It goes without saying the importance of stout, bookend tackles in the NFL. With pass rushers now at a premium for teams looking to get after the quarterback, battle-tested offensive linemen who are able to produce in a pinch while maintaining health is a priceless trait; just ask the Kansas City Chiefs.
Although he’s played in just 13 games over the last two seasons, the now-healthy Russell Okung could serve as an immediate impact starter for a team in need of help at tackle. At 32 years old, Okung is past his prime, but it isn’t to say he’s over the hill or a shell of his former self. Okung, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, has started every game he’s appeared in over his 11-year career spanning four different franchises. As EDGE defenders become increasingly dynamic, his addition as a spot starter for the upcoming season (or longer) could be a massive add if a team eyes a veteran boulder to protect a first-year signal-caller or as an addition within an already experienced offensive unit to represent the final puzzle piece to the front five.
Here are three teams that could be in line for Okung, the former sixth overall selection in the 2010 draft, who, in the right situation, could represent the ideal late-cycle plug starter for a franchise in need of an immediate boost up front.
Behind one of the more experienced offenses in football, the Pittsburgh Steelers are slated to start two of the more inexperienced bookend anchors as Ben Roethlisberger enters his 18th season under center. As it stands right now, Pittsburgh is expected to start Chukwuma Okorafor at left tackle, but he’s never manned the left side at the NFL level; it’s a bigger transition than you think. He started all 16 games last year at right tackle after stepping in for Zach Banner in the season opener, but it’s Banner, now, who’s slated to slide in and start opposite Okorafor following the departures of Alejandro Villanueva, Maurkice Pouncey, and Matt Feiler along the line.
Not only would Okung provide an experienced option for the Steelers given their youth-infused offensive line, but he would also likely come fairly cheap on a veteran-tailored deal with a chance to compete and play under head coach Mike Tomlin. If you need more reason as to why Okung’s fit is undeniable in the black and yellow, his 6,500-plus career snaps dwarfs the live snap count of Okorafor and Banner, who have played a combined 1,565 snaps. Experience is paramount, and I don’t envision Pittsburgh rolling out the tandem of young tackles to be eaten alive within a defensive-minded, uber-physical division as Roethlisberger approaches 40 years old.
The Chicago Bears reportedly met with former Washington tackle Morgan Moses just last week, hinting at the adage that general manager Ryan Pace could be looking to either sit Teven Jenkins for a few weeks before he works up to play speed or in fact, be looking for an upgrade at either tackle spot. Jenkins, the Bears’ second-round selection in the 2020 draft, slots nicely opposite Germain Ifedi, but if head coach Matt Nagy eyes a longer grace period than many expected, Okung could start right away, allowing Jenkins to learn behind the 10-year veteran who’s aware his future isn’t in Chicago. The situation could also arise where Pace envisions Ifedi sliding into right guard while inserting Okung in at left tackle with Jenkins on the opposite side.
Either way, the pendulum swings, Okung’s addition would be a win-win add for a team not expected to make many waves as they enter the Justin Fields era.
Los Angeles Rams
Andrew Whitworth is one play away from Sean McVay’s offense lining up with Joe Noteboom to protect Matthew Stafford’s back; I don’t think that sits well in the head of Rams’ brass as they approach training camp. Whitworth has been excellent in his four seasons in Los Angeles, but he began to show signs in 2020 of his inability to stay on the football field as he enters his 16th season appearing in just nine games. Okung is by no means a spring chicken, but he’s seven years younger and touts experience unmatched by any available tackle on the market if McVay is interested in adding additional depth to cover himself if the worst-case scenario were to play out and Whitworth were to end up on the shelf for an extended amount of time.