2024 NFL free agents: Ranking top 10 offensive tackles originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
Offensive tackle is one of the most important positions in the NFL, and without a good one, an entire offense can struggle.
The New England Patriots had a lot of issues (poor performance, injuries, penalties, etc.) along their offensive line during the 2023 season, and it's one of the main reasons why they finished with a 4-13 record at the bottom of the AFC standings.
They aren't alone, though. Plenty of teams will be looking for quality offensive tackles when free agency begins in March, and whichever clubs miss out on the top players available will have to turn to the draft.
Here's our ranking of the top 10 offensive tackles able to hit the free agent market this offseason.
Fleming has started 46 games over his 10-year career with the Patriots, Cowboys, Giants and most recently the Broncos. He just wrapped up his third season in Denver and committed just one penalty in six games (one start) in 2023. His experience and ability to play both tackle spots should make him a valuable backup offensive lineman in free agency.
Fant signed with the Texans last July and ended up playing in 16 games with 13 starts. He has started 73 of his 99 career appearances. He cut his penalty total in half from eight in 2022 to four in 2023. The seven-year veteran has mostly played left tackle in his pro career, but he did start 14 games at right tackle for the Jets in 2020. Fant is probably best suited as an excellent backup, but he proved this season that he is capable of starting on a good team.
After playing in all 17 games and making 13 starts in 2022, Nijman started only three games this season, but he did appear in all 17 contests again. His offensive snap count dropped from 69 percent in 2022 to 21 percent in 2023. Nijman has value as someone who can provide strong depth and be a spot starter at right tackle. He has shown steady improvement since making his debut in 2020 and could thrive if given a larger role going forward.
Eluemunor has played a key role on the Raiders offensive line over the last two seasons. He has appeared in 34 of 34 regular season games during that span and started 30 of them. Eluemunor has proven to be a versatile player with his ability to play guard or the tackle spots.
Smith has enjoyed a bounce-back 2023 after a down year in 2022 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that included injuries. The 30-year-old veteran cut his penalties in half from 12 last year to six this season. Smith has a ton of size at 6-foot-6 and 338 pounds, and he's a good pass blocker who would provide any team with plenty of experience, including a Super Bowl ring from his time in Tampa Bay. Durability is somewhat of a concern with Smith after injuries limited him to 12 games last season and 13 this year.
Williams requested a trade last March when the Bengals signed Orlando Brown to be their starting left tackle. He ultimately remained in Cincinnati and transitioned to right tackle. He played well in a new position, and now he has a chance to hit the market and perhaps move back to the left side.
Williams also has dealt with multiple injuries in his career. He missed his entire 2019 rookie campaign with a left shoulder injury, and he also suffered a knee injury during the 2022 playoffs. Williams is only 26 years old, so if healthy, he could be a dependable tackle for many more years.
The Jets probably envisioned Becton being their left tackle for a decade when they selected him No. 11 overall in the 2020 draft. He has not lived up to his potential, and injuries have played a significant factor in that. He played one game in 2021 and missed the entire 2022 campaign due to separate knee injuries.
Becton is a pretty good pass blocker, and if healthy, he can be a quality starting left tackle. His lengthy injury history makes signing him a pretty significant risk, though. Any team that signs Becton should have good depth behind him in case injuries are again a problem for him.
3. Trent Brown, New England Patriots
Brown has the potential to be a very good left tackle when he's healthy and engaged. That hasn't always been the case, though.
Durability has not been a strength of Brown's in recent years. Here are his games played totals from the last four seasons:
Brown is probably best suited playing on a contender.
2. Michael Onwenu, New England Patriots
Onwenu has been one of the Patriots' best draft picks in recent years. He was taken in the sixth round in 2020 and quickly emerged as a valuable and versatile member of the offensive line. Onwenu has played snaps at every position except center.
Here's what our Patriots insider Phil Perry recently wrote about Onwenu's future in Foxboro:
"According to a league source, Onwenu's value on the open market could fall somewhere in the range of $15 million per season over four seasons. For someone who can play starting-caliber football at two different positions, that's more than reasonable, and would slot him into a price range similar to where Cleveland right tackle Jack Conklin now resides.
"ESPN reported recently that the Patriots 'essentially' know they won't be able to bring Onwenu back, but one team source indicated that there is a real affinity for Onwenu's game in the building and that they'd like to have him back in Foxboro for 2024 and beyond. If they can't get something done, the picture at tackle for the Patriots next year could be ugly. Onwenu's 2024 cap number could come in at around $8 million if his deal resembles Conklin's."
1. Tyron Smith, Dallas Cowboys
Smith has been one of the league's best left tackles for a long time. He has eight Pro Bowl selections and two All-Pro selections. He's 33 years old but still one of the top 10 players at his position. The Cowboys would be wise to re-sign him and keep one of the sport's best offensive lines intact.