AFC South: Branden Albert

Traditional logic in NFL free agency says the biggest fish has to be reeled in before the market for a position is truly set.

Certainly a bunch of free-agent tackles around the NFL are hoping that’s the case after Jake Long struck a deal with the St. Louis Rams Sunday night on a four-year deal that could be worth $36 million.

But it is really true that the top guy has to go first?

[+] EnlargeGosder Cherilus
Tim Fuller/USA TODAY SportsWith a five-year, $34.5 million deal, the Indianapolis Colts recently made ex-Detroit Lion Gosder Cherilus one of the highest-paid right tackles in the NFL.
Gosder Cherilus got a big contract from Indianapolis (five-year deal, $34.5 million), Jermon Bushrod moved to Chicago for five years and $35.97 million. Phil Loadholt did pretty well re-signing with Minnesota (four-year deal, $25 million) well before anything happened with Long.

Taking out Denver’s Ryan Clady and Kansas City’s Branden Albert, who both received franchise tags, ESPN.com’s free-agent tracker lists 41 free-agent tackles.

Before Long got his deal, 10 of them had contracts, five with their old team, five with new clubs.

With 24 percent of the market having found work, I wouldn’t say Long was needed to set the market.

(Similarly at cornerback -- we saw Greg Toler sign in Indianapolis and Bradley Fletcher sign in Philadelphia well before Aqib Talib got a new contract in New England. And Brent Grimes and Nnamdi Asomugha are still available.)

What’s more accurate with regard to tackles is to say Long needed to go first in the pecking order of CAA, the agency that represents him, along with Sebastian Vollmer and Andre Smith, two of the top three remaining tackles along with Eric Winston.

In the AFC South, the Colts (with Cherilus and guard Donald Thomas) and the Titans (with guard Andy Levitre) have likely finished their front-line offensive line work and will resume addressing their lines in April's draft.

But Jacksonville has a couple of gaping holes at left guard and right tackle.

Will the Jaguars make a move with one of the top remaining options? Nothing they’ve done so far suggests they’ll spend big dollars on one guy, even with such large holes looming. If more time passes and players get increasingly antsy, maybe there is a point at which Jacksonville would see value and get involved.

I am not so sure we’re about to see a big spurt of tackle activity now that Long has signed.

But that’s the thing about free-agency shopping. It’s hardly easy to predict when to show interest and when guys will bite on offers.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Continuing our periodic look at the history of the AFC South-relevant first-round draft slots ...

We've already hit on No. 30, where the Tennessee Titans will pick Saturday, and No. 27, where the Indianapolis Colts sit.

Here's a look at the last 10 picks in the No. 15 slot owned this time around by Houston.

The No. 15 Pick Since 1999
Year Pos. School Player Team Comment
2008 G Virginia Branden Albert Kansas City As a rookie, started 15 games at left tackle
2007 LB Florida State Lawrence Timmons Pittsburgh Has appeared in all 32 games,
had five sacks in second year
2006 CB Clemson Tye Hill St. Louis Not a big factor; hurt in the last two years
2005 LB Texas Derrick Johnson Kansas City Has started 58 of possible 64 games for Chiefs
2004 WR LSU Michael Clayton Tampa Bay Has dropped off since giant rookie year, but Bucs re-signed him
2003 DE Miami Jerome McDougle Philadelphia Just three sacks in 37 games; currently a free agent
2002 DT Tennessee Albert Haynesworth Tennessee Just signed monster deal with Washington
2001 WR Clemson Rod Gardner Washington Seven seasons, four teams, 242 catches, 3,165 yards, 23 TDs
2000 CB California Deltha O'Neal Denver 34 interceptions with Cincy, Denver and New England
1999 DT LSU Anthony McFarland Tampa Bay Recorded 22.5 sacks in 109 games in nine seasons

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