Offensive linemen are usually worth their weight in gold in NFL free agency. It's unusual for capable blockers to still be looking for teams as April turns to May. It's almost unheard of for a pair of linemen who have combined for a dozen Pro Bowl nods to be available this late in the offseason.
But that's where we find ourselves with tackle Jason Peters and guard Larry Warford. Their situations are different—one is a 38-year-old entering his 17th season in the NFL, while the other was a surprising cut after the 2020 draft. Both have circumstances that have prevented them from signing before now.
But both Peters and Warford appear to have plenty to offer teams in 2020, and there are a few squads that make more than a little sense for each blocker.
The biggest reason Peters is still a free agent isn't especially hard to pinpoint: He's old. Per Adam Hermann or NBC Sports Philadelphia, only six offensive linemen in NFL history have played into their 40s—the last was Ray Brown with the Washington Redskins in 2005.
According to Mike Garafolo of NFL Network, Peters has every intention of joining that exclusive club.
"His status is he is 38 years old," Garafolo said. "However, he has told friends recently that 'if Tom Brady can play into his 40s, I can play into my 40s. I feel great.' So the former Eagles left tackle's still out there, sending out workout videos to let people know that he feels really good, he's moving really good. And the Eagles kind of knew this.”
Peters has had some injury issues in recent years. He missed three games last season and over half of the 2017 campaign with an ACL and MCL tear. But when he's been on the field, Peters has shown that he can still perform at a high level. He's allowed just six sacks over the past three seasons and was a Pro Bowler as recently as 2016.
He will have to show he's healthy, and his days of making north of $10 million a season are long gone. But there are a few teams that could use Peters' experience and ability up front.
Peters has spent the last decade-plus with his organization. The Philadelphia Eagles are set at right tackle with Lane Johnson, and they have a first-round pick waiting in the wings in Andre Dillard. While Dillard played well in Peters' stead on the left side as a rookie last year, he was a mess when asked to fill in for Johnson on the right, saying that switching sides of the line was like writing an essay with your left hand.
With the COVID-19 pandemic casting OTAs and possibly training camps into uncertainty, an argument can be made that an Eagles team with Super Bowl aspirations might be best served by postponing the changing of the guard at left tackle another year—or at least hedging their bets.
If the Eagles are intent on turning things over to Dillard, Peters might not have to go far to find work. After moving on from Trent Williams during this year's draft, the Washington Redskins have a massive hole on the left side of the offensive line. With the second-most cap space in the NFL ($35.6 million, per Over the Cap), the Redskins have plenty of cash to bring Peters in. And after getting an OK year out of free agent Donald Penn in 2019, Washington may decide that having a veteran stopgap on Dwayne Haskins' blind side isn't a bad idea.
The biggest sticking point? It might be Peters' representation. According to Peter Hailey of NBC Sports Washington, Peters is represented by the same agent (Vince Taylor) who just helped engineer Williams' acrimonious split with the Redskins.
Some fences would have to be mended for this deal to work.
Los Angeles Chargers
If Peters is looking for a fresh start and a change of scenery, there is a team that's just about as far from Philadelphia as you can get that needs help at left tackle as badly as any club.
The Los Angeles Chargers upgraded the interior of their offensive line in the offseason with a trade that brought in Pro Bowl guard Trai Turner. But that deal cost the Bolts left tackle Russell Okung—and created a massive hole on the O-line.
As things stand, the presumptive starter at left tackle will be second-year pro Trey Pipkins, a developmental prospect who played collegiately at tiny Sioux Falls. Pipkins has potential, but he allowed four sacks in just 251 snaps in 2019, according to Pro Football Focus.
That's not good news for rookie quarterback Justin Herbert.
Warford's situation is different than Peters'. Not that long ago, it appeared that Warford would be holding down the right guard spot again for the Saints in 2020. After all, the 28-year-old had just been voted to his third straight Pro Bowl and had allowed just two sacks in 970 snaps.
But while Warford remained an absolute force in run blocking, his pass protection (while still capable) took a step backward—a problem for a player who carried a cap hit of almost $13 million in 2020. When the Saints used the 24th overall pick on Michigan center Cesar Ruiz, it became clear that either he or second-year pro Erik McCoy would be kicking out to guard and Warford's days in the Big Easy were numbered.
Had Warford been on the open market when free agency started, he'd all but certainly have been scooped up quickly. While some teams have already addressed their needs inside, there are still a few obvious fits for Warford's services.
Over the past three seasons, the Houston Texans have given up a mind-boggling 165 sacks. As ugly as that number is at first glance, the team has made serious strides toward bolstering that line. But there's still a clear weakness—right guard Zach Fulton.
Carlos Hyde ran for 1,000 yards last year in spite of Fulton's help, not because of it. Per Pro Football Focus, Fulton's run-blocking grade ranked 81st out of 87 qualifiers last year. By comparison, Warford checked in at No. 7 for the position.
Fulton and Warford are comparable players in pass protection, but given their cavernous gap in run-blocking numbers, Warford appears to be a clear upgrade over Fulton. And with about $18 million in cap space, the Texans can afford to make the move.
Who says you can't go home again? Detroit originally drafted Warford, and Jeremy Fowler of ESPN believes a reunion makes sense for both sides.
"Reuniting with Warford, the Lions' third-round pick in 2013, gives Detroit an upgrade over Joe Dahl or Oday Aboushi," Fowler said. "It also gives draft pick Jonah Jackson a year to develop."
Jackson is a talented young guard who excelled in pass protection at Ohio State, but his run blocking needs substantial improvement. The same can be said about the Lions line as a whole. Detroit was 20th in run blocking last year, per Football Outsiders, and the team finished the season 21st in the league in rushing.
Both of those numbers would get a sizable boost with Warford.
The Cleveland Browns overhauled the offensive line this offseason, and with tackles Jack Conklin and Jedrick Wills Jr. joining Pro Bowl guard Joel Bitonio and center JC Tretter, four of five starting spots appear to be set in front of Baker Mayfield.
The one question mark is at right guard, where Wyatt Teller is the presumptive starter after an unimpressive first season in Cleveland. Second-year pro Drew Forbes and tackle Chris Hubbard could also be in the mix, but neither inspires a ton of confidence.
On paper at least, Warford would give the Browns one of the better-looking starting fives on the offensive front and a vastly improved unit relative to 2019. And it's not like Cleveland can't afford him. With over $38 million in wiggle room, the Browns have the most cap space in the league.