Michael Nania has the numbers that showcase why the New York Jets should aggressively chase Larry Warford.
The New Orleans Saints recently cut ties with right guard Larry Warford, who was selected to the Pro Bowl in each of the past three seasons.
At 28 years old (29 in June), the seven-year vet remains in his physical prime, making him a hot name on the market for offensive line-needy teams like Joe Douglas‘ Jets.
Warford’s consistent track record of productivity makes him a strong bet to provide an immediate upgrade in New York.
Over his seven seasons in the league, Warford has never ranked below the 60th percentile in Pro Football Focus’ overall grade among guards with 500-plus snaps. He has consistently ranked strongly in both pass protection and the run game.
Warford also offers durability and a low penalty rate. The Kentucky product has played in 108 out of 119 possible regular season and playoff games over his career (90.8%), including 50 of 54 over the past three seasons with New Orleans (92.6%).
In the penalty department, Warford has been hit with 23 flags over 6,682 career snaps, a rate of 3.35 per 1,000 snaps that sits comfortably below the 2019 positional average of 5.11.
Offensive line guru Brandon Thorn of The Athletic Denver ranked Warford as the league’s 11th-best right guard heading into 2019, sitting in the third tier out of six.
RG tiers heading into WK1:
— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) September 2, 2019
Should Warford bring the same level of play to the Jets that he has showcased in the past, he would be a clear-cut upgrade over any guard on the roster.
Warford did flash a few red flags in 2019, likely explaining why he was released. He allowed a career-high 30 pressures in the regular season, 16th-most among guards (he played the 25th-most protection snaps with 563). He ranked in the bottom half among guards in pass-blocking efficiency (per-snap pressure rate allowed with greater weight to sacks) for the first time in his career.
Interestingly, Warford’s worst stretch in protection coincided directly with Teddy Bridgewater‘s time in the starting lineup.
From Weeks 2-7 (the six games Bridgewater either started or played extended time in), Warford allowed 19 pressures over 226 protection snaps, ranking 60th out of 69 guards in pass-blocking efficiency over that span.
Including the playoffs, Warford allowed just 13 pressures over 375 protection snaps in the 10 games he played with Drew Brees. Warford’s pass-blocking efficiency score of 98.1 with Brees would have ranked 13th out of 71 qualified guards over the entire regular season (83rd percentile).
Brees was tied with Andy Dalton for the fastest snap-to-release time in football (2.39 seconds) this past season, so that likely helped keep Warford’s protection numbers down independent of his own performance. Bridgewater had the 12th-longest release time out of 39 qualifiers (2.68 seconds), asking more of the offensive line.
When he needed to hold up longer without the luxury of Brees’ quick decision-making, Warford did not perform well. That is not a good sign as he heads to a new team.
On the plus side, Warford ranked seventh among guards in PFF’s run-blocking grade, the best rank of his career. The Saints ranked fourth in the NFL with an average of 5.4 yards per carry on rushes directed towards the left guard spot.
Curiously enough, Warford’s run-blocking was also Brees-dependent (72.2 average grade with Brees, 61.6 with Bridgewater).
Teams evaluating Warford need to figure out what level of impact he would bring outside the cushy confines of a Brees-led offense. Are his bottom-tier protection numbers and average run-blocking grades with Bridgewater a sign of what he will bring to his new team?
Even if the sans-Brees version of Warford is not quite a superstar, that edition would still most likely be a solid starter. Warford was great over his four years in Detroit. While it is possible he may not the same player from a physical standpoint as he was at 25 years old, the sheer fact is that Warford has yet to play below a respectable level. He should have a good chance of maintaining that track record of consistency in his age-29 season, even if his performance takes a slight dip.
If the Jets added Warford, they could offset the cost by cutting Brian Winters to clear his $7.28 million cap number off the books without taking on any dead money.
Warford would presumably take on the starting right guard spot while Alex Lewis and Greg Van Roten battle for the left guard spot. Neither Lewis nor Van Roten has ever started at right guard in the NFL, while Warford has never played a regular season snap at left guard.
Should the Jets see Warford as not quite good enough to be gift-wrapped a starting spot, the three veteran guards could have it out for the two available positions. That would create even more productive competition on a unit that is already set to have plenty of it.
However you slice it, adding Warford would be an excellent coup for Douglas to wrap up Phase I of his offensive line overhaul.