Thinking back to March free agency
When the Redskins were going into free agency in March this year, the focus on the offensive line went something like this:
- Roullier is under contract, so Center is okay.
- The team can re-sign Scherff, use 5th year option, or sign replacement so RG is under control.
- Moses hasn’t played so well in recent seasons, but he’s under contract and serviceable, so RT is okay.
- The team needs to re-sign Flowers, grab a guard in free agency, or roll with Martin. One way or another, we should have a LG this season.
When we looked at LT, the options seemed to be Geron Christian Sr. and...
“Houston, we have a problem”
Going into the veteran free agency period, Redskins fans and media were deeply concerned about how the Redskins would address the Left Tackle spot that was sure to be left vacant by the departure of Trent Williams, an event which seemed as inevitable as the coming of high tide. So, when Cornelius Lucas was signed to a free agent contract, it was assumed that he was the guy being penciled in at LT unless and until a better option came along.
It appears that a better option may have been added to the roster.
In the draft, the Redskins spent a fourth round pick on Saahdiq Charles — a college left tackle from LSU whom many rated as a second-round talent that slipped in the draft because he had been suspended for 6 games by his college coach for violation of team rules.
Despite the suspension being the coach’s decision, Ed Orgeron, the coach in question, strongly endorsed Charles as a draft prospect, saying that the young lineman had “made a mistake” and learned from it.
The “mistake” is rumored to have been marijuana use. Under the 2011 CBA, this would have raised legitimate concerns that the player could miss games due to suspensions if he couldn’t control his use. That concern is pretty much eliminated by the 2020 CBA, which has removed all the teeth from the NFL drug policy as regards marijuana use.
Consider the comments from Kyle Smith and Ron Rivera about Saahdiq Charles following the draft. Here’s Kyle Smith talking about the work they put into learning about Charles before the draft:
We’re very excited about Saahdiq [Charles]. We’ve done a lot of work on him.
He’s made mistakes in his past there at LSU, so...you gather all the character in the background, then you start to dive in, right? You watch the tape, and you find out what is he as a player, what’s the talent level, and that’s what we always go off of when we put them on the board.
He’s a high talent player. Tremendous talent, tremendous upside. We dove into this kids character in a big way. With our area scout, with our cross checker, Coach Rivera, myself, [Senior Director of Player Development] Malcom Blacken our player development. I had a long meeting the other day with him on Zoom.
We feel very confident in the kid; we’re comfortable with everything — the research that we’ve done — and we’re really excited for the kid. I know he is too.
He’s got a chip on his shoulder, he understands why he was taken where he was. We’re excited about the structure that we’re going to give this kid, the culture that Coach was talking about that we’re going to provide this kid. And we’re excited to give him an opportunity with the Redskins.
I’m not sensing any hesitation from Kyle Smith about Charles. He’s gone on record with unconditional support of the decision to draft him, and indicated that what Charles did on the field for the national champion LSU Tigers spoke to the Redskins in a big way.
Coach Rivera echoed the sentiment:
Saahdiq Charles...is a guy that’s going to compete; he’s going to compete on the left side, left tackle and left guard for us. He’s a guy that has a chance to contribute early on, and quite frankly, because we’re starting over, we’re starting from the beginning, everything is on the table. Every opportunity for anybody to come in and play is here. We are going to play the guys that we believe give us the best opportunity to win football games. That’s what you want. You want guys that can come in and contribute that way.
While Coach holds open the possibility of Charles playing left guard, the signs all seem to point to Charles being penciled in as the Redskins LT of the future, and — given the realities of the Redskins roster — probably for 2020. Unless Charles is hugely surprising (in a bad way) when he shows up to Redskins training camp, he seems to have the inside track on the starting Left Tackle spot.
Which brings me back to Corn Lucas. With the drafting of Saahdiq Charles, most people automatically dropped Lucas down from “Plan B” starting LT to backup left tackle in their minds.
We’ve been focused on Lucas as part of the plan at left tackle ever since his signing was announced. But that might have been an automatic response, and very possibly a mistake.
Cornelius Lucas was looked at as the emergency option at left tackle when he was signed, but he has only rarely played left tackle in his pro career. Cornelius Lucas is a right tackle.
He has been a fringe player in the league since 2014, coming in as a free agent with the Lions. He played in 35 games for the Lions in three years, lining up 32 times at right tackle. He played in only two games in ‘17 and ‘18 — both at right tackle.
However, Lucas had a real breakthrough with the Bears last season as the swing tackle and extra blocker on power plays. He played 472 snaps at right tackle, with several starts — one in Week 3 and another 5 in Weeks 14-17.
Cornelius Lucas may not have been drafted, and he may not be a star, but he has toiled for 6 years in the NFL and was on the regular season rosters of four different teams before signing with Washington. Make no mistake, however — he is an NFL offensive lineman; he has never been on a practice squad, and has accumulated 16 starts in his career.
More to the point, he is an NFL right tackle. The 2019 season showed that Lucas, who admittedly isn’t a star, is a lunchpail-toting toiler who is still ascending as he enters his seventh year in the league.
I wonder if the Redskins, having a pretty good idea that they would target Saahdiq Charles in the draft, signed Lucas to compete — not primarily at left tackle — but at RIGHT tackle, where he has played almost exclusively for his entire pro career.
Is it possible that Cornelius Lucas was identified as the guy who could challenge Morgan Moses at right tackle?
Let’s revisit what Coach Ron Rivera said in his quote above:
Quite frankly, because we’re starting over, we’re starting from the beginning, everything is on the table. Every opportunity for anybody to come in and play is here. We are going to play the guys that we believe give us the best opportunity to win football games. That’s what you want. You want guys that can come in and contribute that way.
If I was Cornelius Lucas, and I had spent 6 years busting my ass to try to get on the field and stay on the field, that’s the situation I would want to sign on for — especially if I knew my competition was a declining Morgan Moses.
Lucas vs Moses
Let’s turn to the imperfect PFF for some comparisons.
Last season Moses played 858 snaps, exclusively at RT.
Lucas played 507 snaps, with the 472 coming at RT and 49 as the 6th OL (technically at TE)
Morgan Moses had 11 yellow flags thrown against him in 2019 — tied for 14th most in the NFL.
Lucas was penalty-free for the season.
sacks, hurries, pressures
Moses was charged with giving up 5 sacks, 25 hurries and 37 pressures in 542 pass-blocking snaps.
Lucas was charged with giving up 1 sack, 10 hurries and 12 pressures in 297 pass-blocking snaps.
PFF graded Moses at 65.2.
Lucas was graded at 72.2.
Moses was graded at 66.1.
Lucas earned a grade of 74.9.
Morgan Moses graded out at 60.8.
Lucas received a grade of 62.6.
Some of these data, like penalties, are completely objective. Others, like sacks, hurries and pressures, are generally accepted as objective measures. The PFF grades are subjective and open to criticism.
But the overall picture that I get from this review is that Cornelius Lucas isn’t any worse at playing right tackle than is Morgan Moses — and probably better.
Both Moses and Lucas entered the NFL in 2014. Moses was a third-round pick of the Redskins, while Lucas went undrafted, but do we want to fall into the trap of using draft status to pigeonhole a player seven years after the fact?
It’s absolutely true that Morgan Moses has had the more successful career, but the question isn’t what happened from 2014-2019, but what is going to happen in 2020.
What role will Cornelius Lucas have with the Redskins in 2020?
The Redskins brass signed Cornelius Lucas to a 2-year, $3.8m contract with a $1m signing bonus, indicating that they really wanted him on the roster.
At the time, the gaping hole at left tackle made everyone assume that he was cheap insurance for that spot.
But maybe we were all distracted by events and timing, and looking the wrong way.
Maybe Lucas was signed with the goal of upgrading the Redskins right tackle position.
Who will start at Left Tackle in the Week One opening game against the Eagles?
This poll is closed
What will be Cornelus Lucas’ role with the Redskins in Week One of the regular season?
This poll is closed
Starting left tackle
Starting right tackle
Swing Tackle (backing up both sides on game day)
Lucas won’t make the regular season roster