The Texans desperately tried to finagle a starting-caliber offensive lineman from a Jadeveon Clowney deal on the eve of the season.
After Bill O’Brien angled for starting center Justin Britt and right tackle Germaine Ifedi in talks with Seattle, Houston settled for a couple linebackers and a Seahawks third rounder for Clowney. The Seahawks opted for continuity.
The Dolphins eventually pulled a couple first-round selections from Houston, with LT Laremy Tunsil providing them a much larger return than Britt and Ifedi could’ve gotten the Seahawks. And unlike Seattle, the Dolphins are deep in rebuild mode and can probably much more afford an ugly outlook in 2019.
Offensive line continuity is not something you want to crater — especially right before the season. Still, August did see poor fortune hit organizations that do heed the importance of OL continuity, most recently in New England.
Patriot Way Interrupted
We’ve seen Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and Josh McDaniels overcome massive midseason losses of Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman en route to Super Bowl runs, but losing their longtime center right before the season is uncharted territory. As detailed in Part I of this offseason’s series on OL continuity, the Patriots basically whisked assistant Dante Scarnecchia off a golf course after the Broncos bounced them in the AFC title. That season was fraught with OL challenges and the unit capitulated at Denver.
Scarnecchia found his combo and managed to avoid replacing multiple starting spots since his return in 2016. They were slated to join Philly and Pittsburgh as the only teams to manage the feat. The plan the past two offseasons was to groom Isaiah Wynn as the sole replacement, but now David Andrews’ health issue means new starters in the mix at center and LT.
Trent Is Through With Us
Washington brass has put on a happy face about this saga but Trent Williams is not having it. It’s hard to imagine that Williams’ distrust in the franchise’s management of his health will just suddenly dissipate, so we can slot Donald Penn next to Ereck Flowers for Week 1. Sorry Case!
This organization had actually maintained the pinnacle of OL continuity during the Sean McVay and Kirk Cousins years in D.C., peaking in a 2016 campaign where Washington enjoyed a level of combined year-over-year and in-season continuity only matched by two standard-bearers in Pittsburgh and Dallas. Washington joins New England as the teams from the chart above that will replace multiple starters heading into the 2019 campaign — and not by design.
The Steelers’ machine-like churning of elite backfield production owes a good deal to continuity up front. The trade of longtime Steelers RT Marcus Gilbert is softened by the fact that Matt Feiler took most of the RT snaps last year anyways.
I detailed the Steelers’ mastery here in Part II of this offseason’s series, drawing comparisons to the 1990s Broncos in how they find ways to move on to younger, cheaper tackles while reducing loss of continuity. Alex Gibbs played a major role there as offensive line coach, which reminds us that this Broncos RB golden era ended as Gibbs departed for Atlanta in 2004. Erstwhile Steelers OL coach Mike Munchak ended his five-year tenure this offseason by leaving for, coincidentally, Denver.
Across the state, Philly has been on the level by going max continuity the past two offseasons. Even through injuries hitting the Eagles’ franchise quarterback and turmoil hitting the Steelers’ roster, these remain two top 10 offenses in yards and yards per play over the span. The Steelers backfield launches fantasy league winners and Miles Sanders’ ADP is surging on the potential of a featured back in Philly.
The Panthers and Cowboys boast two of the most dynamic running backs in the league. If it weren’t for the Ezekiel Elliott holdout news through much offseason, Zeke would join Christian McCaffrey as a top-three lock in fantasy drafts. In Part III of this offseason’s OL continuity series, I dug further into the relationship between continuity, run-block metrics, and rushing production, in this post-NFL draft analysis of the trenches.
Other preseason takeaways and 2019 outlook
Rookies project to win opening day spots on starting offensive lines at the highest clip of the past four years, with 10 projected to start Week 1. I’ve charted it by stage in the draft process below this preseason postmortem.
- Miami becomes the first team to start multiple rookies in Week 1 since the 2016 Ravens did it with Ronnie Stanley and Alex Lewis
- There is the specter of a holdout with Laremy Tunsil, so we’ll monitor and update the Texans Week 1 left tackle spot accordingly.
- It will be interesting to see what the Bills roll out Week 1. Any way you shake it, Buffalo appears set for only one returning starter.
- Dennis Kelly should fill Taylor Lewan’s shoes until Week 5. He’s not the same quality of player, but at least he did open 2018 as starter while Jack Conklin recovered.
- The Niners, Colts, Bears, and Ravens join OL continuity regulars in the Eagles and Steelers at max continuity. This is when projecting James Hurst at LG in Baltimore. Dallas would join that group if Travis Frederick hadn’t landed on IR prior to Week 1, since these numbers are based on continuity from the previous year’s unit. But Dallas remains a standard-bearer when it comes to OL in talent and continuity, and it’s exciting to see Frederick back.
- Russell Okung and Kaleb McGary are under treatment involving blood thinners, or else would likely be starting Week 1. Their statuses are unknown, and hopefully they take the time they need to return to full health.
- At the time I’m filing this, coaches are leaving the starting job up in the air at Jags RG with A.J. Cann and Will Richardson, Raiders RG with Denzelle Good and Jordan Devey, Browns RG with Eric Kush and Wyatt Teller, Falcons LG with Jamon Brown and James Carpenter, and Chiefs left guard with Andrew Wylie and Cam Erving.
- Arizona, Atlanta, Miami, and Oakland each turn over a majority of their starting offensive line spots entering Week 1, though we’ll see how Raiders LG Gabe Jackson progresses from his knee injury over the next couple months.