12 million in cap space.
Whether general manager Ruston Webster decides to let go of the team's veteran tackle or not, both Stewart and Michael Roos will be entering the final year of their respectable contracts this season.
Stewart is set to be the highest paid right tackle in the league during 2014, by a wide margin. According to Spotrac.com, Stewart ($6.4 million) will be paid $2.9 million more than the next highest player at the position.
Obviously, some sort of decision on Stewart's future with the franchise will need to be made. Per Chris Harris of Nashville's NBC News affiliate, general manager Webster was fairly transparent on his plans for the offensive line:
"We'll continue to work on our offensive line, and building that and getting better."
Overall, this year's draft is very deep at offensive tackle, while its class of free agents at the position leave a bit to be desired.
The top names on the list for free agents are Eugene Monroe (BAL) and Brandon Albert (KC). Monroe makes the most sense for the Titans, having consistently played at a high level throughout his career and his young age (27).
The question is whether there are cheaper alternatives to the latter, whom are capable of holding down the starting job at right tackle. I can't see the Titans immediately committing another $6.4 million-plus into the offensive line, unless they intend to shift the signee over to left tackle in a year.
Once again, the criteria for a player the team may show interest in signing is youth (30 years old or younger) and physicality.
Zach Strief (pictured above)
From Bleacher Report NFL draft lead writer Matt Miller: "Not a long-term answer at right tackle perhaps, but Strief was a top-10 tackle in 2011, his sixth season. He complements Drew Brees' style of play, with its quick sets and speedy delivery."
Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt runs a very similar style offense to the Saints, in that they both take advantage of using short routes and and screen passes out of the backfield in their respective offenses.
At 30-years-old, Strief could come in and be a steady talent next to Chance Warmack and a line that is still developing individually and as a unit.
Veldheer missed the majority of 2013 with a partially torn tricep, but had quietly established himself as an up-and-coming left tackle. Veldheer isn't likely to come cheap despite his injury-shortened 2013.
He is just 26 years old and will receive a lot of attention from around the league for his upside. The Titans could sign him to a contract more commensurate with left tackle payment and play him on the right until Roos is no longer with the team.
From Bleacher Report Raiders featured columnist Dan Wilkins: "Veldheer is actually one of the top free-agent offensive linemen available this offseason. He’s solid in both run blocking and pass protection. Still young, he has grown into one of the better left tackles in the game, and should he get to the open market, he’ll certainly be paid like it."
Who would you like to the Titans to sign this off-season?
From Bleacher Report Eagles featured columnist Cody Swartz: "Average right tackle. Not a long-term answer for any team but an adequate starter. Better in pass protection than run protection."
Howard would provide a great stop-gap option for the team, if they would prefer to draft a developmental prospect in the upcoming draft.
Overall, all three players offer their own pros and cons, serving different purposes for the team. Veldheer is the best talent and is still very young, but could put the team into a bidding war.
Howard is a short-term solution that would allow the team to focus on other areas of the roster during the draft. Strief is a system fit that would bring a veteran presence to a rapidly changing unit.