(CBS Local/CBS New York) The NFL’s new league year begins on Wednesday, March 13th, and teams can begin officially signing free agents at that point. (They can negotiate beginning on March 11th.) As with every year, there are some big names hitting the market. So over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at the top free agents available at each position, while trying to pair them with the teams that need them the most.
Strong offensive lines are essential to winning, a point that has been proven time and again in the Super Bowl. While some teams can build through the draft and have a core of young guys all age together, others need to dip into free agency to patch a hole or two. This season, teams looking for offensive line help have some top-tier options available to them.
Matt Paradis, C, Denver Broncos
The Broncos are said to prefer re-signing Paradis, but in free agency, it’s possible a more lineman-needy team could make him a bigger offer. If they do, they would be getting one of the highest-graded linemen in Pro Football Focus’ ratings, as Paradis’ three-year average grade checks in at 87.1. Coming off a fractured fibula, the 29-year-old will obviously be put through a physical to make sure the injury is healing correctly, but he will likely be up there with the highest-paid centers in the league after signing a deal.
The Broncos, with plenty of questions about who will be back on their offensive line next season, are certainly in play. But the Jets, who have the most cap space in the league, and one of the worst lines last year, would make sense to be big players in the market. With last year’s center, Spencer Long, departing for Buffalo, Paradis would come in and immediately solidify the middle alongside Brian Winters.
Trent Brown, OT, New England Patriots
Brown was the surprise of last season. After the Patriots acquired him from the 49ers for just a third-round pick, he proceeded to start all 16 games. Not only that, but he made the move from right tackle in San Fran to left tackle in New England without much issue. In theory, that should make the Patriots want to keep him, right? Well, with last year’s first-round pick, Isaiah Wynn, expected to return and take that tackle spot, Brown’s place in New England is tenuous.
While Brown’s value is high coming off last season, as PFF’s Mike Renner notes, offensive linemen leaving New England don’t have the best track record. That is something for teams to be mindful of. But in this case, picking the best fit sends Brown back out West to Arizona, where the Cardinals desperately need help on the offensive line. The Cardinals ranked 25th in Football Outsiders offensive line ranks and gave up the seventh-most sacks in the league with 51.
Ja’Wuan James, OT, Miami Dolphins
James has been a solid right tackle over the first five years of his career, but he has alternated injury-free seasons with seasons marred by injuries. Coming off a largely healthy season this past year, he ranked 32nd among tackles in Pro Football Focus’ grading system. He was solid in pass protection, allowing just 38 total pressures across the past two seasons and giving up just nine sacks. He was strong as a run blocker too, ranking 16th out of 46 tackles across the past three seasons who have player more than 2,000 snaps.
There’s a team in the state of Florida who had some issues along the offensive line last year that could use a tackle to protect whoever is at the quarterback spot. The Jaguars were near the bottom of the league in pass protection, allowing 53 sacks last year. Adding James, along with rumored free agent quarterback Nick Foles would be a nice combination.
Darryl Williams, OT, Carolina Panthers
Prior to getting hurt early last season, Williams was seen as a rising tackle in the league, grading out at a 77.2 from Pro Football Focus in 2017, when he was a full-time starter. While he’s unlikely to be a strong option at the left tackle spot, he’s a more-than-capable right tackle, able to anchor that side of the line. Williams is a better pass blocker than he is a run blocker, but with the way the league has tilted towards the pass, that shouldn’t be too much of an obstacle. Miami would make sense here, with James moving on this offseason and the Dolphins in need of a right tackle to replace him.
Rodger Saffold, G, Los Angeles Rams
At 31, Saffold is the oldest name on this list, but he’s coming off a strong season for the Rams. Saffold finished with a 73.2 grade from PFF that ranked eighth in the league among guards. Saffold is already rumored to be a Jets target, and combining him with Paradis and Winters would form a strong interior offensive line in front of Sam Darnold.