NFL Free Agency – It’s A Good Year To Go Left Tackle Shopping

Left tackle is an extremely important position in the NFL. …
The Associated Press

Left tackle is an extremely important position in the NFL. These players protect the blindside of most quarterbacks (aside the lefties) against elite pass rushers, which is no easy task. Starting quality left tackles are hard to find. You need to seek out very athletic, tall, 300-pound men, light on their feet, with long arms and great technique.

It’s usually hard to find top-shelf left tackles on the street. Most teams don’t let them out of the building. However, this year an unusually large number of capable left tackles have become available in free agency.

Here’s a look at some of the guys available when NFL free agency begins March 9:

Andrew Whitworth, Bengals 6-7, 330 pounds • 35 years old

An amazingly durable left tackle, with 164 starts in 11 years and still playing at a high level, Whitworth didn’t give up a sack in 2014. Some thought his thin lower body would hurt him on the NFL level, but it hasn’t. Whitworth is a very smart player and a class act. He’s the kind of guy you want on your team.

Russell Okung, Broncos 6-5, 315 • 29

An elite prospect coming out of Oklahoma State, Seattle picked him sixth overall in the 2010 draft. After spending six years with the Seahawks, he signed a four-year, $48 million deal with Denver last year, but the Broncos opted out of the contract in February to avoid paying $21 million in guaranteed money. He’s got ideal size, is light on his feet, has very long arms and is extremely bright. Okung will be in demand on the open market.

Kelvin Beachum, Jaguars 6-3, 316 • 27

Beachum is a little short for an NFL left tackle, but he makes it work. He took over as the Steelers LT in Week 6 of 2013 and held the job through mid-October of 2015 when he tore his ACL. He signed with Jacksonville in 2016, but had an average season, perhaps still not himself after the knee injury. When healthy, Beachum is an athletic tackle with good feet.

Ryan Clady, Jets 6-6, 315 • 30

Clady is a rare left tackle talent when healthy, but the last few years he hasn’t been. In 2013, he suffered a Lisfranc foot sprain, in 2015 he tore his ACL, and last season he tore his rotator cuff. He is worth signing to a team-friendly contract that protects against injury.

Matt Kalil, Vikings 6-7, 317 • 27

The fourth overall pick of the 2012 draft, Kalil hasn’t lived up to that billing. He played fairly well his first two years, but then took a step back. He started every game his first four years, but then his season ended after two games in 2016 due to a hip injury. A change of scenery might do him good.

Riley Reiff, Lions 6-6, 305 • 28

Reiff started three years in Motown at left tackle, but then moved to the right side last year to accommodate first-round pick Taylor Decker. He is a very durable player who has only missed two games in his career. Though he played RT last year, he could be signed to play either side.

Will Beatty, Giants 6-6, 320 • 32

Beatty is an athletic left tackle who manned the position for the Giants during their last Super Bowl win. New York’s second-round pick in 2009, he earned a second contract (five years, $39 million) in 2012, but missed the 2015 season after tearing his rotator cuff while rehabbing a torn pectoral muscle. He was re-signed by the Giants in 2016, but served as a backup.

Ben Ijalana, Jets 6-4, 322  • 27

A second-round pick of the Colts in 2011, he had a rough time in Indy due to injuries. Ijalana salvaged his career with the Jets where he was the backup swing tackle in 2015, and started at both right and left tackle in 2016. He is a smart, athletic tackle who is light on his feet and has very long arms.