Free Agency Primer: Offensive Linemen
He won't get the big payday this offseason, but that's OK with Kevin Mawae.
The Tennessee Titans offensive lineman (pictured) has gotten his share of fat contracts over his 16-year career, and now is focused on making sure his fellow union members get a fair slice of the NFL pie.
Mawae will be an unrestricted free agent when this very different version of the NFL offseason officially begins March 5. The eight-time Pro Bowler can expect some feelers, even at 39, but Mawae's short-term personal interests are out-weighed by his mission as president of the NFL Players Association.
We'll hear much more from him with regard to the union in the coming weeks -- as the deadline (and unlikelihood) for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement approaches -- than we will about matters relative to extending his decorated 16-year career, the previous 10 of which have been spent as either a member of NFLPA Executive Committee or player representative.
"Show us," Mawae said in a recent interview with Nashville-based Business TN, a remark directed at NFL owners who say they cannot fund the league under the existing labor agreement. "We're smart people. Our players are intelligent guys. Most of us are college-educated. Many of us, especially on the union board, have masters degrees and continuing education degrees. We understand spreadsheets and numbers. If the league's financial structure is not making sense, let us take a look at it. As it stands, they won't open their books. We just have to take their word for it."
Their word, however, was enough to spin ahead toward this mangled version of free agency that has prevented some very good players from reaching the UFA status Mawae currently enjoys; and is fighting for (among other things).
Here's a look at offensive linemen set to be free agents of some kind next month.
Note: * denotes a restricted free agent who will become an unrestricted free agent in the unlikely event the league and players negotiate a new CBA before the deadline.
1) Willie Colon (T/Pittsburgh), RFA*: Last year, the Steelers tagged Max Starks as their franchise player, then eventually negotiated a long-term deal to the tune of four years and $26.3 million. Colon is a four-year starter at right tackle and -- some Pittsburgh coaches believe -- maybe the team's best lineman. The franchise number this year is nearly $8.5 million. Unfortunately for Colon, with the uncapped-year rules, he'll probably make around $2.5 million under his tender.
2) Jamaal Brown (T/New Orleans), RFA*: The former first-round draft choice and two-time Pro Bowl selection went on injured reserve (sports hernia) in September and watched an unknown fellow named Jermon Bushrod do the blindside thing for Drew Brees, as the Saints rolled to the Super Bowl. Before that, Brown had started 58 straight games at left tackle, dating to his 2005 rookie season. The Saints, with more than 20 players facing some form of free agency, have some decisions to make.
3) Jahri Evans (G/New Orleans), RFA*: This is not one of those decisions. Evans is one of the best interior lineman in the game, having been voted to his second straight Pro Bowl. His one-year tender will be in the $3 million range, but the Saints need not mess around -- lock him up long term.
4) Marcus McNeill (T/San Diego), RFA*: Two years ago, McNeill was close to signing a nice contract extension, but talks broke off after he injured his neck. The Chargers should know they were fortunate to find a franchise-type left tackle in the second round of the '06 draft.
5) Chad Clifton (T/Green Bay), UFA: He had Brett Favre's back for eight years and has done the same for Aaron Rodgers the last two. Clifton is not the lock-down force he was in his 20s -- he's 33 now -- but if the Packers don't want to re-sign him (they might have another option with backup T.J. Lang, a promising rookie last season), someone will.
6) Logan Mankins (G/New England), RFA*: Two-time Pro Bowler not only has been terrific since being selected with the final choice in Round 1 in '05, he's been durable. Mankins has started every game during those five seasons.
David Baas (G/San Francisco), RFA*: An underrated guy hidden in an offense (and franchise) spinning its wheels.
Khalid Barnes (T/Oakland), RFA*: Ankle injury limited him to just six games and two starts in first Raiders season.
Alex Barron (T/St. Louis), RFA*: Rams drafted Jason Smith No. 2 overall to replace Barron at left tackle, but it was Smith who moved to the right side.
Jermon Bushrod (T/New Orleans), RFA: Stepped in for injured Jamaal Brown on left side and locked it down all the way to the Super Bowl.
Chris Chester (G/Baltimore), RFA*: Someone opened some inside holes for that Ravens running game.
Tyson Clabo (T/Atlanta), RFA*: Started all 53 games he suited up for since '06, including all 33 Falcons games last two years.
Daryn Colledge (G/Green Bay), RFA*: He was Boise State before Boise State was cool.
Jared Gaither (T/Baltimore), RFA: Starting left tackle missed five games with neck and ankle injuries last year.
Mike Gandy (T/Arizona), UFA: Cardinals planning to part ways with their left tackle of the last three seasons.
Justin Hartwig (C/Pittsburgh), UFA: Started every game (including Super Bowl) for Steelers the last two seasons.
Charlie Johnson (T/Indianapolis), RFA*: Started 28 games the last two seasons for a line that doesn't let Peyton Manning get sacked too often.
Nick Kaczur (T/New England), UFA: Fixture on Patriots front for the last five seasons.
Deuce Lutui (G/Arizona), RFA*: Started all 38 games during Cards' two-year playoff run.
Kevin Mawae (G/Tennessee), UFA: Union chief, at worst, will make any team's locker room better.
Stephen Neal (G/New England), UFA: All eight of his seasons with the Patriots.
Donald Penn (T/Tampa Bay), RFA*: Underrated, aggressive and athletic (but tends to get bigger as season goes on).
Chris Spencer (C/Seattle), RFA*: He's been good enough, but never performed to his status as a first-round pick.
Mark Tauscher (G/Green Bay), UFA: Re-signed in October and, at 32, played very well despite two reconstructed knees.
Jeremy Trueblood (T/Tampa Bay), RFA*: Feisty right tackle who gets too many penalties.
Bobbie Williams (G/Cincinnati), UFA: Durable veteran has started all 95 games he's been active for since 2004.