It's not very often that a 28-year old offensive tackle that has started for over 5 1/2 years for one of the best running teams in the NFL becomes available in free agency. That's exactly what happened when Eric Winston, the standout offensive tackle for the Houston Texans became available when he announced on twitter page that he was being cut from the team.
"Unfortunately I have bad news. The Texans have decided to release me today. Although it is a surprise, I have nothing but positive memories and great relationships that I have built over the years. While my future seems uncertain, I am confident I will land on my feet."
The Kansas City Chiefs enter this free agency period with one huge hole on their offensive line, and that's at right tackle. That's the same position that Winston has excelled at for the last several years with the Texans.
Winston was a third round pick out of the University of Miami in 2006 by the Texans. He started the last seven games of the season during his rookie year and has started every game since that game (71 consecutive). The 6'7 317 lb tackle grew up in Midland, Texas and attended Robert E. Lee High School. Winston originally committed to Miami as a tight end and didn't make the switch to tackle until right before his sophomore year for the Hurricanes. Winston graduated from Miami in three years with a 3.5 GPA with a degree in International Finance and Marketing.
He had signed a 5-year, $30 million extension with the Texans in 2008 before being released on Monday. While it does come as quite a surprise that Winston was let go the day before free agency, Winston joins fellow recently cut tackle Levi Brown, along with Jared Gaither as the top tackles available in free agency that starts on Tuesday.
The Chiefs are fully expected to be looking at tackles this off-season as finding a replacement for the very inconsistent Barry Richardson should be a priority for the team before the 2012 season. General Manager Scott Pioli has even said that upgrading the offensive line was going to be a priority this off-season for the team. There couldn't be a better way to do that then to lock up one of the best tackles on the open market.
There won't be a shortage of teams that will be looking for Winston's services either. It's rare to find quality tackles and Winston is just that. He paved the way for Arian Foster last season and Winston is the prototypical zone-blocking right tackle, which is the same blocking scheme that the Chiefs run. Foster finished 5th in the league in rushing last season as he amassed over 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns for the division champion Houston Texans.
The Kansas City Chiefs have been connected to just about every offensive tackle in the upcoming draft in case you ever check out any of the experts mock drafts. By signing a guy like Winston in free agency, it could open the possibilities to add a guy like Stanford's David DeCastro with the 11th pick in the upcoming draft. You would then have solidified your offensive line for the foreseeable future. Jon Asamoah, Rodney Hudson, Eric Winston and David Decastro give you four young, solid offensive lineman and as Branden Albert enters his contract year, one extension with Albert could set your offensive line for the next decade.
If Scott Pioli was serious about upgrading the offensive line than you would have to think that he would explore the possibility of Eric Winston in free agency. While Winston was just making an average of $6 million per year on the extension that he signed in 2008, the Chiefs are sitting on plenty of cap space to make a deal with Winston and solidify one of the biggest holes, if not biggest, on the entire roster.
Since arriving in Kansas City, Scott Pioli has not yet made a big splash on the first day of free agency in his first three years so don't expect that to change this year. However, if he is serious about pursuing Winston, he'll probably want to put in a call sooner rather than later because his services will be in demand, and most Chiefs fans are demanding an upgrade on the line. We'll find out on Tuesday if Pioli was serious about making serious upgrades to the line. Because the top tackles available won't be available for long.