Free Agent Scouting Report: Kelechi Osemele (G, BAL)
In 2012, the Baltimore Ravens selected Kelechi Osemele out of Iowa State with the 60th overall pick. Osemele played in all 16 games during his rookie season, and has since been able to gain experience both at guard, and at tackle. He started as the right tackle during his rookie season, but has played his more natural position of guard since then (while filling in at left tackle due to injuries sporadically).
Kelechi Osemele is not a big name player. In all honesty, no interior linemen really are. The position does not garner a great deal of attention. However, Dolphins’ fans are fully aware of its importance.
The team struggled greatly in 2015 due to porous play at guard. No, it wasn’t the only problem on the field for Miami, but it should be high on the list. During this offseason, the Dolphins will need to find a solution to fix the interior of their offensive line. While they will in all likelihood avoid making any huge splashes, signing Kelechi Osemele would be a strong move, as they would acquire the best free agent guard in this year’s class.
As you know, offensive linemen cannot be evaluated by statistics. With that being said, we must turn to the film from his 2015 season to see how Osemele could help improve the Dolphins’ offense.
The first thing you notice when watching Osemele’s tape? He is a very strong human. Yes, this seems obvious, but some of the things that Osemele can do are eye popping. Here is an example from the Ravens’ game against the Raiders in Week One:
Osemele manages to completely stop the bull rush used by a Raiders’ defensive lineman. What makes this even more impressive? He does it on the dirt patch in the O.co Coliseum, which is uncovered during the Oakland Athletics’ baseball season. So yes, he is able to completely stop the momentum of a 300+ pound lineman while standing in dirt.
Here is another example of Osemele’s ability in pass protection, this time against Calais Campbell of the Arizona Cardinals:
In the previous clip, Kelechi Osemele stopped a bull rush. Here, he is able to stop Campbell as he attempts a spin move to shed the block. This image was not unusual for Baltimore last season, as they frequently watched Osemele neutralize the opposition’s defensive linemen.
In the run game, Osemele’s aggressiveness and willingness to fight are on full display. He is able to drag defenders across the field, or simply drive them backwards to help create lanes for the ball carrier. Here is an example from the Ravens’ Week Four game against the Steelers:
Kelechi Osemele is seen driving back and engaging the defender until Javorius Allen is able to slip through for a big chunk of yards. As we observed during passing plays, Osemele’s blocking is very difficult to shed. He manages to do this while avoiding drawing flags from referees. Osemele only drew two holding calls during the 2015 season.
Kelechi Osemele is able to have an impact on plays all over the field due to his willingness to drive defenders laterally across the formation.
On this play, the call is a run to the right. Kelechi Osemele is assigned to block Cameron Heyward, who sees the play developing across the field. Heyward attempts to cut off Forsett’s progress, but Osemele has other ideas. He is able to drive Heyward across the formation and clear the lane for Forsett. Had Osemele not moved quickly across and opened up the gap for Forsett, the play would have gone for no gain. Instead, it was a 33-yard pick up: Justin Forsett’s longest on the day.
In addition to Osemele’s play at left guard, his natural position, he was able to gain experience at left tackle. Due to injuries, the Ravens utilized him as the blindside tackle during their Week 17 game against the Bengals. While many would consider this single start negligible, it makes a huge difference for the Miami Dolphins.
Osemele’s versatility is apparent here; he is able to be switched outside and deal with the speed rush employed by defensive ends. On this play, he blocks Michael Johnson. As a guard, Osemele is not used to dealing with players who are six-feet-seven-inches, weigh 280 lbs, and possess speed to compliment their power. This is exactly what he had to deal with when blocking Michael Johnson, and remarkably found success.
The Miami Dolphins would love to have a player with this versatility. They struggled mightily in 2015 due to injuries and shifts along the offensive line. The team was without a solid third offensive tackle, and it showed as both Jason Fox and Dallas Thomas have had very unsuccessful stints blocking outside. For the Dolphins, having a player who can occupy multiple positions would be an invaluable luxury as they look to improve their depth this offseason.
There are only two true negatives with Kelechi Osemele, and neither has to do with his play.
The first is his price tag. The Dolphins cannot afford to spend big in free agency this season, and Osemele will undoubtedly be a hot commodity on the market (if the Ravens let him walk). However, the salary cap is expected to increase by as much as $12 million next season (according to Rand Getlin). This would be a huge difference maker in the Dolphins’ offseason approach, as that money could certainly be used to help lure the free agent guard to South Florida.
The second issue is much more concerning. While Kelechi Osemele is immensely valuable when he is on the field, he has had some injury issues throughout his four-year career. Osemele finished the 2013 season on injured reserve due to troubles with his back. He was forced to undergo surgery, but returned by the start of the 2014 season. During that season he started all but two games, both of which he missed due to a knee injury. In 2015, Osemele also missed two games with a knee injury.
The Ravens’ standout lineman has not played in all 16 games since his rookie season. While he started 14 in both 2014 and 2015, this is still somewhat concerning. The Miami Dolphins lack depth on the offensive line, so they cannot afford to be missing a player who requires the commitment of resources that Osemele would if signed as a free agent.
Estimated Contract Value:
The guard position is somewhat undervalued in the NFL, and interior linemen often command far less on offense than tackles would as free agents.
The ceiling value for Kelechi Osemele would be to base his contract on that given to Mike Iupati by the Cardinals. He was signed to a 5 year, $40 million deal in 2015. The framework of the deal could be similar to that which the Dolphins will pursue, with salary cap hits under $7 million in the first two seasons. However, the number jumps to over $9 million during the final three years of his deal.
More often than not, NFL players understand that they, in all likelihood, will not see the money from the final years of their deals. Restructuring players (or simply cutting them) has become common to avoid paying these gradually increasing salary cap figures. Mike Iupati is one of the NFL’s best guards, and Kelechi Osemele’s agent would be wise to come in with an asking price similar to Iupati’s in 2015.
Something that might be more realistic for Kelechi Osemele could be a contract similar to that of Packers’ guard Josh Sitton. Sitton signed a 5-year, $33.75 million contract in 2011. Obviously the salary of NFL players has vastly increased in the last five years, but it does make sense to look towards Sitton’s contract as a lower boundary.
If I had to guess what it will take for Miami to sign Osemele, it will be a contract valued somewhere between Iupati’s and Sitton’s, but leaning more towards Iupati’s. Free agency causes inflation of value, so the Dolphins would be paying a high price to bring in an interior offensive lineman. However, the position is usually fairly easy to scout and analyze in terms of free agency, so it would most likely be a safe signing for the team.
How He Fits with the Dolphins:
Kelechi Osemele is the missing piece to an abysmal Dolphins’ offensive line. The team’s pass protection and run blocking have been horrifying since 2013, and it has led to a severe lack of production across the board on that side of the ball.
Osemele would solve two problems for Miami. First, he would provide the team with a solid option at left guard, a position that became a revolving door in 2014 and 2015. Secondly, Osemele would serve as a solid depth lineman for the Dolphins, as he has experience playing tackle as well as guard. Versatility is incredibly valuable in the NFL, and will be coveted in Miami given their struggles when relying on backup offensive linemen.
The main concerns regarding Osemele are his price tag and injury issues. While he has started at least 14 games in three of his four seasons, you want a player to be consistently available when you commit serious resources to them. Speaking of resources, the Dolphins’ ability to pursue Osemele will come back to his price tag. It is likely that his agent will ask for a deal similar to that of Mike Iupati, who is paid handsomely in Arizona.
For the Miami Dolphins, bringing in Kelechi Osemele would serve as a substantial boost for the offensive line heading into 2016. If the team wants to improve next season and give Adam Gase the tools he needs to succeed, they will need to find players who can help win the battle at the line of scrimmage on offense. Kelechi Osemele certainly falls into this category, and will be a coveted free agent if Baltimore allows him to hit the open market in mid-March.
If Osemele is available to be signed by the league’s 31 other teams, it is all but certain that the Dolphins will express interest in a player who shows as much promise and ability as Osemele does.