Cleveland Browns: What will the offensive line look like in 2018?
By Dan Justik
After Thomas’ retirement, Joel Bitonio is now the longest tenured Cleveland Brown on the offensive line. He has been the team’s starting left guard since 2014, and he played every snap last season for the Browns.
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Bitonio proved that when he is healthy, he is one of the league’s best guards. Pro Football Focus gave Bitonio an overall grade of 85.2, which was the sixth best grade of all guards in the NFL. Bitonio is a strong run blocker that has the athleticism to get to the second level and knock linebackers out of plays.
But Bitonio’s bread-and-butter is his pass blocking abilites. Pro Football Focus scored Bitonio with a 97.1 pass-blocking efficiency, which was top-20 at his position.
With him likely playing alongside a younger player at left tackle, his experience is going to be greatly needed next season. But maybe another strong season next to a tackle not named Joe Thomas will show to the rest of the NFL how talented Bitonio is.
The Browns signed J.C. Tretter to a three year, $16.75 million contract last offseason to become the team’s starting center.
Tretter did not have the best first season in Cleveland, but it also was not a bad season. He started all 16 games for the Browns, and Pro Football Focus gave him an overall grade of 70.6.
Tretter also only allowed one sack, and was called for only two penalties the entire season, according to the Washington Post.
After Alex Mack left the Browns and signed with the Atlanta Falcons after the 2015 season, the Browns needed to add a solid center. Although Tretter did not play like an All-Pro center, his play was good enough for the team to feel comfortable in keeping him as the starting center for 2018.
When the Browns signed Kevin Zeitler to a five year, $60 million contract during the 2017 offseason, they made him the highest paid guard in the league at the time. With that big of a contract in his pocket, it was going to be hard for him to live up to that standard.
But even though he was not the best guard in the NFL last season, he still had a very good season. He started all 16 games and allowed only 1.5 sacks and three penalties, according to STATS. Pro Football Focus gave him an overall grade of 81.1 last season, which was the tenth best among guards.
With a more steady right tackle playing alongside him, Zeitler should have a stronger season in 2018. And after a season of playing next to Tretter, the two should have their communication locked down heading into next season. It would not be a surprise to see Zeitler play’s return to the way he played when he earned his monster contract.