The NFL's free agency window doesn't open for another month and a half, but when it does, there will be a flurry of dominoes that will fall as the league's 32 franchises scramble to address needs and aggressively attack the offseason.
While the discussion around the 2020 free-agent class has been centered primarily around the quarterbacks available, one of the better groups for this spring is actually the offensive linemen — a rarity given the NFL's scarcity of quality starters at the position.
When teams have good talent up front in the trenches, they rarely let them walk. Yet this year's free-agent class is scheduled to see notable offensive linemen such as Washington's Brandon Scherff, New Orleans' Andrus Peat, New England's Joe Thuney, Tennessee's Jack Conklin, Baltimore's Matt Skura and others hit the open market.
The premiere name? Scherff, who was the fifth-overall selection in the 2015 draft and has been named to three Pro Bowls in five seasons with the Redskins. He is facing the prospect of a significant payday in March, be it from Washington or one of the other 31 franchises. Why? We're here to lay out his claim.
Where He Wins
Teams that implement a lot of gap or power run concepts are going to love Scherff. His point at the point of attack, quickness as a puller and ability to align blocks on the second level and outside the numbers are all plus qualities that will benefit any rushing attack he's pegged for. Scherff displays terrific power in drive block situations as well, illustrating heavy hands and the necessary lower body power and leg drive to uproot defenders off the line of scrimmage and give running backs a clear gap to hit off of his hip.
In pass protection, Scherff has the anchor necessary to hold ground against even the most powerful defenders. His block framing, once his hands are fit onto the body of rushers, is consistent and allows him to mirror and counter efforts to work back across his face. If left unoccupied, Scherff is one of the best guards in the league in finding additional work. He'll catch unsuspecting defenders with heavy contact and often knocks down defensive linemen with his kill shots as a help protector.
As a former offensive tackle at the University of Iowa, Scherff's comfort in space is apparent and aids his fit into any kind of passing offense across the league. Similarly, vertical passing offenses should have no hesitation plugging him into their offensive interior. He sustains blocks very well and would be a good fit for teams who ask their quarterbacks to hold the ball longer in the pocket to survey the field. Whether he's setting for quick game or seven-step drops, Scherff has the efficiency in protection to hold up.
Potential Red Flags
There aren’t many red marks on Scherff's film — although teams that implement a lot of zone concepts would be doing his power and pulling capabilities a disservice.
Scherff's biggest issues currently lie in durability. He's ended the last two seasons on injured reserve for a torn pectoral muscle in 2018 and elbow and shoulder injuries in 2019. In all, Scherff has missed 13 of his last 32 contests with the Redskins — a somewhat alarming trend for a powerful presence who calls upon so much explosive power in his game. Scherff turned 28 in December; so the trend of injuries will have some teams concerned his body isn't going to return to the form we saw when he first entered the league in 2015 and started 38 consecutive games before missing his first career game back in 2017.
Penalties were a problem for Scherff in 2019 as well. He logged 9 penalties in 11 games this past season — three times as many fouls he was called for in 22 games from the 2017 and 2018 seasons combined. Was it a byproduct of his recovery from the pectoral tear? Were his 2019 injuries a byproduct of the rehab from his injury in 2018, too?
These are the questions NFL teams will look to answer this offseason before signing him to a big contract.
Spotrac estimates Scherff will command an average annual salary in excess of $12 million. This becomes a complex proposition for teams, given he's showing some signs of depreciation from a durability perspective. Yet his skillset absolutely warrants the price point. If a team can build in assurances in the language of the contract to see to it that guaranteed money has performance and snap volume escalators, expect to see Scherff meet this threshold on the open market.
Dominant guard play is hard to come by, so the promise of Scherff's presence in the run game and his versatility in pass protection are going to swoon some teams.
The only question here is which teams have the money to spend and the need at guard to make a compelling pitch?
Potential Landing Spots
The Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins' shift from Chad O'Shea to Chan Gailey as their offensive coordinator waters down this fit to some degree. Gailey's offenses have evolved into more of a horizontal spread offense. As such, there were few heavy sets in Gailey's recent units and called more zone concepts into action. But a high passing volume — his offenses in New York totaled 1,154 pass attempts in two seasons between 2015 and 2016 — means Scherff would still bring a significant upgrade to Miami's right guard position, a spot that was held down between an undrafted free agent (Shaq Calhoun) and Evan Boehm in 2019.
With nearly $94 million in available cap space, the Dolphins will have no worries about meeting Scherff's price tag.
The New York Jets
Le'Veon Bell may or may not be back with the Jets in 2020. But if he is, it is hard to think of a better back to fit behind Scherff on power runs between the tackles. The Pittsburgh Steelers made a living running the ball with Bell courtesy of a heavy dose of inside zone and plenty of power concepts — putting one of the best power guards in the league in front of Bell would certainly help to put some juice into New York's ground game.
The Jets are projected to own more than $56 million in cap space and they too will have the spending power to corral Scherff.
The Detroit Lions
Remember all those years Detroit failed to score a 100-yard rusher? The futility was back in 2019. The team managed to surpass 100 total rushing yards just six times in 2019 and two of those games came within the first month of the season. Running back Kerryon Johnson missed half the season and led the team in rushing with 403 yards. Putting a potent, smash-mouth player like Scherff in at right guard would create a really nice pairing with 2018 first-round pick Frank Ragnow at center and give this offense more attitude up front.
The Lions are projected to own nearly $46 million in cap space in 2020 and already have guard Graham Glasgow on their own list of expiring contracts.
The Carolina Panthers
The Panthers are a bit of a dark horse here. Is this team looking to tear it down? If so, count Carolina out. But no one really knows what the game plan is for David Tepper and company in Year 1 of this regime change. Bringing in coach Matt Rhule is a fascinating move as is the team's commitment to offensive coordinator Joe Brady. LSU implemented a pair of power players at guard in 2019 on its way to a national championship, and the Panthers already have one such player in Trai Turner.
If the Panthers decide to invest heavily in their offensive line to either help keep quarterback Cam Newton upright or provide optimal stability for the next Panthers quarterback, this is a team that feels like they're not going to be afraid to throw out money in free agency. Carolina spent big on center Max Paradis last year and is a left guard away from locking in a formidable, powerful interior trio. Scherff played left tackle at Iowa, so a left-sided stance wouldn't be completely foreign.
The Panthers are projected to own over $32.5 million in cap space this offseason.