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Rebuilding the Redskins offensive line in 2020: Right Guard

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What does the future hold for the 5th overall pick in the 2015 draft?

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Washington Redskins v Chicago Bears Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

The Redskins offensive line faces dramatic question marks as we head into the off-season. Trent Williams missed the entirety of the 2019 season in a well-documented holdout, followed by being placed on the NFI list when he reported in Week 10. Both starting guards from the 2019 roster — Ereck Flowers and Brandon Scherff — are heading towards free agency in March unless the team re-signs one or both of them. Right Tackle Morgan Moses has seen a sharp fall-off in play in recent seasons; it may be time to move on from the Redskins’ 2014 third-round pick.

Of course, making a murky situation even more complex is the fact that the Redskins spent the early part of January “cleaning house” by replacing nearly the entire coaching staff, replacing and relocating some key people in the front office, and putting the franchise’s future in the hands of Ron Rivera, who is now clearly in charge. He has no particular attachment to anyone on the roster, meaning that business decisions shouldn’t be too difficult for him (and his staff) to make.

Perhaps the only offensive line starting position that seems secure is at Center, where Chase Roullier, the team’s 2017 6th round pick, has performed well enough to provide stability for the past two seasons.

We will look at the other four offensive line positions one-by-one.

Click for review of Left Tackle position

Click for review of Left Guard position

Today, we will consider the Right Guard position.


Part One - Brandon Scherff

There are only a limited number of outcomes for the Redskins and Brandon Scherff, and the clock is ticking. Absent anything different happening, he will become a free agent at 4 pm (New York time) on 18 March.

Let’s quickly recap what the options are:

1. Re-signing Brandon

From right now until 16 March, the Redskins are the only team that can legally negotiate with Scherff or his agent. Washington has exclusive rights, and any team attempting to make contact is guilty of ‘tampering’.

That said, one of the worst-kept secrets in sports is that the 8-day annual Combine held in Indianapolis (this year starting this Sunday, 23 Feb) is where the free agency talks really start to heat up. After all, the owners, GMs, coaches, and agents are all gathered in one place for a week. While teams are talking to agents about the draft prospects, a little ‘prospecting’ gets done on behalf of impending veteran free agents.

By the 3rd of March, agents should know which teams are interested in the veteran players they represent, and have a rough idea of what kind of contract numbers the teams have in mind.

Brandon Scherff is one of the most attractive impending free agents around. He will have options.

Two factors will loom large in whether the Redskins can retain him on the roster:

  • How much is Washington willing to pay him, and how much are other teams likely to offer?
  • Does Brandon truly want to be a Redskin?

The question of Brandon’s value has been hotly contested on Hogs Haven off and on for months now, so I’m not going to try to put a number on it. There was a credible report a few months ago that his agent had rejected a contract offer from the ‘Skins with an APY of $13m. That didn’t sound like a ‘lowball’ offer to me; neither did it sound like an offer designed to “blow his doors off” and motivate him to sign without considering any other options.

On the question of whether Brandon wants to be here, I’m sure some people will point to Brandon’s comments in an interview done in October when he said that he wanted to be a Redskin for the rest of his career. I won’t pass judgement on whether he was being sincere or not. I honestly don’t know. I just can’t imagine any player saying anything else publicly unless he wanted to piss off an entire fan base before he knew he was out the door.

San Francisco 49ers v Washington Redskins Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

If the Redskins want to re-sign Scherff to a long-term contract, two things will likely have to happen. First, Brandon will probably need to get real comfortable real fast with Ron Rivera and his staff. Second, the front office will probably need to offer Brandon a fair bit more money than the last offer he reportedly rejected.

There may be good reasons for Brandon to wait, even if he truly is committed to being a Redskin for life.

Firstly, with a new CBA on the horizon, there it every possibility that we will see a bump in the salary cap.

By being patient for another week or two, Brandon may well find himself negotiating a contract with a front office that has just received a windfall of several million dollars in cap space.

Secondly, there is the opportunity that another player will sign a new market-setting deal that Scherff’s agent can use to benchmark from. Although the deal announced this week was for a tackle, it illustrates how the market can be generous. D.J. Humphries, an offensive tackle for the Cardinals of no great distinction, signed a 3-year, $45m deal. Every day that Scherff waits offers another opportunity for an offensive lineman to sign a contract that allows his agent to go to the Redskins and say, “See? Brandon is worth more than this guy!”

I don’t see this option — re-signing Brandon prior to 18 March — as the most likely scenario.

2. The Franchise tag

There’s a lot written about franchise tags every year around this time, yet there is also a lot of misunderstanding about how they work.

While there’s a possibility that a new CBA could be ratified in the coming days and change the system, nothing I’ve read has indicated that the franchise tag has been part of the current negotiation.

Let’s look at the rules that have been in place since 2011:

The CBA defines three different types of tags used by a team to retain rights (Transition Tag and 2 forms of the Franchise Tag), and the Redskins could choose to use one of them to maintain control over Scherff for another season. I’m sure we all remember when these options were considered for Kirk Cousins in 2016, ‘17 and ‘18.

Here is a description of the three tag options.

Exclusive Franchise Tags

An “exclusive” franchise player is not free to sign with another team. Teams usually want to negotiate a longer term deal by July 15 that will pay less. If a new contract isn’t agreed upon by the July 15 deadline, the tagged player becomes a free agent the following year when the exclusive tag expires.

Non-exclusive Franchise Tags

A “non-exclusive” franchise player is permitted to negotiate with other teams while he’s trying to reach an agreement with his old team. His old club has the right to match any new team’s offer, or it can let him go and receive two first-round draft choices for the player instead as compensation.

Transition Tags

A transition player designation gives the free agent’s team the right of first refusal. If the player receives an offer from another club, his initial team has seven days after his contract expires to match it and the player stays. If the team doesn’t match the offer, the player moves on and the team receives no compensation at all.

It’s been repeatedly reported that in 2020, because it is the final year of the 2011 CBA, the rules will be a bit different. This assumes, of course, that the new CBA is not ratified prior to 18 March, as it has been reliably reported that, if ratified prior to the start of the new league year, the new CBA would take effect, replacing the 2011 agreement, and almost certainly negating the special rules outlined here:

2020 allows for the use of a franchise and a transition tag so teams can keep two players with expiring contracts from hitting the open market.

The 15-day period to name franchise and transition players begins on Feb. 25. The designation deadline is March 10 at 4 p.m. ET.

The projected cost of the franchise tags for offensive linemen is given here:

  • Transition Tag - approximately $14.7m
  • Franchise Tag - approximately $16.1m

The cost differential between the different types of tags is almost insignificant. The type of tag chosen is more about the strategy in free agency than about cost.

If the Redskins put the non-exlusive Transition Tag on Scherff (I haven’t seen anyone suggest that they would) it could signal that they’d be happy to let him go, but they want very much to get some immediate return in the form of draft picks. The team has the option to accept less compensation than the pair of first-round draft picks prescribed in the CBA. Using this tag on Brandon could be a way to insure that the Redskins either have him back, or the draft capital (in the form of probably two picks) to allow them to replace him cheaply and get another player besides.

The exclusive tag could potentially be the first step down the path that the Redskins trod with Kirk Cousins. Of course, it could also be a “place-holding” strategy intended to keep Brandon on the roster for a year, allowing the front office another 12 months to muster the cap space and draft capital needed to get a quality replacement for Scherff if he really doesn’t want to be a Redskin.

The franchise tag/transition tag seems to be a low-probability move for the team, but it’s possible I guess.

3. Letting Brandon Scherff go without trying to re-sign him

There are only five reasons I can think of to simply let Brandon walk without making an effort to retain him:

  1. The front office thinks they can get better value from a free agent signed from another team (or, less likely, from a player already on the roster). This could be similar play for less money, or better play for the same money.
  2. The front office simply doesn’t believe that Brandon wants to be here, and they see no reason to strong-arm him by tagging him and repeating the Kirk Cousins experience.
  3. The front office doesn’t believe Brandon can stay healthy or perform at a high level. He’s missed 15 games in the past two seasons, and saw a drop-off in on field performance in 2019. They may simply think he’s not worth the money it will take to keep him.
  4. The FO just wants to clear cap space. This seems... unlikely. The Redskins are not particularly tight on space for 2020, and should be able to clear the Alex Smith contract in 2021.
  5. The front office wants to collect a 2021 compensatory pick. Again, the odds on this seem so low as to be hardly worth mentioning.

Unless it’s for one of the first three reasons, I don’t see this happening, BUT...I don’t think that either #1 or #2 are all that unlikely.

I think there’s a very good chance the team lets him walk unless they believe he wants to be here and is willing to sign a contract that works for the team. Otherwise, I could easily see a Rivera-led front office saying goodbye to a guy who they’ve never coached, and who has missed 15 games in 2018-19.

4. Letting Scherff test free agency, then attempting to sign him once his market value has been established

This isn’t as crazy as it sounds.

If you believe that Scherff really does wanna be a Redskin for his entire career, this might be the best strategy.

Let him find out for sure what the market is. Give the Redskins a chance to meet or beat his best offer.

If they’re interested, then great — everyone is happy. If not, everyone shakes hands and the staff gets to work in free agency signing the next guy on the list.

Bottom Line

Whatever the Redskins decided to do with Brandon Scherff, it will likely be unpopular with a large chunk of the fan base. If they let him walk, it will demonstrate a lack of commitment to our ‘homegrown’ guy. If he is allowed to walk without compensation, it will represent another failure of the front office to get value for a veteran before his contract expires. Re-signing him will require a very large contract, and some people will be unhappy with “overpaying” for a guard, no matter who he is. And the franchise tag option still has a bitter taste for many Redskins fans following the 2-year soap opera with Kirk Cousins.

I waver, one day thinking the new Rivera regime will let Brandon go easily, then the next day thinking that they will work to retain him in an effort to jump start the re-build.

Today, I am feeling as though they will let Brandon go one way or another, and try to replace him with a much cheaper vetearn free agent — probably from the Panthers 2019 roster.

Tomorrow I may think the opposite.

For what it’s worth, PFF predicts that Scherff will re-sign with the Redskins for 5 years, at $14m per year. They had this to say about the guard, who PFF ranks as the #22 veteran free agent of 2020:

He’s been injured the past few seasons, but that hasn’t hindered his success when on the field. Brandon Scherff has ranked among the top 20 highest-graded guards in each of his five seasons in the NFL. Even with playing in just 11 games, Scherff managed to be the fifth most valuable player on Washington’s 2019 squad. The new regime is likely going to want that back in 2020 (though this also says a lot about the many holes at other positions, too).

Part 2 - Filling the starting spot from the 2019 roster

The three options from last year’s roster are Wes Martin, Ross Pierschbacher and Tony Bergstrom. For a fuller analysis of these three players as options, click here.

Here’s a much briefer overview:

Wes Martin

From among the players who were on the Redskins’ 2019 roster, Martin seems to be the best bet to take over a starting guard position. The 23-year-old played only a limited amount in his rookie season (290 snaps at right guard), but he was expected to be something of a project when he was drafted in the 4th round a year ago.

Ross Pierschbacher

Pierschbacher played in the high-profile Alabama program, which meant that he initially had a bit more ‘buzz’ during the April draft than did Wes Martin. Of course, Flowers played so well in ‘19 that Pierschbacher couldn’t get on the field on offense. His playing time was limited to 12 special teams snaps across 5 games.

It makes it a little bit hard to assess his progress.

Based on his film from Alabama, however, Bullock wrote this in May 2019:

Overall, Pierschbacher brings high football intelligence and versatility to the Redskins offensive line. He played center in his senior year, but also spent time at both left and right guard during his time at Alabama. He’s not too physically imposing or freakishly athletic, which will cause him some issues early in his career until he refines his technique. But Pierschbacher’s role early on will likely be as a back up interior lineman, where he has the flexibility to fill in at all three spots.

Tony Bergstrom

In the end, Gruden and Callahan relied on veteran Tony Bergstrom to fill the role in 2019 that many thought would belong to Pierschbacher. Bergstrom played 226 offensive snaps this past season, spread across 13 games.

Originally drafted in the 3rd round of the 2012 draft, and with experience at both Center and Guard positions, Bergstrom has been a veteran backup that Bill Callahan had relied on since joining the team in late 2017.

Frankly, if Bergstrom was the answer as a starting guard. Ereck Flowers would have never been signed to the Redskins to begin with.

Like Flowers, Bergstrom is set to become a free agent in March. I figure the Redskins will do themselves a favor by letting him walk. Maybe they’ll get lucky and Jay Gruden or Bill Callahan convince Jacksonville or Cleveland to pay the 33 year old enough money to qualify for a 7th round compensatory pick.

Part 3 - veteran free agency

With the limited options from the 2019 Redskins roster and only two picks in the top 100 of the April draft (#2, #66), the most likely replacement at right guard — if the team doesn’t re-sign or franchise tag Brandon — will probably come in free agency.

There will probably be a number of players to choose from, but if the team decides to sign an “outside” free agent instead of re-signing Scherff, the free agent signing will almost have to be a mid-price player. Otherwise, why not just hold onto Scherff himself?

Joe Thuney, Patriots, age 27

NFL Trade Rumors ranks Thuney as the 30th overall veteran free agent available this off-season, and the 2nd-ranked offensive guard behind our own Brandon Scherff. NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah is even more bullish on Thuney, ranking his as the best guard available, and the 13th ranked overall veteran free agent of 2020.

In 2019, PFF ranked Thuney as the #6 guard, with an overall offensive grade of 77.4. By contrast, they ranked Brandon Scherff #9 (75.0).

Thuney was drafted by the Patriots in the 3rd round of the 2016 draft and is coming off of his rookie contract.

New England has projected cap space of around $45.5m, according to OverTheCap, but, of course, they don’t have their starting quarterback under contract. The cap situation for the Patriots could get quite interesting this off-season. It was reported this week that the Patriots are expected to let Thuney test free agency.

It’s hard to see the Redskins signing Thuney to be honest. He’s likely to command roughly the same contract as Brandon Scherff. If they want to spend that kind of money, they should probably use it on the guy they drafted 5th overall in 2015.

Graham Glasgow, Lions, age 28

NFL Trade Rumors ranks Glasgow, picked in the 3rd round of the 2016 draft, as the 47th overall veteran free agent available this off-season, and the 3rd-ranked offensive guard. Glasgow has played all three interior positions for the Lions.

PFF gave Glasgow a lot of love in 2019, ranking him 11th overall with a grade of 74.1.

Tim Twentyman, a writer for DetroitLions.com, wrote a free agent review for all 19 of Detroits upcoming UFAs last month. Here’s what he had to say about Glasgow:

Graham Glasgow

Position: Guard

2019 stats: No sacks allowed, five quarterback hits, 20 quarterback hurries

Twentyman: A former third-round pick by the Lions in 2016, Glasgow has the versatility to play both guard spots and center. He played in at least 93 percent of Detroit’s offensive snaps his first three seasons in the league. He played in 86 percent of the snaps this year, yielding some snaps to Wiggins. Glasgow finished as the 13th best guard in football by Pro Football Focus. There will be a market for his services in free agency.

There is, of course, a question about whether Glasgow will actually make it to the open market in March. For some insight on that question, I went to SB Nation’s Pride of Detroit, who recently ranked 17 upcoming free agents, putting Glasgow in the top position:

All signs point to Glasgow testing free agency, since the Lions didn’t seem too interested in extending him this past summer. However, Glasgow provides versatility, above-average play, and reliability that this team seems to covet so much. Money must be the sticking issue, because the Lions’ interior offensive line has actually been a strength this season, and it’d be a shame to disrupt that in 2020.

A separate article from Pride of Detroit provides more insight to the situation:

Graham Glasgow hasn’t outright said it yet, but it sure sounds like he’s ready to look elsewhere for employment in 2020. The Detroit Lions starting right guard played the final game on his rookie contract, as he endured the team’s 12th loss of the season and their ninth straight.

With free agency potentially on the horizon, Graham appears to want one major thing: to feel appreciated.

“It’s been a long year and I would like to feel like I’m wanted, sort of,” Glasgow said. “It’s just been a long year.”

There are plenty of reasons to believe Glasgow doesn’t feel wanted in Detroit. The team didn’t give him an extension this offseason despite playing all at an above average level and missing just a single snap over the prior two seasons. Despite bringing solid talent and position versatility, the Lions decided to repeatedly rotate him out of the lineup for several series a game during the 2019 season in favor of veteran Kenny Wiggins.

“We’ll see how everything works out, and I guess we’ll see in March what happens.”

I’m no expert on offensive line play or how to rate offensive line salaries, but I’m guessing that Glasgow will fall in the gap between Thuney & Scherff at the top of the veteran free agent guard class of 2020 and Ereck Flowers, who will probably be in the middle of the group.

Depending on how the new Ron Rivera regime wants to structure the offensive line, Glasgow, with his great positional flexibility, could prove to be an extremely valuable free agent acquisition this off-season, especially if he is paired with a low-cost option like young Wes Martin or experienced ex-Panther Van Roten on the opposite side. Glasgow is capable of starting or backing up all three interior line positions, and could provide a big upgrade from Tony Bergstrom and competition for Ross Pierschbacher.

Michael Schofield, Chargers/Broncos, age 29

Los Angeles Chargers v Tennessee Titans Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Schofield went to Michigan, and was selected in the 3rd round of the 2014 draft by the Broncos. He’s tall, standing 6’7” and 310 pounds.

Schofield was a starter on the Broncos Super Bowl 50 championship team that beat the Carolina Panthers, so Rivera and his team should have at least one game film to look at.

Despite Schofield being on the championship team, Denver waived him atthe end of the next training camp; a move that didn’t seem to sadden Broncos fans:

Denver has waived offensive lineman Michael Schofield, who was once dubbed the worst offensive lineman in the NFL by Mark Schlereth, will now be subject to the NFL’s waiver wire.

Schofield (6-6, 310 pounds) joined the Broncos as a third-round pick out of Michigan in the 2014 NFL draft. He’s been a big disappointment since then, allowing 10.5 sacks and being penalized eight times in 29 career starts.

Schofield’s best attribute is his versatility — he can play both offensive tackle and offensive guard — but Denver feels that they have enough depth on the roster without him.

Schofield wasn’t out of work at all. He was claimed by the Chargers off of waivers, and played 15 games in 2017, starting 5 of them at right tackle. He then signed a two year contract extension valued at $6.2m, with a 2019 cap hit of $4.5m with only $500,000 guaranteed. Over the past two seasons, he started all 32 regular season games at the guard position for the Chargers.

Schofield is a bit similar to Ereck Flowers insofar as his career got off to a rocky start with one team, but was resurrected through good play with another. My guess is that Schofield and Flowers will be offered similar contracts for their services.

Schofield seems to have earned a pay raise, and I think the Chargers are gonna let him test the market. He might be just what the doctor ordered for the Redskins — an experienced and competent guard who can also fill in at tackle if needed who is likely to sign for a very moderate salary — perhaps as little as half of what Scherff is likely to command.

Part 4 - The 2020 draft

If the Redskins are going to replace Brandon Scherff with a draft pick, it’s not going to happen with a Day 3 pick. Given that the team has a lot of roster holes but no second round selection at the moment, the only way I can see the team getting Brandon’s replacement in the draft is in a trade-back scenario.

Anyone the team drafts to fill this hole has to be clearly better than Wes Martin and Ross Pierschbacher; thus, the only prospects to consider are those who are seen to have the ability to be immediate NFL starters. Anyone else is simply being drafted for depth and development.

Tristan Wirfs - Iowa

Rutgers v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Wirfs became the first Iowa freshman to start at offensive tackle since Kirk Ferentz took over the program in 1999. Coming in at No. 1 in Bruce Feldman’s annual freak list, Wirfs rewrote the weight room records for the Hawkeyes and is one of the strongest overall prospects in the class. Oh, by the way he’s an excellent football player and prospect. While he has some technical items to address, Wirfs has the skill set of an impact starter, most likely at right tackle where he started at Iowa over the last 3.5 years. With that said, his best position in the NFL could come at guard but there is little reason to think he won’t be just as dominant outside at tackle. Wirfs is a powerful man with impressive mobility that should make him an asset in the run game and out in space. Wirfs has the upside to become one of the better offensive linemen in the game by Year Three.

Jonah Jackson - Ohio State

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 31 FAU at Ohio State Photo by Adam Lacy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Redskins, who have a roster full of Alabama players also have some key Ohio State Buckeyes on the roster. Jonah Jackson could be the next Big Ten player drafted by Washington.

Jackson is 6’4”, 310 pounds. As a redshirt senior, he is a full grown 23-year-old man that has been described as “an immediate plug-and-play starter at the the next level for whatever team drafts him.”

The most entertaining aspect of offensive line play is finishing blocks. There is no better feeling in the world than using your strength and leg drive to put an opposing player into the ground. Jackson is dominant in every aspect of finishing blocks and playing mean. He has excellent leg drive and strength, and he uses these two attributes to finish a majority of his run blocks. In pass protection, he uses his hip flexibility and strength to wear down defenders and drive them to the ground. He also constantly looks for work and buries unsuspecting defensive linemen who are engaged in other blocks. Whoever adds this offensive guard will be adding a powerful and mean interior presence to their team.

Overall it is very easy to like a player like Jonah Jackson, an All-Academic player who grad-transferred to a dominant school, won a starting job, and continued to improve his play over time.

Shane Lemieux - Oregon

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 02 Southern Utah at Oregon Photo by Brian Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Lemieux is another 23-year-old redshirt senior. He is 6’4”, 316 pounds of blocking power. He seems to be suited for a specific type of offensive scheme that may or may not be what Scott Turner has in mind for the Dwayne Haskins-led offense.

One analyst included these comments in the “Cons” section of Lemieux’s generally glowing report:

Limited space mover who is accordingly a scheme specific fit at the next level. Wouldn’t go so far as to call him a plodder, but he lacks explosive natural agility in tight areas to win in two-way goes when he initially misframes his opponent, and doesn’t execute many reach blocks given his lack of lateral influence.

Another provided this summary of the Oregon guard:

Shane Lemieux has the physical tools to be a starting guard in a gap/power offensive system. Teams reliant on guards to play frequently in space or in outside zone concepts won’t find the same value in Lemieux, but downhill rushing offenses will find excellent power at the point of attack and stout play in tight quarters. Lemieux is highly experienced and functional athleticism meets requisite thresholds despite not being considered an asset to his game.

Poll

What will happen with Brandon Scherff in the coming weeks?

This poll is closed

  • 29%
    He will sign a long-term deal with the Redskins prior to the start of the new league year.
    (167 votes)
  • 10%
    The Redskins will use the exclusive franchise tag on him to lock him up for 2020.
    (58 votes)
  • 30%
    The Redskins will use the non exclusive franchise tag on him, insuring that the team will either have Brandon or early draft picks.
    (171 votes)
  • 10%
    The Redskins will let him walk
    (59 votes)
  • 19%
    The front office will let Brandon ‘test the market’ and then try to re-sign him once his market value is clearly established
    (108 votes)
563 votes total Vote Now