Where Will Zeitler Land?
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected almost everything in this world, even one of the largest businesses in sports the NFL. The NFL lost revenue in the past league year for the first time since 1994 and in effect, the salary cap is being driven down. This change in cap number will have a magnitude for every team. Players with contracts restricting acquisitions are in limbo. One of those players is offensive guard Kevin Zeitler.
In 2021, Zeitler has a base salary of $12 million. According to Spotrac, he has a cap hit of $14.5 million and a dead cap hit of $2.5 million. The Giants have been rumored to be looking to move the guard in trade if possible however the market is filled with other quality guards which may force them to cut Zeitler.
With the cap estimated to be at $180.5 million, the New York Giants will have just over $6 million in cap space per Over the Cap. The Giants should look to keep Zeitler as they look to rebuild their offensive line however given the circumstances a trade or release of Zeitler is near.
Zeitler signed a five-year $60 million contract with the Cleveland Browns during the 2017 offseason. After playing just two seasons in Cleveland, Zeitler was part of the blockbuster trade that also included first round picks, Jabril Peppers and Odell Beckham Jr. This upcoming season is the final one on Zeitlers contract.
According to Pro Football Focus, Zeitler is coming off his worst grade and second most pressures allowed in his nine year career. Despite this Zeitler is an intriguing player for many teams. Here are some teams that should make a move to acquire Zeitler either via trade or a signing if released.
A return to the team that drafted the guard in the first round in 2012 would be a great addition for the Bengals. The focus of this team is to protect and build around Burrow. After suffering a horrific injury partway through the year the focus to protecting Burrow became more evident.
Zeitler played five seasons in Cincinnati to begin his career. He started 71 of 72 games as a Bengal. He was named to the All-Rookie team after starting all 16 games and only allowing four sacks to start his NFL career.
As mentioned before protecting Burrow is a priority. The Offensive line was amongst the worst in the league last year due to play and injuries. Through eleven games with Burrow, the number one pick was sacked 32 times and hit 42 times. Both ranking in the bottom five of league ranks in that period. Ten different players played over 200 snaps for the offensive line throughout the season.
Adding Zeitler would bring stability to one offensive line spot as he has played over 1000 snaps six times in his career. The veteran presence would also help the younger players on the line develop and communicate calls to protect the young future of the Bengals.
The Bengals will certainly add offensive line depth and talent before Week 1. If Zeitler is released they could get him for a cheaper deal than he was getting with his former contract and they would upgrade a spot of serious need.
For an offense filled with explosive players at skill positions, the offensive line lacks a lot of positive play. The interior line especially. Kevin Zeitler can definitely help this unit and offense become even more explosive.
Ezra Cleveland and Dakota Dozier were both ranked towards the bottom of guards on the right and left side respectively. Cleveland played left tackle in college and his move to the interior was not smooth. However a young player and learning tricks of the trade there is room to grow.
The Vikings will have their choice at guard it seems with lots of available players. Zeitler should be one they have their eye on. The Vikings were the 29th ranked unit against the rush according to Pro Football Focus.
The offensive line has been an issue for a while in Minnesota. Since 2014 they’ve only cracked the top 20 in ranking of pass block one time. The play of Cousins has been satisfactory but could wildly improve with protection and the playmakers of Justin Jefferson, Thielen, and Dalvin Cook out of the backfield.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs lost their best offensive linemen early on in 2020 and still made it to the super bowl. Yes having the best quarterback in the league helps and all the weapons around him. However, a big reason they weren’t successful in the big game was the lack of depth and health upfront for the final game.
Mitchell Swartz missed every game after Week 6 and they were expecting to have third round pick Niang and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, this season but both opted out for the 2020 season.
The Chiefs offensive line played and ranked well for most of the 2020 season. A lot of this can be attributed to scheme, quick short plays to guys who can get chunk yards at any play, as well as Mahomes play style.
The mobility of Mahomes to scramble for extra seconds and find Kelce over the middle really helped the offensive line numbers at the end of the year.
The Chiefs have not invested in the offensive line recently. Adam Tiecher of ESPN recently stated, “The Chiefs were 24th in the league in spending for offensive linemen against the salary cap last season, according to spotrac.com. They spent $22,729,795 for their linemen, which was 10.29% of their cap.”
With everything else in place for one of the best teams in the league, an offensive line upgrade could make the Chiefs even better somehow.
Heavy investment into the offensive line heading into 2020 helped but not enough. The rookies picked in the draft last year all got lots of experience in year one. First round pick Austin Jackson, Robert Hunt in the second round and Solomon Kindley in the fourth round all played at least 700 offensive snaps this season. They also brought two veterans in Ereck Flowers and Ted Karras to play interior spots.
Pro Football Focus ranks the Miami offensive line at 28th overall to end the year. Yes,the line did improve from the previous year but there is a long way to go to get this line in top form. The scheme and quarterback play certainly helped this line when necessary but there were plenty of moments throughout the season where the run game suffered because of the lack of lanes created.
With Tua set to take the full responsibility of quarterback protection is needed and a veteran like Zeitler can add depth, experience, and good play to this team. The Dolphins also have the money and resources to make a trade and absorb Zeitlers current contract.
The Jaguars are expected to draft the future of their franchise with the first overall pick in the upcoming draft. Establishing a unit to protect that pick should be a priority. Watching what happened with Burrow may also influence this decision.
The Jaguars are rumored to be moving on from guard Andrew Norwell and will need a replacement. A straight up trade is unlikely as they have the same base salary this season.
A high level center with Brandon Linder is the anchor on the offensive line at the moment. Adding a veteran to play side by side with him can create a strong unit for a young quarterback and serve as building blocks for an offense.
The Jaguars have locked in their left tackle with a recent franchise tag on Cam Robinson. They can continue to build their line and upgrade the guard spot.
The line allowed the seventh most sacks last season and blocked well enough in the run game to produce a 1000 yard rusher in rookie James Robinson. Continuing to build the line and add skill players is the way to go for the Jaguars to get a potent offense.