Cleveland Browns fans and Baker Mayfield can both collectively breathe a sigh of relief. The Browns secured their starting right tackle for the foreseeable future when they signed former Tennessee Titans first-rounder Jack Conklin to a three-year, $42 million deal. It was a fairly modest price to pay for PFF’s 21st-ranked free agent and second-ranked tackle set to hit the market (behind Anthony Castonzo).
For the Browns, signing Conklin — or any tackle in free agency — was a move that had to get done for a number of reasons. With Greg Robinson likely out of the league for at least the foreseeable future and Chris Hubbard a possible cap casualty, they have no real options at the position. Although they own the 10th overall pick in a deep tackle class, we’ve seen how steep the learning curve can be for rookies at the position. Signing an offensive tackle in free agency might not be the sexiest move, but it’s one that can pay big dividends.
The somewhat worrisome part of the Conklin deal is that it doesn’t completely lock down one tackle position overnight. Conklin isn’t the type of player you can feel completely comfortable leaving on an island with someone like division rival T.J. Watt and know Mayfield will be safe. Below, you can see how he’s fared over his career on what we call true pass-sets (standard dropback passes where the defense rushes at least four).
|Year||True Pass Grade||Rank|
That precipitous drop you see after 2017 was the result of going from Mike Mularkey’s exotic smashmouth that saw Conklin protected often with tight ends to Matt LaFleur and then Arthur Smith’s offenses. There’s a reason why the Titans declined his fifth-year option prior to the 2019 season, and it likely wasn’t because of the knee injury that shortened his 2018 season, which reportedly didn’t even require surgery.
It’s important to remember, though, that the move is still a significant upgrade. Chris Hubbard earned a 55.9 pass-blocking grade on his true pass sets a season ago, which ranked 54th out of 72 qualifying tackles. Going from awful to average can be a massive upgrade in pass protection and allow an offense to not completely change up its blocking schemes to account for one player.
While run blocking doesn’t nearly move the needle for us in the way pass protection does, Conklin has been one of the better run-blocking tackles in the NFL over the course of his career. He can win in a number of different ways and has proven to be scheme diverse in the run game. Since he came in the league in 2016, Conklin has earned the 12th highest run-blocking grade among all tackles the past four seasons (78.1).
JACK CONKLIN. Pro Football Focus has him with the #1 OL productivity grade thru 2 preseason games. Now granted, lots of starters in NFL haven’t played. But this guy has been productive since his roookie year. I like his toughness + productivity. And his FINISH like on this play pic.twitter.com/rOV0LGEOCq
— Paul Alexander (@CoachPaulAlex) August 23, 2019
Now that we know approximately who Conklin is, let’s examine exactly what that’s worth. Our friends at OverTheCap.com predicted that Conklin would receive a five-year deal worth $14 million per year in free agency. They nailed the APY, but the Browns got away without the long-term commitment. When you put that money in comparison to what others have gotten on the open market and via re-signings in recent years, it’s not a hefty price to pay whatsoever.
The Browns came into this offseason with the third most cap space of any franchise, so not bidding up against themselves is another win for them. Conklin’s deal is firmly in between those signed recently by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers‘ Donovan Smith and the Arizona Cardinals‘ D.J. Humphries. All three graded out in a similar range this past season, but the other two never hit the open market. Getting Conklin’s money to fall between them was a proper evaluation.
The bottom line
This was certainly a ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ sort of predicament that the Browns found themselves in needing help at both offensive tackle spots. In recent years, we’ve seen the New York Giants and Oakland Raiders lose their minds and give similarly quality tackles in Nate Solder ($15.5 million per year) and Trent Brown ($16.5 million per year) massive deals. Thankfully, the Browns avoided such a scenario. While Conklin won’t be confused for Tyron Smith anytime soon, Cleveland doesn’t have to go offensive tackle at the top of the draft if the value is elsewhere. The way this draft is setting up, though, chances are they’ll have a good shot of addressing left tackle with a quality player at pick No. 10 and vastly upgrading the offensive line this offseason.