In a surprise move, the Kansas City Chiefs released right tackle Eric Winston on Wednesday. The move likely clears the way for the team to draft either Luke Joeckel or Eric Fisher with the first overall pick in April’s NFL Draft. The move also adds another name to the talented pool of offensive tackles in free agency, which begins next week.
The San Diego Chargers cannot rely on the Jared Gaither and Jeromey Clary as their starting tackles in 2013. The team needs to add at least one starting-caliber offensive tackle in free agency, and Winston appears to be the perfect fit.
Winston has plenty of experience in the zone blocking scheme with the Chiefs and Houston Texans, and would make the transition much smoother for the rest of the Chargers’ linemen. Prior to the 2012 season, ESPN’s Bill Williamson called Winston the AFC West’s best offensive lineman and arguably the league’s best right tackle. Last season, Winston struggled a bit in pass protection, but excelled as a run blocker. He helped Jamaal Charles rush for 1509 yards and would be a huge help blocking for Ryan Mathews.
Winston has started 96 straight games, which is impressive for a guy battling in the trenches. That durability is something that shouldn’t be overlooked, considering the Chargers are used to seeing their linemen banged up and on the sidelines.
Winston may not be the best tackle available this off-season but makes the most sense. Sure, bigger names like Jake Long and Sebastian Vollmer may be better players, but they would cost much more than Winston. With just about $8.7 million in cap space and so many holes on the roster, the Chargers cannot break the bank with one player and just sign the top tackle in free agency.
Last season, the Chiefs signed Winston to a four-year deal worth $22 million. In comparison, Clary is playing on a four-year, $20 million deal, though he has been mediocre at best throughout his career. The Chargers could score big if they can sign Winston to a similar contract.