So as promised, I´m back with a list of available guards in this years´s free agency market.
In my last piece, I discussed the advantages of grabbing an offensive tackle in free agency. Like I said, this move could put Tom Telesco in a more convenient position in the NFL draft, as it might be possible that all three top tackle prospects – Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher, Lane Johnson – will be gone when the Chargers make their first selection at No. 11. With a left tackle already on board, the Bolts could use their first round pick on one of the top two guard prospects in this year´s draft: Chance Warmack or Jonathan Cooper. I still think that could be a nice strategy.
But what if there is an early offensive tackle run and the above mentioned top tackle prospects are already gone after the Arizona Cardinals make their first selection at No. 7? The Buffalo Bills at No. 8 could definitely use a guy like Chance Warmack, as it is very likely they´ll lose stud guard Andy Levitre in free agency. The New York Jets at No. 9 and especially the Tennessee Titans at No. 10 surely could steal the second top-level offensive guard Jonathan Cooper away from us.
In the above described scenario, the Chargers wouldn´t be able to address their poor offensive line with their first round draft pick.
More important than all the speculation is the fact that guard Louis Vasquez will hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent and very likely won´t be brought back as it will be very tough for the Bolts to match the offers he´ll get. As Tyronne Green is an unrestricted free agent too, this would mean neither starting guard from last season will be wearing a Chargers uniform in 2013.
So considering the starting offensive tackles of 2012 are still on board, going for an offensive guard in free agency might be even more important than pursuing a tackle.
But who is available and who makes sense for the Lightning Bolts?
Well, of course I just have to start with the star left guard of the Buffalo Bills, Andy Levitre. The 26-year old already draws much interest from other teams which are in need of a quality interior lineman, e.g. the Tennessee Titans. According to reports, the Indianapolis Colts with their incredible $40+ million salary-cap space are also standing in line to sign the stud in order to upgrade their O-Line. A factor that could bring the Chargers up in front is that Levitre´s former offensive line coach, Joe D´Alessandris, is now with the Chargers. So, with D´Alessandris on the staff and looking to build a line to protect Philip Rivers, Levitre would be more than a solid option to fill the hole next to center Nick Hardwick. The Pro Bowl-type guard only allowed half a sack last season in 16 games and has only allowed 11.5 sacks over his four-year career. And it´s worth mentioning that he was called for holding only once last season; this means he doesn´t get penalized a lot.
But of course, he is the top guard entering this year´s free agency, and thus probably won´t be available at a price the Chargers are able and willing to accept. Comparing the Colts´ $40-43 million and the Chargers´ $11-12 million cap space…I think we all know who´ll have the better end in that battle.
Update March, 12: Signed with Tennessee Titans (6 years, $46.8 million)
A little bit older than Levitre but no less interesting is the 33-year old veteran Brandon Moore from the New York Jets. His name is often used with the word “Butt fumble” in one sentence. This refers to a play in the Patriots vs. Jets game in week 12 last season, where Jets´ quarterback Mark Sanchez ran directly into his teammate´s rear end to fumble the ball and give up a touchdown. But after all, the blame is on Sanchez, because Moore had his man blocked on that play. Whatever, Brandon Moore is getting up in age, but besides Levitre he probably is the best offensive guard available in free agency. The 2011 Pro-Bowler is coming off a terrific season. His run blocking skills will be attractive to any team looking to move the ball on the ground. Plus, he’s also been pretty reliable in pass protection. Moore would definitely make sense for the San Diego Chargers. He would be a solid option for maybe the next two years and he surely would be available a lower price than Andy Levitre.
According to reports, the Chicago Bears are highly interested in his services. Like the Bolts they have to solve O-Line issues. Would be nice to see Tom Telesco and his team getting the deal done with the veteran lineman.
The next name on the list here is Kevin Boothe. Selected in the sixth round of the 2006 draft by the Oakland Raiders, he left the team after only one year to play in New York for the Giants. He has been with them for the past six seasons, including both Super Bowl Championships. His main role in his first years with the team was to serve as reserve guard until the 2011 season when he started the final nine games at every position on the interior offensive line at one time or another. He’s never been top notch in pass protection, but he is a tough run-blocker. But what stands out the most is his penalty-free streak. He hasn’t committed a penalty since 2010. That’s more than two seasons since he had a flag thrown his way. Very impressive, to say the least! So, he´s definitely worth consideration in filling one of the holes in the Chargers offensive line; he surely would be affordable.
Ramon Foster of the Pittsburgh Steelers is quite the opposite of Kevin Boothe; which means, he pass protects well, but struggles in terms of run blocking. Foster (undrafted in 2009) started 30 games in his last two seasons with the Steelers, including all 16 games in 2012 – 13 games at right guard, and three at left guard. Just like for Brandon Moore, the Chicago Bears already showed interest in the young lineman. Although the Chargers maybe would have to compete with them, I think Foster would come in at pretty low-level price.
Update March, 11: Re-signed with Pittsburgh Steelers (3 years)
Now let´s take a look at Minnesota´s Geoff Schwartz. Originally drafted by the Carolina Panthers in the 7th round of 2008 NFL draft, Schwartz worked his way up to full time starter in 2010. Signing a one-year contract in 2012 with the Minnesota Vikings, he has been relegated to backup starter Brandon Fusco. Fusco started every game last season but when Schwartz came onto the field, he was the better player. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed just four pressures on 84 pass blocks and also posted high marks as a run blocker.
What´s also interesting to know about Geoff Schwartz, is that he was starting at both guard and tackle in Carolina. So, he´s a versatile and experienced lineman which surely won´t demand big-time money.
Update March, 15: Signed with Kansas City Chiefs
Donald Thomas made a name of himself in New England last season. Serving in a backup role, he stepped in when guards Dan Connolly and Logan Mankins were forced to miss games due to injury. He started seven games last season and had solid performances while filling the void in the Patriots´ offensive line. Thomas will be targeted by teams looking for some O-Line help. He surely could be a starter on many teams; like e.g. the Chargers. And he could be acquired at an acceptable price.
Update March, 12: Signed with Indianapolis Colts
So I guess the list includes some very interesting (and affordable) names, and one of them just has to be a nice fit for the San Diego Chargers.
After all, going for an offensive guard in free agency definitely could make sense. But then Tom Telesco would have to hope that a top tackle prospect will slip through the top ten in the upcoming draft – or that second tier tackle D.J. Fluker will be available with the second pick (pretty unlikely though). Otherwise we´re stuck on “Big Lazy” Jared Gaither at left tackle at least another year.
The Chargers have to fill many holes! So there´s enough to write about…once again I suggest: Stay tuned!
Thanks for reading!
Update March, 12: The Chargers signed Chad Rinehart from the Buffalo Bills to a 1-year contract. Rinehart only played 7 games last year due to an ankle injury.