2019 NFL Free Agency: Quality starters at top of offensive line market but talent thins out fast

If you're an NFL team looking to improve on the offensive line this offseason, join the club. Talent on the defensive side of the line has outpaced their offensive counterparts in the trenches in recent years, and it's not hard to look around the league and see offenses that had more questions than answers on their blocking unit in 2018 (hi, Texans).

The good news is that this should be a banner year for drafting talent on the offensive line. The Athletic's Dane Brugler said he expects all 10 players on his top center/guard rankings to start within two years, and the offensive tackle class is just as strong. Six offensive lineman cracked my most recent mock draft, and there's a couple more I think could be in the first-round mix as well.

And there should be many teams in the market for offensive line help by the time the draft comes around in April, because the free agency market isn't too appealing. I've broken down the top options at tackle, guard and center below, but once you get past the first few names on each list, you're talking about guys who would be better as depth options, not tasked with protecting your quarterback or clearing the path for your running game on every snap.

Offensive linemen can be hard to evaluate since they don't deliver the traditional stats of other positions, but with a heavy assist from Sports Info Solutions, here's our list of top offensive linemen available in free agency.

Offensive tackles

1. Trent Brown
2. Ja'Wuan James
3. Daryl Williams
4. Matt Feiler

Brown is coming off an outstanding season in New England where he ranked third among all tackles in Points Earned, per SIS. He's consistently been an excellent pass-blocker, but this year his run blocking took a step forward as well. If the Patriots let him get to the open market, he should land the biggest deal of the offseason for any offensive lineman.

James took a step back from his breakout 2017 season, which was cut short due to injury, but still managed to finish 30th among 81 qualified tackles in Points Earned, per SIS. He's strictly an option for the right side of the line, but finding a capable starter there can make or break a unit, so he should still earn a nice payday.

Like James, Williams broke out in 2017 and was considered by many to be the best right tackle in the league that season, with Pro Football Focus ranking him third among all tackles on either side of the line. Williams tore his ACL and dislocated his kneecap in August but still managed to take the field in Week 1 for the Panthers, but after suffering a new injury to the same knee, he missed the rest of the year. If he checks out healthy, he's a nice starting option on the right side for needy teams.

In 2017, Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert was often sidelined due to injury, and fill-in tackle Chris Hubbard did a good enough job to land a big deal from the Browns in free agency. In 2018, it was second-year UDFA Matt Feiler picking up the slack while Gilbert was injured, and he did well enough to rank 17th among all tackles in Points Earned, per SIS, performing especially well against the pass. He should get a shot to start this offseason.

5. Donovan Smith
6. Ty Nsekhe
7. Cameron Fleming
8. Jared Veldheer
9. George Fant
10. Marshall Newhouse

There's buzz that the Bucs will franchise-tag Smith if they can't work out a long-term deal, but why? He's graded poorly since entering the league as a high second-round pick, including being credited with 10 sacks allowed in each of the last two years. Tampa Bay should be considering an upgrade, not a franchise tag.

After Smith, we come to quality depth options like Nsekhe and Fleming who can back up multiple spots but shouldn't be under consideration for starting jobs. Veldheer hasn't played 16 games since 2015 and has seen his play slip in recent years. Fant played better in his second shot at starting late in 2018, but he's not someone you want to plug in at left tackle long-term. Newhouse hasn't been a regular starter in his career but did grade well for Oakland in 2017, ranking sixth in Points Earned, per SIS.

Guards

1. Rodger Saffold
2. Ramon Foster
3. Quinton Spain

Saffold put together a strong season heading with the Rams into free agency that earned him a top 10 ranking among all guards in Points Earned, per SIS. He was particularly strong in the run game for the second straight year and could be a huge addition for a team that's more run-centric on offense.

Foster has been a reliable starter for the Steelers for the last seven seasons, and there will definitely be a market for him if they let the guard reach free agency. He was top five among all guards against the pass last year and top 10 overall, but because he's a couple years older than Saffold at age 33, he checks in at No. 2 on this list.

Spain has been a top-20 guard in each of the last three years with the Titans, per SIS's Points Earned, and he even took a step forward against the pass this year to enter top-10 territory in that metric for the first time. His lower marks against the run could give teams pause, but at age 28 this season he should be an effective starter worthy of a multiyear deal.

4. Jamon Brown
5. D.J. Fluker
6. Andy Levitre
7. Mike Iupati
8. John Miller
9. James Carpenter
10. A.J. Cann

Brown did a solid job for the Rams in 2017 but didn't play for the team in 2018 before being waived and latching on with the Giants, where he had below average marks. He's young enough (26 in March) that someone will likely sign him to start.

Fluker can be effective in the rushing game but struggled with health and performance in 2018. Levitre and Iupati are both aging veterans past their peaks who have dealt with injury issues in recent years, but they might have enough name ID to land a starting job on the market. Miller lost his starting job in 2017 but did a solid job for a bad Bills O-line last year, getting charged with just one sack allowed in 484 pass snaps. Carpenter's play has fallen off the last few years, but he has the chance to be a decent starter if he can stay healthy. Cann has starting experience, but didn't play all that well in 2018.

Centers

1. Mitch Morse
2. Matt Paradis

Morse is coming off another great season, ranking third in Points Earned, per SIS, and being charged with just three blown blocks on the year, though he did miss a chunk of the season due to injury for the second straight season. If the Chiefs let him get away, he should have a strong market for his services.

Paradis bounced back from a down 2017 to have a quality season for the Broncos, though his season was cut short due to a fractured fibula. The rumor is the Broncos will let him test free agency, despite him playing well last year while the rest of the line had issues all around him. If he finds a new team, it could be bad news for Joe Flacco.

3. Jon Halapio
4. Ryan Groy
5. B.J. Finney

Beyond the top two, there isn't much on the center market. Halapio basically missed the entire season after breaking his ankle in Week 2, but he earned praise during the summer for his work and could be in a position to shine if fully recovered next year. Groy was great filling in for the Bills in 2016, but he didn't play much the following year and wasn't effective last season. Finney hasn't seen much playing time in Pittsburgh but has flashed when called upon.

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