Offensive tackle Michael Oher couldn't live up to his first-round billing in Baltimore and faltered after signing a $20 million contract in Tennessee. The Carolina Panthers will hope the third time is the charm.
Oher and the Panthers agreed to a deal on Friday, as the former Ole Miss star will look to right his career. The team announced the move on its website:
The Panthers have signed free agent Michael Oher, a veteran offensive tackle with a Super Bowl ring and familiarity with the way Carolina likes to do things up front.
Oher talked about his decision to sign with the Panthers:
"I'm excited to be joining an organization that knows how to win. They've won the past two division championships, and I'm excited to be a part of it," Oher said. "When I came here on a visit, the culture was great. They're very into winning and doing everything possible to win."
Selected with the 23rd overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft by the Ravens, Oher played his first two seasons under the tutelage of John Matkso, who left Baltimore following the 2010 season to become Carolina's offensive line coach. ...
... "He's a great coach," Oher said. "I learned a lot from him my first two years when he was in Baltimore, and the assistant that was with him in Baltimore carried his techniques on for a couple more years."
The Titans released Oher on Feb. 5, a day before $3.35 million of his $4 million base salary for 2015 was set to become guaranteed. His dismissal came less than a year after signing a four-year, $20 million deal in Tennessee that seemed strange at the time and proved to be a nightmare.
Struggling amid pressure from first-round pick Taylor Lewan and a contract-induced spotlight, Oher was one of the worst offensive tackles in football last season. Pro Football Focus ranked him 50th among 54 eligible tackles in its pass-blocking efficiency metric, the fifth straight season he's fallen outside of the top 30. Long viewed as a below-average pass-blocker, his 2014 campaign all but ended his chances of having a guaranteed starting spot.
Over the last three seasons, the first two being in Baltimore, Oher allowed 27.5 sacks, per The Washington Post. It's possible Oher would have had his third straight season with 10 or more sacks allowed had he not missed the last five games with a toe injury. Until then, he hadn't missed a game, starting every contest over his first five NFL seasons.
That durability is perhaps Oher's biggest calling card at this point. The pass-blocking woes do not appear to be going away, and while Oher has ability as a run-blocker, it's only sporadically there on film. Baltimore's 2012 Super Bowl run remains the only extended stretch of excellent play he's had since his rookie season.
According to Pro Football Focus' grading system, Oher has gotten progressively worse each season. More disconcertingly, Oher hasn't been a net-positive player since that initial campaign. He has largely subsisted on his ability to stay on the field and football teams' relative unwillingness to replace a perfectly healthy player; it's no coincidence the Titans released him after his first major injury.
Carolina will hope Oher hitting the open market proves to be a wake-up call. He'll likely compete for the starting right tackle spot while working on the type of deal where it isn't too complicated to move on if necessary.
Oher is far from being out of the NFL altogether, but his days as a starter could be numbered if this doesn't work out.
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