The Cleveland Browns have taken big swings to build a competitive team in a fierce AFC this season, and circumstances now constitute they make another.
Cleveland’s offensive line has been its most stalwart and reliable unit over the last several years, led by Pro-Bowl guards Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller. The tackle position, however, has become a serious problem four games into the 2023 campaign.
Unfortunately, the solution probably isn’t already on the roster, which means the Browns will have to go out and spend to shore up a weakness that was supposed to be a strength. The best option in this regard is Denver Broncos left tackle Garret Bolles, believed to be a trade candidate after his team’s 1-3 start, which could have easily been 0-4 save for a 21-point comeback victory against the Chicago Bears in the second half on Sunday, October 1.
“Given how dominant the Browns defense has been under new coordinator Jim Schwartz, this team should be making moves to contend this season. Trading for Garett Bolles … would certainly qualify,” Bleacher Report’s NFL Staff wrote on Monday. “[The] Broncos should be willing to shed veteran salaries to get draft picks, as they clearly need to rebuild.”
Injuries, Effort and Inexperience Plaguing Browns at Tackle Position
The problems for Cleveland at the tackle spot are three-fold.
Starting right tackle Jack Conklin is out for the season and rookie replacement Dawand Jones, who has learned almost entirely on the job this, is navigating a steep NFL learning curve. Jones was also banged up at the end of the Browns’ Week-4 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.
As for starting left tackle and former first-round pick Jedrick Wills Jr., injury and inexperience haven’t been his problem so much as effort, which he has frequently and visibly lacked. Video evidence of Wills’ ineffectiveness and seeming lack of effort circulated on X following the team’s loss to the Ravens.
Wills is lined up on the outside left of Cleveland’s offensive line in the video above, where he can be seen losing his head-to-head matchup almost immediately after the snap, which allows the Ravens defender to break up the play.
Pro Football Focus currently ranks Wills the 66th-best tackle out of 71 players who have taken enough snaps through four weeks to qualify at the position. Will has played 301 snaps at left tackles this season, allowing two sacks and incurring three penalties. His PFF run-blocking grade of 44.0 is among the worst of all linemen who have played a meaningful amount in 2023.
Garett Bolles Ideal Fit with Browns Offensive Line
While film sometimes indicates that Wills doesn’t seem to care about doing his job to the best of his abilities, the exact opposite is true of Bolles. He expressed just how much he cares following the Broncos’ 50-point road loss to the Miami Dolphins in Week 3.
“I’m tired of losing man,” Bolles told reporters after the game. “I’ve been here for seven years and all I’ve done is lost.”
Despite a narrow come-from-behind victory at Soldier Field on Sunday, the Broncos don’t appear primed to do much winning in the near future. As such, Bolles may want out and it may behoove Denver to capitulate.
Bolles is playing in the third season of a four-year, $68 million deal. The Broncos can save more than $13.8 million by trading him this season, per Over The Cap. The Browns have nearly $34.5 million in available salary cap space and can absorb Bolles’ cap hit of $17.8 million with relative ease.
Cleveland is clearly in need of an upgrade at tackle. Bolles — a second-team All-Pro in 2020 who continues to play at a high level at the age of 31 — is need of a fresh start. It feels like a perfect fit.