The OL has to do better than last year, and there is every indication that they will improve. Yet, the questions are how much to improve and how to further the improvement?
The first thing we should look at logic. The opposite of terrible is NOT TERRIBLE. Great is not the opposite of terrible. Don’t expect the team to change from the worst to first. Neither should one set up a straw man argument that failing to be the best automatically dooms the current OL.
The opposite of terrible includes both below average and average, as well as above average and great. Just upgrading from terrible to below average would be an improvement. Further going from below average to average is an improvement.
More importantly, despite many opinions that the OL was terrible, it was actually just below average as a UNIT. Small changes can improve the team.
Second, anything we do at OL must be part of the process for the entire team.
One should read the Factors for judging the OL and discussions on measurement particularly PFF scores
The OL is a subset of the entire team. System theory says that if you change one part of the system you must also change something else as everything is inter-related. Examples include improving the pass rush affects the coverage and vice versa. A better RB will help the OL.
Many have noted how a mobile QB, such as Romo, helps the OL. Fewer have noted that Romo holds on the ball too long and that HURTS the OL.
Short term versus long term
The OL has been totally revamped in the last few years. We have gone from one of the oldest OL in the NFL to one of the youngest. Garrett was willing to eat dead money to rid the team of high cost low performers. We cut/did not resign Davis, Holland, Gurode, and Colombo as starters. The backups have had even more changes from folks like Proctor, Bright, Baron, Young, etc
That hurts in the short term. Rookies, even first rounders, generally do not do well their first year and often take several years to develop. Costa improved last year from the beginning of the season to the end. His improvement continued over the off-season and the coaches were high on him. He battled injuries this year but demonstrated their faith when he did play.
Costa is the poster boy for folks’ opinion of a player based on first impressions. Bernadeau is this year’s Costa. One should look at trend analysis for their improvement.
Garrett wanted to upgrade the OL from within. The year before last, we used three draft picks on the OL – Smith in the 1st, Arkin in the 4th and Nagy in the 7th.
Smith was drafted to be the future LT. He did so well his first year, that the future came last year. Yet, even he had some growing pains this year.
Nagy made the team, and started his first year based on his grit, but had the more typical rookie year taking major hits. Nagy beat out Holland, who was given the starting position on a silver platter but arrived to camp injured and out of shape. Holland was cut in TC.
We were looking forward to see Nagy continue to improve this year. Unfortunately, we lost Nagy on waivers trying to move him to IR during TC this year.
Arkin was a 4th rounder. There are about 100 NFL ready players each year and these are mostly clustered in the first three rounds. By the time the 4th round appears, players have some sort of flaw and tend to be hit or miss. Teams that can identify the flaw and mitigate it can find good talent.
Arkin’s flaw was that he was from a small school, with lessor coaching, and competition. Additionally, while talented, he was projected to move inside from tackle to guard. As such, he was considered a project that needed time to develop.
Kowalski was signed as a UDFA. He did so well in TC that he forced the issue on the OL. We asked Gurode to take a pay cut. Gurode refused and was cut. We could not afford three centers and with his degenerative knees, we went with Kowalski and Costa. Both were younger, had upside, and together were cheaper than Gurode by himself.
I thought that the team would have started Kowalski, except that they did not want another rookie playing on a very young OL. Costa, a UDFA signed the year before, with his one year experience was still more experienced. This year was going to be an epic competition at TC, but both were injured.
Kowalski was placed on PUP and was never really healthy all year. Costa started, but eventually went IR based on his ankle. Losing Costa and Kowalski to injury, we tried Arkin at center this TC. That delayed his progress so we traded for a 3rd string center in Cook.
We added Leary as a UDFA this year. We thought he had 3rd round talent and paid him 5th round money to sign. Many thought he was a lock to make the team on the money alone. Yet, he said that he made too many mistakes and was cut.
We signed him to the PS, where he improved to the point where other teams were sniffing around. We then signed him to the active roster to keep his rights. We shall see if that is warranted.
We have developed Parnell internally. He got quality snaps this year, splitting time with Free. Regardless of what one thinks about Free, he has given us time to develop Smith and Parnell.
Short term adjustments
Jack Welch, former CEO of GE used to say – you have to live long enough to get to the long term.
Despite the youth movement, Garrett tweaked the long term plan to add Dockery as the veteran backup, just in case. Nagy got hurt and Dockery was starting with a week of signing. Unlike the trading and signing of Cook this year, Dockery really did not help and capped his year with a season ending injury. He was not resigned at the end of the year.
Holland was brought back amid more injuries. Holland was the best OL that year as he came back more motivated and healthy. But let there be no doubt, his motivation was a direct result being cut at TC. Even then he did not last his shortened season, having another season ending injury. Many wanted to resign him again, but we did not.
This TC, we had major injuries and brought back Holland, Dockery, and Loper to give the team a quorum to practice. Holland was the best player but wanted too much money. Money, age, injury history, and discussions of his playing time were discussed. Additionally Holland was just a guard in a time when the team wanted position flexibility. We ended up signing Dockery by default.
Many, me included, thought that we would resign Holland after the first game when salaries were not guaranteed. We had other roster issues. With each passing game, it became less likely for us to ever resign Holland to the team.
This year, we signed two FA guards in Livings and Bernadeau to give time to develop the young guys. Each was signed to relatively cheap contracts that after two years we could cut with minimal cap hits. Livings took hits as the season wore on. Normally the rock of the OL, he had four bad games. Among then were the first DC game where he was between a backup project LT in Parnell and a 4th string emergency guy who had never played center in a NFL game in Bernie. Dockery then replaced Bernie at RG. Needless to say the D Coordinator feasted on the interior.
Dockery was so bad, that in the second DC game, Livings played hurt as that was a better option than a healthy Dockery. Overall for the season, Livings was ranked about the 80th percentile for all guards. Dcokery, the oldest OL guy will not be back. Livings, the 2nd oldest probably starts again next year.
Bernie started slowly after off-season surgery. As he recovered, he did better. He was playing at the high level that made him the first FA to be signed until we moved him to center. he was terrible at center and then took a while to regain his level of play at guard. Just returning a healthy Bernadeau makes the OL significantly better.
What we know
The OL needs to play better as a unit this next year
We have limited money for FA
We have limited number of draft picks and have other needs
We have several ways to acquire/upgrade players – FA, draft, and internal development
There are opportunity costs. Given a limited amount of resources, spending in one area is not available to spend in other areas. We have limited resources in the salary cap and number of draft picks as well as roster spots.
Last year, we had the opportunity to sign Urbik and Rinehart both of whom were RFA s with 3rd round tenders. Given we gave up our 2nd round pick, it is reasonable to see why we did not bite that bullet.
We were not going to sign a big name/big $$$ FA. Last year the big names were Nicks and Grubbs. Even Nicks' old team could not afford him and signed Grubbs for millions of dollars less. We did not even spend Holland money. This year we are even more constrained.
Buffalo signed Urbik to a long term contract, but Rinehart and Levitre were available in FA this year. We were not going to spend Levitre money and Rinehart and other names such as Thomas from NE would not have been that much of an improvement given our limited cash to spend. Instead we seem to be looking at safety and LB for our limited FA money.
I have long said we should draft a OT. The best OTs are taken in the 1st and 2nd rounds, such as the Tyronasaurus. In the draft mock contest, I was one of the few to select Johnson in the first round. He has improved to the point that he probably out of reach now.
We might take the next level. Armistead will go somewhere between the 2nd and 4th rounds. He has high potential but he will time to develop. That is fine with us keeping Free/Parnell for another year. See Kegbearer post
We could go Menelik Watson in the 3rd round. Yet by that time we might as well go in another direction. Several have discussed various guards. Yet the ratio of FA/draft pick for guards is relatively marginal to other positions. Value says look elsewhere in the draft and sign a FA guard instead.
Given the constraints, I expect the team to use all the non-capped methods to improve the OL. These include more coaching, get healthy, and get the starters to work together.