The NFL's final four saw the peak of offensive line continuity this past season, though free agency has shownno shortage of OLmoves that can spark apositive impact.
Three of the four conference championship teams returned at least four starting offensive linemen last year — "returning starters" defined by those whotookat least 50 percent of their currentteams'offensive snaps or started Week 1 the previous season. Only 14of 32 teams hit this mark in 2016,and continuity doesoften portend wellfor an NFL offense, particularly on the ground.
Pittsburgh ran back all five, and Green Baymade a couple interior switches, the latternow becoming a familiar theme. New England and Atlanta each returned four starters in 2016,carryingtheir September starting offensive lines straightinto Super Bowl Sunday.
Below is alook at the significant changes andfallout in the 2017 offensive line landscape.
(Parenthesis for previous team)
— Lions sign G TJ Lang (Packers) andOT Ricky Wagner (Ravens)
TheLions have cultivatedhome-grown offensive lines in recent years —four of their draft picks returnedin 2016. General managerBob Quinn took the reins that offseason andmust havebeen underwhelmed, because now,only center Travis Swanson remains.The Lionslanded Pro Football Focus' No. 2 guard and No. 3 tackle of 2017 free agency.
Taylor Decker and Graham Glasgow figureto man the left side after seeing amplereps their rookie years.
— Browns sign G Kevin Zeitler (Bengals) and C JC Tretter (Packers)
For Cleveland,an offseason that jettisoned two of the league's best linemen was followed by thesigning ofPFF's top free agentguard and center. The Brownsextended Joel Bitonio, who hit injured reserve early in 2016 butstands among the most promising linemen25andunder.
Oh, and that future Hall of Famer remainsat left tackle.
First look at the new Cleveland Browns offensive line (with 2016 season PFF grades). pic.twitter.com/kmlgwAReFz— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) March 10, 2017
— Rams sign OT Andrew Whitworth (Bengals)
The Los Angelesregime immediately cut losses on No. 2 pick Greg Robinson atleft tackle. Quarterback Jared Goffnow will getblindside protection from PFF's top-graded pass blocker.
Like the Lions, the Rams have invested draft capital and continuity but have not yet seen it pan out. The Ramshope Robinson will findhis footinginside at guard.
In his past 3 seasons, Andrew Whitworth allowed a total of 4 sacks (zero last yr). Last season, Greg Robinson allowed 7 sacks in 14 games.— Ryan Kartje (@Ryan_Kartje) March 9, 2017
— Saints sign G Larry Warford (Lions)
Warford projects to bethe only changeon New Orleans'starting offensive line,replacing five-time All-ProJahri Evans at right guard.
The Saintsboastthree 25-and-under starting offensive linemen with 116 combined starts in Warford, Terron Armstead andAndrus Peat. They'll bear great responsibility duringDrew Brees' twilight stage.
— Vikings sign OTsRiley Reiff (Lions) and Mike Remmers (Panthers)
Minnesota generated the lowest rushing total and per-carry average in the NFL last year.Sam Bradford took the sixth-most sacks despite throwing for the league's lowest average depth per target, per PFF data.
The bottom fell out for Minny's O-line, so the Vikings haveresponded by upgrading their OL bookends from turnstileto serviceable.
— Panthers sign OT Matt Kalil (Vikings)
Remmers' departure leaves a spot opposite Michael Oher, justtwo down from Matt's brother Ryan Kalil. While Carolina retains aninterior that stood among the league's best justtwo seasons ago, outside seems more bleak.
Oher and Kalil bothranked near the bottom of PFF's tackle grading before injuriescut their 2016 seasons short.
— Broncos sign GRonald Leary (Cowboys) and Menelik Watson (Raiders)
Denver restructured RT Donald Stephenson's deal, but it's safe to assume the Okung-Stephenson bookend experiment has been aborted. Stephensonat the very least will receivecompetition for the right tackle gig, while Denver mightreplace most of its startingoffensive line yet again.
Expect Leary to bounce a starting guard, as tackle will bea major question mark in training camp.
Ronald Leary overshadowed yet important to Cowboys OL dominance past 4 years, gave'em 12+ starts adjacent Travis Frederick in 3 of them https://t.co/HfSMtXEO51— Thomas Emerick (@ThomasEmerick) March 9, 2017
— Cowboys lose OT Doug Free to retirement
Dallas mustreplace multiple offensive line starters forthe first time since it draftedTravis Frederick in 2013. The Cowboys' emphasis on offensive line capital and continuity has played a major role in their resurgence.
Losing Leary and Freesimultaneously, though,by all accountswas not part of the plan.
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— Jets sign OT Kelvin Beachum (Jaguars)
Beachum's star rose in Pittsburgh asBen Roethlisberger's blindside protector before an ACL tear ended his contract year. The 27-year-old struggled to regain form on a prove-it deal in Jacksonville, but the Jets paid him like a team expecting afully-recoveredplayeratleft tackle.
— Giants sign G/T DJ Fluker (Chargers)
Fluker filled in at both guard and tackle in San Diego and could do more of the same in New York. Free-agent vet John Jerry is more of a depth option, and Bobby Hart likely didn't lock starting RTgoing forward.
Ereck Flowers still hasn't proven to be best suited at LT. With LG Justin Pugh and C Weston Richburg among the league's bestyoung players at their positions, lining up next to either mighthelp revitalize the 2015No. 11 overall pick in.
— Chargers sign OT Russell Okung (Broncos)
San Diego cut Fluker, and manyexpect the teamto save cap onKing Dunlap, two cogs of the Chargers' OL since 2013. Okung's injury historyalso hasseen plentyof misfortune, though San Diego trots out a nice left side if he, Orlando Franklin and Matt Slauson play to their healthy peaks.
This is a typical offseason refrain for San Diego's O-line.