CLEVELAND, Ohio — This isn’t about one player, but a franchise decision about position priority. After going 1-15 in 2016, the Browns paid up to bolster the middle of the offensive line. That didn’t change the team’s immediate future during the 0-16 season in 2017, but last year, as the offense took off under Baker Mayfield, you saw what strength in the middle of the line could do. That’s why this choice ranks No. 13 on our list of moves that transformed the Browns.
In March of 2017, the Browns splurged to secure the interior of their offensive line, signing guard Kevin Zeitler and center JC Tretter as free agents and extending guard Joel Bitonio. Zeitler signed a five-year, $60 million deal; Tretter signed for three years and $16.75 million; and Bitonio’s extension was for six years and $51.16 million.
Playing together in 2017 and 2018, the three of them earned a combined $57.6 million for those two seasons. After losing center Alex Mack and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz in free agency a year earlier, the Browns, with money to spend, targeted the offensive line in free agency. Zeitler, one of the best guards in the NFL in Cincinnati for five seasons, was a major investment. Tretter, coming off an injury in Green Bay, was more of a value choice. And Bitonio, a second-round pick of the Browns in 2014, was viewed as a franchise building block.
Each of them started all 32 games in the last two seasons. While the retirement of left tackle Joe Thomas created offensive line uncertainty on the edge before 2018, the middle of the line was locked in. According to Pro Football Focus, Bitonio and Zeitler were the two best pass-blocking guards in the league in 2018, and Tretter ranked third among centers.
J.C. Tretter is an all-around athlete. He was a quarterback and basketball player in high school and was recruited to Cornell as a tight end.
After playing the position for his first two seasons, he moved to tackle and the offense improved immensely. He shows great football smarts and made a very quick and smooth transition to his new role.
Tretter is being recruited mainly as a guard due to his lack of competition in college and arms that are considered a bit on the short side for an offensive lineman. However, he could certainly find his niche as an interior lineman in the NFL.
Due to his background as an all-around athlete and tight end, he possesses a very athletic build and is very light on his feet. Even after bulking up for the tackle position, he maintained his balance, quickness and lateral mobility.
His high football I.Q. allows him to quickly recognize different defensive schemes and blitzes. He is then able to react quickly and throw multiple blocks in these situations. This is quite remarkable considering his lack of experience at the position.
He has only two years experience as an offensive lineman and what experience he did gain was against less-than-elite competition. This will be heavily considered by NFL scouts.
Despite his good size and frame, Tretter still needs to fill out more to play on an NFL offensive line. Until he does, he probably won’t see much action.
His biggest weakness were he play offensive tackle is his arm length. At 32.5″, their length is below average for an offensive tackle and would give Tretter problems with quicker pass-rushers at the next level. This will be the main reason for his potential move to guard in the NFL.
Tretter stands at 6’4″ and weighs in at 307 pounds. He has a very athletic frame and has a great amount of potential to bulk up into the size of a typical offensive lineman at the NFL level.
His short arms will not allow him to continue to play on the outside of an NFL offensive line, so Tretter will be much better suited as a guard moving forward.
Tretter has no known character issues. He is a very serious football player and a student of the game. He shows attention to detail and constantly wants to improve. These are all things that an NFL scout would love to see being that Tretter will be considered a developmental project.
Like many college prospects these days, Tretter worked mainly in a shotgun or pistol formation during his years with Cornell. He did not take many snaps with the quarterback under center.
This will add yet another level to Tretter’s development before he can become a contributor at the next level.
Tretter is very quick off the snap and can get himself into position well before contact is made with a pass-rusher. He shows a nice ability to get his hands into the chest of a defender and continue to stay on his block throughout the duration of a play.
He adeptly recognizes blitz packages and is able to detect early what the defense is trying to do. He adjusts nicely and allows himself to get into position to pick up the pass rush and make multiple blocks.
He did alright in pass protection on the outside in college but will struggle at the NFL level—hence his expected move to the guard position.
Tretter has a really nice lateral move and can get out in front of a quicker running back and sustain blocks into the second level.
He also plays with a bit of a mean streak. When Tretter notices that a defender has been knocked off-balance, he will quickly drive them to the ground.
Because of Tretter’s athletic ability, he is able to use his lateral agility to get outside in a hurry when blocking either on a sweep or screen.
He is able to get upfield quickly and continue blocking at the second level. He does show good recognition on the move and engages defenders at an appropriate angle.
Tretter does use his arms well in protection and is able to extend them into a defender’s chest to keep him at bay throughout the duration of a play.
However, he does not have the upper-body strength or leverage to sustain a block on a larger NFL defensive tackle. He will need to bulk up and work on evening out his pad level to become more of an effective interior lineman.
Tretter will not see action during his rookie season. He is a project player and will likely see time on a practice squad while being developed.
He does possess great upside and has only begun to scratch the surface of his potential. With the right coaching, Tretter could be a very solid starting member of an NFL offensive line within the next couple of years.