2021 NFL free agency: Corey Linsley, Joe Thuney headline solid interior offensive lineman market

The team here at CBS Sports has taken it upon ourselves to preview every single position’s free agency class. Already this week, Tyler Sullivan walked through the stacked wide receiver market, headed by Allen Robinson and Chris Godwin, among others; Patrik Walker dug into the deep and intriguing running back crop, led by Aaron Jones; and Cody Benjamin went deep on the quarterback class, in which all eyes will be on Dak Prescott. 

While those lists contain the biggest names among the offensive free agents, most every NFL fan knows that it would be nearly impossible for those guys to do their jobs without the help of the guys we’ll talk about over these next two days: the offensive linemen. Because there are five positions on the line, we’ve split our preview into two lists — one for the tackles (tomorrow) and one for the guards and centers (below). We’ll walk through the top 10 available options this offseason, then list some of the best of the rest. 

Corey Linsley has been a rock-solid starting center for quite a while now, and in 2020 was named a first team All-Pro. (He had the third-highest grade among 132 qualified interior linemen at Pro Football Focus, so it was well deserved.) He’ll play next season at age 30, so he should have several more years of high-quality play left in him. The Packers will almost surely want to bring him back so they can keep Aaron Rodgers’ infrastructure intact, but if they surprisingly allow him to hit the open market, somebody is going to get their hands on a really good pivot man for the next few seasons. 

The Patriots used their franchise tag on Joe Thuney last season, which means if they want to tag him again, it’ll cost $17,737,200. That’s a whole lot of money. New England is usually hesitant to do something like that, but Thuney is a really, really good player. He’s started all 80 games of his career and will play most of next season at age 28 before turning 29 in November. He is probably the top “gettable” interior lineman on the market, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he received the biggest free-agent contract — if he leaves New England, that is. 

Brandon Scherff was also franchise-tagged last year, though his tag number was slightly higher than Thuney’s and thus it’ll cost Washington $18,036,000 to bring him back on the tag in 2021. He’s dealt with some injury issues over the past few years (he played in just 32 of 48 games from 2018 through 2020 after playing 46 of 48 prior to that), but when he is on the field, he’s a stud. He’s made the Pro Bowl in four of the last five seasons and was named an All-Pro in 2020 after grading out as the eighth-best interior lineman in the league by PFF.

David Andrews seems like the more likely of New England’s two premium offensive line free agents to return to the fold, if only because he has not yet been franchise tagged and thus will likely be less expensive to retain. He missed the entire 2019 season and four games in 2020, but he is a quality starting center with a wealth of experience in New England. The Patriots can’t afford to lose both players, so the smart money is on them retaining at least one. 

Alex Mack is no longer at the peak of his powers, but he is still quite good. A 12-year veteran and six-time Pro Bowler, he’s also been remarkably durable throughout his career. The two games he missed this season were his first since sitting out 11 in 2014. He’s played and started every other game of his career. With the Falcons bringing in new management and a new coaching staff, it’s possible he could be looking for a new home. Any team running a zone-based rushing attack would be lucky to have him.

Austin Blythe was a bit of a late bloomer, but he’s come into his own over the past few years. He began his career with the Colts and didn’t get much of a chance to do anything there before he was waived. The Rams claimed him and kept him on the bench for a year, then moved him into the starting lineup in 2018. He’s been up and down during that time, playing poorly in 2019 before bouncing back this season. Still, he’s a three-year starter with experience at both guard and center, and that could prove pretty valuable on the market. The Rams are going to have a whole lot of cap issues this offseason, so he might get lost in the shuffle.

Ted Karras was Andrews’ backup in New England for three seasons, then started in place of him in 2019. He went down to Miami to join former Pats assistant Brian Flores last season, and started all 16 games for the Dolphins. He’s a perfectly competent starting center, and the Dolphins would probably like to bring him back for at least one more year as they search for a longer-term option at the position. 

The Chiefs’ offensive line has become much-maligned in the wake of the team’s Super Bowl defeat, but Austin Reiter has been solid for them during his time in Kansas City. Formerly a seventh-round pick out of Washington, he spent two years with the Browns before landing in KC in 2018. He was a rotational guy for his first season but has started 28 of the team’s last 32 regular-season games. He’s better in pass protection than he is road-grating for the run game, which suits the Chiefs’ purposes just fine. 

Jon Feliciano languished on the Raiders’ bench for four years before landing in Buffalo. He’s shown the ability to play both guard spots and center during his time with the Bills, though he did miss the first seven games of the 2020 with a chest injury. He’s not going to blow you away, but every team needs competent players up the middle and Feliciano has shown he can be just that. 

Once arguably the best left guard in the NFL, Mike Iupati has not been quite as good in recent seasons, but is coming off a very solid year with the Seahawks. He missed six weeks due to injury but his pass blocking — which took a nosedive during his time with the Cardinals — has come back on line these past two years. He likely won’t ever recapture the form he had during his heyday in San Francisco, but that’s alright. He’s a solid guard option for teams in need — especially if they’re lacking in the run game. 

Best of the rest: 

Published: 2021-02-18 15:02:57

Tags: #NFL #free #agency #Corey #Linsley #Joe #Thuney #headline #solid #interior #offensive #lineman #market

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