Thursday, May 02, 2013

What Are We Doing at RT? The Tyson Clabo Report

Now that the smoke has cleared from the draft weekend, we believe that the Cowboys are doing what they claimed they would be doing this week: Trying to sort through their right tackle situation.

This is clearly difficult when your stated objectives seem to be to handle it at a really cheap price, given the lack of cap room this year, but more importantly are the cap issues that lie ahead after the 2013 season.  This limits the Cowboys to a series of 1-year solutions at right tackle, and frankly, when those are the parameters of your search, your options all have flaws or issues.

The least difficult solution at right tackle is to go back to the Doug Free well.  The reason that this is easy is obviously because he is already under contract, is likely to agree to a pay cut, and you are familiar with his realities.  Of course, you are also familiar with the fact that he led all NFL tackles with 15 penalties and conceded 6 sacks, 4 hits, and 41 QB hurries in 2012.

On the other hand, Free did finish 2012 with 3 consecutive games of very solid play as games against the Steelers, Saints, and Redskins all were almost completely clean from just about every perspective.  Free seldom struggles in the running game, so all of his issues start with his feet and his difficulty in closing the edge off on pass rush.  Even the penalties start there as he is usually cheating the snap and trying to get an extra step against pass rushers so he false starts.

Free is 29 and expensive, but I assume the Cowboys can give him a rather large hair-cut and he will accept it because this is no time to be looking for a job.  In fact, the timing of this couldn't not be better from that perspective if you are the Cowboys.  Eric Winston and Tyson Clabo have been free agents for a month now, and since they have both gone unsigned, you can see how Free must be doing the math in his head.  Here, if he takes a pay cut, you would assume RT would be his job to lose.  On the street, he is looking at a minimum deal and a chance to compete for a job after June 1.  He really is in a bind and the Cowboys can use that against him to a point.

However, let's say they are determined to "fix" this spot and really improve the offensive line with the additions of Travis Frederick and a new Right Tackle who can give them strong play.  I confess that they would really fix their issues offensively if Free and center were suddenly upgraded.

And that leads us to Winston and Clabo.  After talking with a few people in NFL Personnel, the discussion rather quickly dismisses Winston as an upgrade.  One simply said, "That wouldn't be an upgrade at all."  It wasn't long ago that Eric Winston was thought of as solid down in Houston, but the feeling in the league right now is that he would be a solid backup option.

So, to Tyson Clabo, where there the word is not as unkind.  I decided to break down his last 2 games for the Falcons and then an overview of his year in Atlanta before they released him on April 4 as a June 1-cut designation.

Before 2011, Clabo was given a 5-year deal for $25 million with $11.5m guaranteed.  The base salaries were low in 2011 and 2012, but from 2013-2015, they would head north to $4.5m per.  The Falcons are, of course, a team that is constructed in a way where they are young and building.  One of the byproducts of that is needing to put some big numbers on "QB1" Matt Ryan, and to do that, they need cap space.  With Clabo 31 years old, they see him as a replaceable veteran with 2 former 3rd Round picks ready to battle it out to play RT for the Falcons in 2013 at a significantly cheaper price.

But, in looking at Clabo from a Cowboys perspective, the questions are as follows:

1) - Is he an upgrade from Doug Free

Yes.  I think he has shown that he is a very good pass protector on the edge.  He had a disaster game against Carolina in Week 4 when Charles Johnson ate him for dinner (3 sacks against Clabo, 4 sacks in the game) but after that Clabo is not debited with a single sack against for the rest of the year.  In the running game, he might be slightly less that Free as far as running to space, but in the zone blocking scheme, he is fine on play-side and on the back-side his expertise in the cut block has landed him on the NFL's "dirtiest players" lists several times for chopping linemen down.

He played both Seattle and San Francisco in the playoffs last January and both of those sides can really stress you with their pass rushes.  He was absolutely fine in both games against the edge rushing, so much so that in many cases, they attacked elsewhere on the line and only half-heartedly attacked Clabo.  Ray McDonald did have a strength advantage against Clabo on a few plays - mostly on the run - but, that is a very large and strong player who will do that against most challengers.

Clabo seldom had help and seldom needed it (he committed just 5 penalties in 2012).  He really looked strong in all of his pass protection sets and was giving the Falcons plenty to help hold up Ryan's strong side.  I think he would be a tremendous upgrade from Free for a team that wants to pass 40 times a game.  He will give up some pressure on occasion, but most weeks, he gave the Falcons plenty of protection on the right flank.

2) - Is he a candidate for a 1-year, $3m or $4m deal?

I kind of doubt it.  And this is the tug-o-war that is going on with Clabo and his suitors.  I am sure he thinks he is worth a multiple year deal at his going rate (say, 3-years /$15 million) and teams around the league all have tackles and/or cap issues.  Once you sort through and find teams with both a need a tackle and cap room, your options are limited as a player - even one who has been to many pro bowls and has played well for 8 years on a playoff team.

But, I assume there is a happy medium and it looks like Miami is knocking on his door pretty hard.  They might be playing the same game by using Winston and Clabo (and Bryant McKinnie) all against each-other in a game of poker to see who will take the least years and the least money.  Miami also needs a tackle after losing Jake Long to St Louis this year and needing another starting tackle, too.

The Cowboys absolutely want a 1-year deal with Clabo, I suspect.  There is no doubt that his camp is holding on to the idea that he has earned more than that.  He is an upgrade from Free, but given the storm clouds of cap issues hitting them again next winter, I figure they want to use their cap surplus that they currently have (almost $5m after the Romo deal) but not dip into 2014 funds if possible.

If it is an issue of upgrading this OL, then I think you go get Tyson Clabo on a deal if you can get a 1-year deal or a multiple year deal with limited money guaranteed in year 2 or year 3.  But, football issues are always balanced against cap issues, and that is why we know the Cowboys will be careful not to get crazy.  Miami controls this game with their money, and if they bid too high on Clabo, expect Free to be your right tackle in 2013.

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