Offensive tackle, in particular the one protecting the quarterback's blind side, is arguably the most important position in football after the signal-caller himself.
That being the case, teams rarely let young, top tackles hit the open market, and the free agent pool at the position is really quite bare.
As hard as it was to compile a list of the five best free agent offensive tackles (or perhaps the five least bad?) here there are:
(Note: This series of lists only includes unrestricted free agents, as those are the only type that can be signed without giving up compensation. Restricted free agents—especially the best ones—will cost valuable draft picks.)
Chad Clifton, Green Bay Packers
Clifton is a long-time starter at tackle and has had some very good years, but those years are definitely behind him.
While he's still a productive pass protector, he allows a little too many pressures for a starting left tackle and is lacking in the run game.
Clifton is 33 and isn't worth signing to any substantial deal to start long-term, but you could do worse for a short-term starter or third offensive tackle.
Levi Jones, Washington Redskins
Jones ranks this high on the list not because of any recent performance, but rather age and upside compared to the others.
Once a quality starter for the Cincinnati Bengals, Jones has all but faded into oblivion, starting half the season for the Redskins due to injuries after signing with the team last October.
Jones is certainly not worth starting at this point in his career, but he's been very good in the past and is still only 30. He's worth a flier on a minimum contract.
Mike Gandy, Arizona Cardinals
It puzzles me how Mike Gandy has remained a starter in the NFL so long, as left tackle no less. Really, the guy was an average guard for the Chicago Bears.
The Cardinals will almost surely look for an upgrade now that Gandy is a free agent, and he's unlikely to get a starting job elsewhere. At most, he can serve as an experience veteran backup that can play four position on the line.
Mark Tauscher, Green Bay Packers
Unsigned all of last offseason, Tauscher actually improved the Packers' offensive line when he was signed midseason and inserted into the starting lineup.
That's more a reflection of the Packers' entire line than it is Tauscher, however, and he's an average lineman at best at age 32.
Tauscher still has some ability, but his body looks soft and he probably wouldn't hold up well over a full season.
Tony Pashos, San Francisco 49ers
Like Mike Gandy, Pashos is another guy that went from a nobody at guard to a starting NFL tackle. And, like Gandy, Pashos just isn't that good.
As with most guys on this list, Pashos is past his prime, and isn't worth signing as anything more than an experienced and versatile backup.
Beyond the Top Five
- Cornell Green, Oakland Raiders — Green has been forced into a starting role for the Raiders quite often over the past three seasons, but it is not a role that suits him well. At 33, Green is nothing more than a backup.
- Brandon Gorin, Denver Broncos — Gorin has bounced around the league since leaving the Patriots in 2005, with little success. His career looks to be approaching the end of the line.
- Jon Jansen, Detroit Lions — Once a quality starting tackle in the NFL, Jansen's play has dropped off tremendously due to a lengthy injury history. He might even be a better fit inside at this point, but he still has the ability to be a reserve tackle.
- Barry Sims, San Francisco 49ers — A long-time starter for the Raiders and Niners, Sims has plenty of experience at tackle but is better suited for guard. He's unlikely to find another starting gig at age 35.
- Ephraim Salaam, Houston Texans — Salaam hasn't started a game since 2007 and had trouble sticking with the Lions before being re-signed by Houston in 2009 due to injuries. The rest of his career looks to be waiting for similar phone calls, which may not even come.
- Langston Walker, Oakland Raiders — Walker signed a huge deal with the Buffalo Bills in 2007, but was a free agent bust and cut after just two seasons. He's not a great fit at guard due to his height and doesn't have the athleticism for tackle, so he won't be more than a backup for the remainder of his career.
Who do you think are the best free agent offensive tackles? Share your thoughts on the forum here!