One week into free agency, the Baltimore Ravens have already addressed several of the most glaring needs on the roster.
Through in-house signings, the team has narrowed down its priority list to just a few positions, including center, free safety and right tackle, among others. Guard could also be a need, but since Kelechi Osemele played the 2012 playoffs and 2013 regular season at left guard (when healthy), it should be assumed (for now) that he’ll be back at guard again in 2014.
After Michael Oher’s departure to Nashville and with no inherent replacement on the roster, right tackle has become a priority. The free agent tackle market has dwindled after a flurry of signings in the first few days of free agency.
Right now, Baltimore’s best options at the position may come during May’s NFL draft. The tackle class isn’t deep per se, but starting-caliber right tackles can be found after the first round.
Some potential Ravens candidates to keep an eye on to fill the void at the position include JaWuan James, Billy Turner and Morgan Moses.
But for today, we’ll take a look at the free agent right tackle market, which could still be a viable option for Baltimore if the team is in need of a cheap veteran option.
The most common name suggested?
The 30-year-old veteran is an obvious potential choice for Baltimore because of the easiest connection to make, which is Gary Kubiak. Prior to playing for the Kansas City Chiefs and Arizona Cardinals in 2012 and 2013, respectively, Winston spent the first six seasons of his NFL career playing under Kubiak with the Houston Texans.
Could the two reunite in Baltimore?
Having Kubiak as well as former Texans offensive coordinator Rick Dennison in Baltimore seems to make the connection ideal. This is working under the assumption that Kubiak would event want Winston playing for his offense again, however, which no one but Kubiak knows.
Outside of the Kubiak connection, Winston is enticing for another reason: value.
Last season, after being released by the Chiefs, Winston signed a one-year deal worth a measly $1.25 million. The deal included just $160,000 in guaranteed money.
After a year in Arizona, Winston is a free agent again, and as a tackle that turns 31 during the 2014 NFL season, his value hasn’t increased at all. If anything, it declined after an average year in the dark abyss that is Arizona’s offensive line.
Let’s take a look at Winston’s 2013 season – where he won, where he struggled – and see if he’d be a fit in Baltimore.
The first question that should be posed regarding Winston is whether or not he can play in Baltimore’s zone-blocking scheme. Having a background in Kubiak’s run scheme helps, and it would make the transition easier. However, Winston’s run blocking when he had to move upfield was anything but easy.
As a tackle in a zone scheme, Winston will have to be able to seal off blocks at the second level and move laterally. He isn’t a very athletic tackle, and is often a slow mover. When asked to move up and seal off a defender at the second level for the Cardinals, he often struggled.
Winston didn’t have many problems finding linebackers at the next level to block.
It was blocking said linebackers that was a consistent problem.
Whether it was approaching a linebacker straight on or at an angle, Winston simply wasn’t either quick enough or didn’t approach with good enough form to seal off his man.
Winston was often a liability last season in this aspect.
Arizona’s offense didn’t provide Winston with opportunities to display how he moved laterally often, so his ability to provide value on outside zone plays at this point in his career remains to be seen.
Winston had more success in pass protection for the Cardinals last season, where he wasn’t a liability necessarily, but also wasn’t a sure thing on the right side.
Where Winston’s value was displayed most was in his ability to quickly dissect pass rushes, particularly stunts run by 4-3 defenses.
Here, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive linemen run a stunt, where Winston has to quickly switch to the defense tackle (#93 Gerald McCoy) that will be coming around the outside.
Winston reacts in more than enough time, positioning himself before McCoy even approaches the tackle.
Winston’s form in pass protection often wasn’t exceptional, but he absorbed contact well, so when pass rushers came at Winston straight on, he was reliable.
Where Winston wasn’t as reliable was when pass rushers tried to beat him around the outside, something that wasn’t too difficult last season.
Defenders almost exclusively used a speed outside move on Winston, as he is a fairly slow-footed lineman who was caught lunging on several occasions, making it easy to attack the outside.
By lunging, Winston puts himself in bad position, as he attempts to regain his balance while the pass rusher has already successfully beat the tackle on the outside.
This removes any chance of Winston recovering in enough time to seal off the defender before the quarterback gets the throw off, with this being the end result:
Essentially, Winston played exactly how a 30 year old on a minimal deal would be expected to play.
He often looked lackadaisical in run blocking, and in pass protection, he was good enough to get by, but when pass rushers knew what it took to beat Winston, it wasn’t too hard to get around him.
Winston’s knowledge of pass rushers aided him mightily, and that helped compensate for physical and technical deficiencies.
Since he could be a prospective Oher replacement, why not bring the penalty aspect into discussion? Oher’s penalties were just as frustrating as his poor play, and his unnecessary false starts often stalled drives.
You’d think anyone would be an upgrade over Oher in that aspect, right?
Well, maybe most, but not Winston.
Here’s a look at the number of penalties called on each tackle over the last three seasons:
That’s a total of 27 for Winston to Oher’s 26.
Winston is by no means be a signing the Ravens should make if they’re looking for an automatic upgrade at the right tackle position without having to worry for the rest of the season.
Given how Winston played in 2013, he’d provide about the same value as Oher, which isn’t necessarily a desirable change.
The benefit to possibly adding Winston, however, is that he figures to come at a bargain. Since the Cardinals managed to get him on a nearly non-guaranteed contract, whichever team signs him this year should be able to do the same.
Winston also hasn’t missed a start since 2007, so it would be a near given that he would be able to play all 16 games next season.
If signed for less total money than the $1.25 million Arizona handed him last offseason, Winston could be worth a shot at right tackle, but only if there are other legitimate contenders for the starting job. With little guaranteed money, there wouldn’t be any urgency to hand Winston the job or even keep him on the roster.
But to think Winston is an easy solution at right tackle is erroneous, and he’d only provide value as a cheap, easy-to-part-with option at the position.