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The 5 O’Clock Club: Playing GM - Assessing free agency targets (more Offensive Guards)

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It’s 5 o’clock somewhere…

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Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The 5 o’clock club aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.

The value of Left Guard contracts

Analyzing the market for Left Guards is harder than doing the same for Skill Position players due to the lack of measurable statistics.

Basically, you need to be familiar with the player, or you have to watch the film.

I haven’t done that.

What I have done is to look a the contracts for the top left guards in the league. As you can imagine, there aren’t many of them — basically, about half the teams in the league have left guards who are veterans earning more than a draft pick playing on his rookie contract.

Let’s have a look at them:

You can see that the contracts for these veteran guards fall into four tiers based on APY (average per year) contract value.

Tier 1: $10 - 12m, 2 players

Tier 2: $6 - $9m, 5 players (Justin Pugh is actually earning $8.8m this season; his 5th)

Tier 3: $5 - $6m, 4 players

Tier 4: $3 - $5m, 5 players (Pugh moved to Tier 2)

Basically, to assess the value of each free agent discussed below, you need to decide which tier he belongs in, then account for any value adjustments such as injury or attitude.

Free agent targets for the Redskins

Jack Mewhort, Indianapolis Colts

Indianapolis Colts v Pittsburgh Steelers

Measurables

Height: 6’6”

Weight: 305 pounds

Age: 26

College: Ohio State

Draft status: 2nd round, 2014 draft (59th overall)

Indianapolis Colts v Tennessee Titans Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Injury

Mewhort was placed on injured reserve in mid-October:

Mewhort, who finished last season on IR because of what is known as a chondral defect in his left knee, will require another surgery, Pagano said.

“He’s been battling through training camp,” Pagano said of Mewhort. “He’s been battling for a long time with this thing. At this point, he’s had two procedures. It’s a tough deal. I hate it for Jack. And his teammates hate it because they have great respect for him, just like I do and the rest of the (coaching) staff.”

Mewhort’s health had been a constant issue throughout the offseason and continued to be one after the season began. He’s taken at least one rest day each week this season, with the Colts’ training staff trying to manage the wear and tear on the knee coming off surgery.

Despite those efforts, Pagano said, Mewhort experienced significant swelling Friday morning even after sitting out Thursday’s practice. The team had him undergo an MRI which revealed damage that needed to be addressed surgically.

Mewhort has played in only 15 games over the past two years combined.

Horshoe Heroes, a Colts fan site, has a summary of the decision the Colts are facing with Mewhort this offseason:

Guard Jack Mewhort presents one of Chris Ballard’s toughest decisions this offseason.

Mewhort has played well, for the most part, during his four seasons with the Colts after being selected in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft. However, he was sent to injured reserve after Week 5 this season due to a nagging knee injury.

Mewhort played pretty poorly over the first five games of 2017, but that can probably be explained by his knee injury bothering him and affecting his play.

We don’t really know how Mewhort is recovering from that knee injury, and that will be a key factor in whether he’s given a contract extension. Even with the question marks surrounding his recovery, he’s still one of the few offensive linemen on this Colts roster that is capable of playing at a high level.

Contract and role with the Redskins

The Redskins would have to make the same assessment about Mewhort’s health that the Colts need to make.

I get the feeling that Mewhort was seen as a Tier 1 guy in his first two years in the league, however, the injuries in ‘16 and ‘17 — especially the fact that he was expected to be healthy this past season after an off-season of rehabilitation — will make teams nervous. This is likely to lead to either a lower APY, or a much lower guarantee.

Mewhort may opt for a one-year ‘prove it’ deal to show that he is healthy and that his skills are unaffected.

I’m guessing that he’ll sign a multi-year Tier 2 deal with low guarantees (probably around $8m per year), or a one-year Tier 3 deal in expectation of signing a Tier 1 deal in 2019.

All in all, I feel like the questions about Mewhort’s health make him a less than ideal free agent target for the Redskins, who need a clear upgrade to Shawn Lauvao, and who will be lining up a Left Tackle in Trent Williams who may be slowed by his own off-season surgery.

Chris Hubbard, Pittsburgh Steelers

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Measurables

Height: 6’4”

Weight: 295 pounds

Age: 26

College: Alabama-Birmingham

Draft status: 2013 Undrafted Free Agent (Steelers)

Pittsburgh Steelers v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Looking at Steelers fan sites for reaction to Hubbard’s signing of his Restricted Free Agent tender in 2017, I found this fairly muted response:

He signed his restricted free agent tender, formally locking himself into a one-year, $1,797,000 contract for the 2017 season. Hubbard has worked at center, guard, tackle and tight end for the Steelers since joining the team as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2013.

Restricted free agents can shop around the league once free agency opens, but their previous year’s team can match any offer given to them. Hubbard re-signed on the original tender offered by the Steelers.

Last year his most consistent contribution was a blocking tight end in jumbo packages there were wildly successful late in the season. He said there are plays in the Steelers’ playbook where he goes out for a pass, but none were used on game day.

The former Alabama-Birmingham offensive lineman was cut in 2013, spent his rookie year on the practice squad, made the team and his debut in 2014 and became a constant on the game day roster last year.

Here’s what his re-signing means: No one else really wanted him

This is by far the most Hubbard stands to make in a single season of his career --about three times as much as he’s earned in any year of his time in the NFL to date.

But if there had been a chance for him to start and get paid like he would elsewhere, he wouldn’t be coming back to Pittsburgh.

Hubbard was available last year, and no team tried to sign him away from the Steelers. In 2017, Hubbard was active for 16 games, but started only 10 of them. I get the feeling that he is a bit like Ty Nsekhe -- a reliable backup with positional flexibility (he can play Center, Guard, Tackle or Tight End in ‘jumbo’ formations.

Contract and role on the Redskins

Hubbard would certainly be a budget signing — I’d be shocked if he commanded more than $3m per year, and I think he’ll probably get less than that. He appears to be a solid backup who is capable of spot-starts at a variety of OL positions.

He has a role on the Steelers, but I don’t think that Chris Hubbard is what the doctor ordered for the Redskins.

Andrew Norwell, Panthers

Wild Card Playoffs - Arizona Cardinals v Carolina Panthers

Measurables

Height: 6’6”

Weight: 325 pounds

Age: 26

College: Ohio State

Draft status: 2014 Undrafted Free Agent (Panthers)

NFL: SEP 25 Vikings at Panthers Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Andrew Norwell signed a 2nd-round RFA (restricted free agent) tender with the Panthers last season. After playing only sporadically in his first two NFL seasons, Norwell has started 16 games in each of the last two seasons.

Along with teammate Luke Kuechly, Norwell was named to the 2018 All-Pro team.

Prior to the 2017 season, the Charlotte Observer published a lengthy article about Norwell with this catchy title: With long hair and a permanent snarl, Carolina Panther is making nasty cool again

Norwell is making nasty cool again.

When Panthers tackle Daryl Williams used the adjective to describe Norwell this week, Williams meant it as a term of endearment for the 6-6, 325-pound lineman with long hair and permanent snarl.

“He just goes hard, man,” Williams said, laughing. “He’s definitely like an inspiration, just watching him. He’s very physical and tough and nasty. I’m glad he’s my teammate.”

“He’s a football player. Obviously he’s very smart to be able to pick up the things that (offensive line coach John) Matsko puts on those guys’ plate. But he’s very physically gifted and very passionate about what he does.”

Nasty, not dirty

For all his intensity, Norwell says he doesn’t cross the line between nasty and dirty.

“You’ve just got to finish on the whistle and use your techniques,” he said. “I’ve never thrown punches or anything like that in a game.”

He’ll be an unrestricted free agent in March, and says he hopes to stay with the Panthers.

[RG Trai] Turner, the two-time Pro Bowler, signed a four-year, $45 million extension with the Panthers in June. Whether Norwell commands that type of money remains to be seen.

But either way it will be a substantial pay raise for the Panthers’ resident Nasty Boy.

“I love this game. It doesn’t really matter how much money I’m gonna make,” Norwell said. “I just love doing it as a job. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Contract and role with the Redskins

Clearly, the Panthers won’t want to see Norwell leave in free agency, but they may not have a lot of options. OverTheCap says that the Panthers have $22m in cap space, and 18 free agents from the 2017 roster, including players such as Star Lotulelei, Ed Dickson, Charles Johnson, and Jarius Byrd. The Panthers simply won’t be able to bring everyone back, and Norwell may be one of the more expensive contracts to sign.

Because the Panthers gave guard Trai Turner a big (and well-deserved) deal before the 2017 season and signed left tackle Matt Kalil to a five-year, $55.5 million deal, very little cap room is left to work with All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell, who is a free agent.

That means Carolina could see Norwell go – perhaps to the Giants, who need help up front and whose free agency decisions will be run by new general manager Dave Gettleman, the man who scooped up Norwell as an undrafted free agent in 2014.

Norwell has earned a big contract. As much as Carolina would like to keep him long-term, the Panthers may not be able to give him one.

It sounds like the Giants may have the inside track on Norwell based on the Gettleman connection -- and God knows the Giants need the offensive line help. But the Giants have only $23m in cap space themselves, according to OTC, and they have 26 free agents of their own, including most of the current offensive line: Justin Pugh, DJ Fluker, Weston Richburg, John Greco. I think the Giants are going to have too many holes to fill to be able to give a big contract to an all-pro Guard.

All of this could mean that there is an opening for the Redskins to bring Norwell to Washington. It could be appealing, playing next to Trent Williams and for coach Bill Callahan.

Contract and role with Redskins

Norwell is likely to be the most expensive free agent guard available in the 2018 off-season; he will almost certainly sign a Tier 1 contract valued at $10m APY or even higher.

At 26 years of age, Norwell would be an instant starter and a huge upgrade for the offensive line. If Jay Gruden plugged him in, this is what the starting offensive line would likely look likely look like:

  • LT - Trent Williams - 29
  • LG - Andrew Norwell - 26
  • C - Chase Roullier - 24
  • RG - Brandon Scherff - 26
  • RT - Morgan Moses - 26

The offensive line would be talented, and set for the next 3 years.

Joel Bintonio is the latest Tier 1 LG to sign a free agent contract, and he signed for 5 years, $50m. The Year 1 cap hit for Bintonio will be $6m. I think Norwell could get a contract in the same range as Bintonio (or even higher), but I am confident that the Redskins can afford it, and it would provide a fantastic level of stability on the offensive line.

If I could wave a magic wand and put one NFL free agent in the LG position this off season, it would be Norwell. He’ll be expensive, but in my opinion, worth the price.

Poll

Rate Jack Mewhort as a free agent target for the LG position with the Redskins

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    A
    (50 votes)
  • 16%
    B
    (53 votes)
  • 30%
    C
    (102 votes)
  • 23%
    D
    (78 votes)
  • 14%
    F
    (47 votes)
330 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Rate Chris Hubbard as a free agent target for the LG position with the Redksins

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    A
    (9 votes)
  • 10%
    B
    (30 votes)
  • 34%
    C
    (102 votes)
  • 35%
    D
    (105 votes)
  • 16%
    F
    (47 votes)
293 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Rate Andrew Norwell as a free agent target for the LG position with the Redskins

This poll is closed

  • 66%
    A
    (235 votes)
  • 25%
    B
    (89 votes)
  • 5%
    C
    (19 votes)
  • 1%
    D
    (7 votes)
  • 1%
    F
    (4 votes)
354 votes total Vote Now

Poll

What should the Redskins do at LG for the 2018 season?

This poll is closed

  • 20%
    Re-sign Spencer Long
    (81 votes)
  • 3%
    Roll with Arie Kouandjio
    (12 votes)
  • 48%
    Sign a free agent from another team
    (188 votes)
  • 27%
    Draft a rookie capable of starting
    (109 votes)
390 votes total Vote Now
NFL: NOV 12 Vikings at Redskins Photo by Daniel Kucin Jr./Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Philadelphia Eagles v Washington Redskin Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images