Free Agent Scouting Report: Ramon Foster (G, PIT)
Ramon Foster was an offensive tackle at the University of Tennessee, but scouts quickly realized that he might have to move inside at the next level.; and sure enough, he has spent his entire career as a guard for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers signed Foster as an undrafted free agent in 2009, and he has since remained a staple of their offensive line.
The Dolphins desperately need to improve their offensive line play. There’s a reason Pro Football Focus had them ranked 31st in the category this past season. While Foster has remained adamant that he would prefer to stay in Pittsburgh, he also has gone on the record saying that he understands that, at 30 years of age, this will be his last opportunity to cash in with a big contract. With the right offer, Foster could undoubtedly be lured away from the organization he has been a part of for so long.
Foster will always be known for his contributions in pass-protection above anything else. He has played a pivotal part in reducing the amount of hits “Big Ben” Roethlisberger has taken over the past few seasons, especially considering the recent proneness to injury of above-average starters Maurkice Pouncey, David Decastro and Kelvin Beachum. His awareness and improvisation in this area may be his biggest attribute. Watch below for an example of his ability to adjust mid-play:
The Steelers were quite obviously expecting a blitz, but as Foster begins his backpedal, he realizes that his assignment is actually covering the running back. He quickly analyzes the situation and recovers to help Cody Wallace, who has been beat by the defensive end. Foster’s adjustment gave Fitzgerald Toussaint just enough time to escape from his man, receive the pass from Roethlisberger, and scamper up field for a gain of 27 yards.
While not the most athletic offensive lineman, Ramon Foster’s strength and technique make it extremely difficult to drive him back toward the chest of the quarterback. In the play below, Foster absorbs a strong rush from Oakland defensive tackle Dan Williams, but forces him off of his original path and to the outside, which gives Ben Roethlisberger a clean pocket and plenty of time to locate a wide-open DeAngelo Williams:
In addition, once thought to be a weak run-blocker, Foster has shown vast improvements in this area as well. While occasionally his lack of athleticism holds him back, he has displayed the ability to create holes both on the inside and outside of the offensive line.
Here, Foster shows that he is able to get up the field and act as a lead blocker. He quickly gets off the line, seals off Cincinnati Bengal Domata Peko, and gets a piece of Vontaze Burfict, allowing Fitzgerald Toussaint to rumble for a quick nine yards on first down. While Alejandro Villanueva deserves credit for setting the edge as well, Foster’s development as a run-blocker is clearly displayed in this play.
In addition to his play on the field, Foster is also durable, a veteran, and a great leader in the locker room. In other words, Foster doesn’t have many question marks attached to his name, and is therefore as safe as they come as a free agent.
One of Foster’s biggest strengths is his ability to do multiple things well, but his lack of athleticism and quickness that truly holds him back as a player. It was the reason he made the switch from tackle to guard, and will continue to be the reason he is only regarded as a “solid” player. At this point in his career, his age is also somewhat of a concern, especially when considering the recent decline of offensive guard Jahri Evans. Evans was once a premier player at his position but now that he’s into his 30’s, his consistency has suffered and teams are taking notice. The potential of a similar decline is even more worrying for Foster, as his level of play was already lower than Evans’, and his lack of athleticism gives him less margin of error.
Foster could undoubtedly be stronger in the run-game as well. Foster has already improved in this aspect of his game, and it may be too late to expect any further development. While he certainly shouldn’t be considered a liability in this area, he can’t be seen as a weapon either, which will obviously be disappointing when compared to some of the other available offensive linemen.
At times it also seems like Foster over-helps. At this point, focusing on this aspect of his performance may just be nitpicking, but that is the point of these scouting reports. Perhaps it doesn’t truly matter, but it certainly seems like it does when analyzing a play like the one below.
Foster has his eyes locked on Beachum, ready to shift over to him if he gets beat. Instead, a linebacker comes from the second level, Foster fails to promptly recognize the blitz, and allows the sack of back-up quarterback Michael Vick.
Another negative could be the price it will take to sign him. This is a fairly strong free agency class for offensive guards. Kelechi Osemele, Richie Incognito, Evan Mathis, Brandon Brooks, and Alex Boone are all available at the position, and it will be interesting to see how this affects Ramon Foster’s value. It also seems likely that Foster would be willing to take a slight hometown discount to return, especially considering that the Steelers look to be Super Bowl favorites heading into next season. However this is a business and Foster will ultimately do what is best financially.
Foster’s last contract was a huge bargain considering the consistency, stability, and leadership that he brings. Foster can surely expect a pay raise this time around, as he has only averaged approximately $1.83 million over the past three years. It is becoming increasingly likely for team’s to overpay for a need, and Foster may be able to take advantage of a similar misjudgment. Foster’s ceiling contract could be around $18 million for three years. That is the salary size of Jahri Evans. Evans was once one of the better guards in the league, but signed this deal in the middle of a noticeable decline. Foster has never played at a Pro Bowl level, but also has not shown any signs of worsening up to this point. A team that is desperate for an upgrade at guard could be willing to pay him in this range, as it would still be cheaper than the higher end options at the position but would be enough to draw him away from the Steelers.
On the other hand, Foster is 30 and a team like the Dolphins may not be willing to pay a premium price for a player that is nothing more than “solid”. If this is the case, he could be looking at an average salary of around $4 million, much like the Washington Redskins’ Shawn Lauvao. This would still give him a sizeable upgrade, but would keep him in a more manageable range. At this point, it seems probable to assume that Foster will end up receiving an offer closer to this value. In the end, it will most likely come down to what the Steelers are willing to sacrifice in order to retain him, and how much other teams are willing to up their offer if need be.
How He Fits with the Dolphins:
Ramon Foster would not be nearly as flashy of a signing as the aforementioned Kelechi Osemele, but he would fit the Dolphins’ needs perfectly and at a significantly lower price. As previously stated, he excels in pass-protection and has made drastic improvement as a run-blocker as well. He would also add a veteran presence to a very young line, and would help shape a culture of accountability under first-time head coach Adam Gase.
The former Steeler would be an undeniable improvement over current left guard Dallas Thomas, who somehow managed to perform worse this year than he did the season before. Foster’s capabilities in pass protection would be essential in keeping Ryan Tannehill upright in his first season of development under Gase. But perhaps more importantly, he wouldn’t be a liability in the run game either. Foster had his best season to date in this area during 2015, and would be useful in opening up holes for the running back to exploit, whether it is Lamar Miller, Jay Ajayi, or a free agent like Matt Forte.
This move most likely wouldn’t receive praise from fans that are looking for big signings, but considering Foster’s durability, consistency, and reputation as a wonderful locker room guy, he may be the right move for the Dolphins. Considering the rest of the talent pool in free agency, as well as in the draft, Miami certainly has options, and it will be interesting to see if Foster is considered as part of their attempt to navigate this problem over the course of the offseason.