Signing a franchise quarterback is the top priority of most NFL teams, but locking up a franchise left tackle is a close second for many. Fortunately, for teams in need of starting tackles, a number of quality offensive tackles are set to hit the free agent market.
A few of the potential free agents are also candidates for the franchise tag, but by doing so, teams would have to guarantee nearly $10 million. Here is a closer look at a few of the offensive tackles who are scheduled to be free agents.
Ryan Clady, Broncos, UFA
A true franchise left tackle, Clady is the jewel of the offensive tackle free agent list. Clady was voted as an All-Pro in three of his five seasons and could be the most sought-after free agent at any position if he hits the market. The 26-year-old is likely to be designated as a franchise player, as the Broncos will want to keep him around to protect Peyton Manning's blindside.
Clady underwent shoulder surgery following the postseason, but is expected to be recovered in time for the start of the regular season. Even with the injury, Clady would have no shortage of suitors if he hit the open market.
Andre Smith, Bengals, UFA
If Clady is the best free agent left tackle, Smith may be the best free agent right tackle. He had issues with weight during his career, but is coming off the best season of his career. Pro Football Focus gave Smith a plus-26.9 rating this season, the same rating Clady earned.
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Right tackles don't typically earn as much as left tackles, so there is some question whether the Bengals would franchise Smith at a cost of $9.6 million. If not, there should be multiple teams interested in signing the 26-year-old.
Branden Albert, Chiefs, UFA
Since joining the Chiefs, Albert has been a mainstay along the offensive line. He started 71 of 73 games in his career, most of which were at left tackle. He played guard in college and some have speculate he could move back inside in the NFL, but Albert denied those claims saying, "I'm not a guard. Point blank."
The biggest question with Albert may be his back. He's had back issues during his career, including this season. He said his back is not a concern long-term, but some have speculated the Chiefs won't re-sign him due to the issue.
Sebastian Vollmer, Patriots, UFA
Like Albert, Vollmer has also dealt with back injuries during his career. He started 15 games this season, but was limited to six games in 2011. When healthy, Vollmer is among the best right tackles in the NFL. His injury history may drive down the price, but Vollmer is still likely to draw considerable interest on the open market.
After battling back injuries throughout his career, Baker was healthy last season, as he started all 16 regular season games. According to the Orange County Register, Baker allowed 3.5 sacks this season, the lowest total since his rookie season. Baker played 1,073 snaps this season, compiling a plus-11.6 rating according to Pro Football Focus.
Gosder Cherilus, Lions, UFA
Cherilus struggled at times during the early part of his Detroit career, but was among the best right tackles in the NFL last season. The 28-year-old finished the season with a Pro Football Focus rating of plus-26.5, just behind Smith and Clady who finished at plus-26.9. Other free agent tackles have long injury histories, but Cherilus has started 71 of 75 games since entering the NFL in 2008.
Jake Long, Miami, UFA
Long is an intriguing free agent, as after being considered one of the top left tackles in the NFL, he struggled last season, with injuries playing a major role in the decline. Still, the former No. 1 pick is 27 years old and just two seasons removed from making the All-Pro team. According to an NFL.com report, Long is looking for $10 million a year from the Dolphins. While he may not find that on the open market, Long could have a long list of suitors if he's healthy.
The full list