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30 Oct 2009

Under the Cap: Top Ten Offensive Tackles

by J.I. Halsell

After a brief detour to take a look at the Redskins' salary cap mismanagement, this week we return to our analysis of the highest paid starters in the league by looking at the men in the trenches who play offensive tackle.

The table below shows that for the second consecutive season, a rookie is one of the highest paid players at offensive tackle. Rams right tackle and No. 2 overall pick in the draft Jason Smith averages $10.8 million per year, ranking him second among highest-paid offensive tackles. Smith follows on the heels of Dolphins left tackle Jake Long, who as the No. 1 overall pick in 2008 came into the league as the highest paid player at his position.

In February, the Carolina Panthers signed Pro Bowl left tackle Jordan Gross to a contract extension averaging $9.4 million per year with $24.5 million guaranteed, which ranks fourth among offensive tackles. Subsequently, after trading for him, the Eagles renegotiated the contract of Pro Bowler and former Buffalo Bill Jason Peters, making him the highest paid offensive tackle in the game at nearly $13 million per year of new money. As we look towards next season's crop of potential unrestricted free agents at left tackle (New Orleans' Jammal Brown, San Diego's Marcus McNeill, and Baltimore's impending restricted free agent Jared Gaither), one would not think that any of those players will eclipse Gross' $9.4 million average and most certainly not approach Peters' $13 million mark. It would not be surprising, however, to see one of these players sign a contract in the neighborhood of $7.5 to $8 million per year, which, when looking at the extension of young tackles, would put them in the same neighborhood as Tennessee's Michael Roos, who received $7.2 million per year on his 2008 extension.

Not surprisingly, the top ten list below is dominated by left tackles. The Dolphins' book-ends of left tackle Long and right tackle Vernon Carey are the only tandem where both players appear in the top ten. By virtue of his $7 million average per year, Carey is the highest paid right tackle in the league not playing on a rookie contract. Pittsburgh right tackle Willie Colon, whether in Pittsburgh or elsewhere, could command the same $7 million per year mark as Carey, if not exceed that amount in this coming offseason.

Here are the top ten starting offensive tackle contracts in the league:

Top Ten Starting Offensive Tackle Contracts (in millions of dollars)
Rank Player Club Age at
Guarantee Guar./
New Money
1 Peters, Jason PHI 27 4/21/2009 4 $24.4m $6.1m 47.4% $51.5m $12.9m $41.7m
2 Smith, Jason STL 23 7/31/2009 5 $33.0m $6.6m 61.1% $54.0m $10.8m $33.0m
3 Long, Jake MIA 22 4/22/2008 5 $30.0m $6.0m 60.0% $50.0m $10.0m $30.0m
4 Gross, Jordan CAR 28 2/19/2009 6 $24.5m $4.1m 43.4% $56.4m $9.4m $30.5m
5 Diehl, David NYG 27 4/22/2008 2 $3.0m $1.5m 17.1% $17.5m $8.8m -
6 Jones, Walter SEA 31 2/17/2005 7 $16.0m $2.3m 30.5% $52.5m $7.5m $26.7m
7 Adams, Flozell DAL 32 2/28/2008 6 $15.0m $2.5m 34.2% $43.8m $7.3m $22.5m
8 Roos, Michael TEN 25 4/26/2008 6 $15.0m $2.5m 34.9% $43.0m $7.2m $20.5m
9 Carey, Vernon MIA 27 2/19/2009 6 $12.0m $2.0m 28.6% $42.0m $7.0m $23.5m
10 McKinnie, Bryant MIN 26 9/9/2006 7 $14.3m $2.0m 29.4% $48.4m $6.9m $22.5m

Next week, we’ll analyze the top ten starter contracts at guard and center.

Follow J.I. Halsell on Twitter: @SalaryCap101

Posted by: J.I. Halsell on 30 Oct 2009

32 comments, Last at 31 Oct 2009, 5:12pm by Sifter


by huston720 :: Fri, 10/30/2009 - 11:28am

Wow I'm surprised that Joe Thomas isn't on the list considering he is only in his third year on his rookie contract. Seeing as how he is one of, if not the best left tackles in the game it makes him a bit of a bargain at the moment, though that will change when he signs an extension. Also it shows that rookie contracts seem to get easily surpassed in value after a few years.

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Fri, 10/30/2009 - 3:24pm

For OTs, DEs, and QBs, that's definitely true. That's why those are relatively 'safe' picks at #1 - because the guy only has to be an average OT/DE/QB in order for the contract to make sense. If he ends up being elite, the rookie contract looks cheap.

For RBs and WRs, not so much. They can linger for quite a while, and they have to be an elite player in order for the contract to make sense. And then, the problem even gets worse, because since they linger as a top-paid player for so long, there's never a point when you can really sign them to a contract extension and not heavily overpay them unless they're basically the best in the game and likely to stay the best in the game for the contract's length.

Especially RBs, who have short careers and are plentiful, I have no idea why teams draft them in the top 5.

by Mr Shush :: Fri, 10/30/2009 - 9:17pm

I'm not sure it's fair to lump WRs in with RBs. It's almost impossible for a running back to justify a top three contract - the guy would pretty much have to be a first ballot hall of famer. Wide receivers, not so much: I'd say the Texans, Cardinals and Lions were probably pretty happy with Johnson, Fitzgerald and Johnson. The Cardinals gave Fitzgerald an idiotic rookie deal, which gave him the leverage to extract a decidedly player-friendly second contract. Johnson's rookie deal was more typical, with the result that his second deal was a lot more team-friendly, and he's still a crazy value. Despite being a star wide receiver out of Miami, Johnson shows every sign of being a quiet, team-first guy, so there may even be a chance he doesn't kick up a fuss. Regardless, it's hard to think any of those three teams are less than ecstatic about how those picks turned out. Wide receivers with that kind of physical talent are very rarely available later in the draft, and they are hugely valuable. Yes, there's a fairly high bust rate at the position, but unlike RB there's a good deal of upside there to justify it.

by The Hypno-Toad :: Fri, 10/30/2009 - 11:32am

I'm already scared of the size of Ryan Clady's next deal, and he's only in his second year.

by The Guy You Don't Want to Hear (not verified) :: Fri, 10/30/2009 - 12:19pm

I agree, but I'm more scared of the possibility, however remote, that he wants too big of a deal and walks. If ever a franchise should recognize the value of a left tackle, it's Denver--as much as people like to say that Elway's numbers vastly improved under Shanahan, they actually vastly improved two years earlier under Wade Phillips (and stayed at the same high level under Shanahan) and I think it's largely because they picked up a Hall of Fame left tackle in Gary Zimmerman that year.

by Temo :: Fri, 10/30/2009 - 1:41pm

OR Wade Phillips is a QB guru. I mean the guy got 2 above-average seasons out of Rob Johnson.

You know, I was kidding about this... but really... Wade Phillips was around for the beginning of John Elway's late-career statistical peak, he got basically the only good seasons Rob Johnson and Doug Flutie ever had, and is now around for Tony Romo's surprisingly good 2.5 year career.

Of course, the other side of this argument is that Phillips' surprisingly good regular season record (74-51, .592 winning percentage) is inflated because he was able to coincide all his major head coaching gigs with QBs having career peaks.

by Not THAT Anonymous (not verified) :: Fri, 10/30/2009 - 2:22pm

OR neither Wade Phillips nor Shanny ran Dan Reeves' rushing-based offense that got him chased off by Elway. They both knew that they had to open the playbook and let Elway throw if they wanted to keep their jobs.

by The Guy You Don't Want to Hear (not verified) :: Fri, 10/30/2009 - 7:22pm

Elway's pass attempts per game and record by coach:

Reeves (10 years): 30.6/89-52 (63.1%)
Phillips (2 years): 34.8/16-14 (53.3%)
Shanahan (4 years): 31.6/43-16 (72.9%)

I included the record so that there was at least some basis for seeing variation caused by being ahead/behind. It looks like it's definitely true that both Phillips and Shanahan wanted to throw a lot more--Shanahan averaged more pass attempts even with a winning % almost 10 points higher.

So, yes, that's part of it, as is the fact that Elway and Reeves really hadn't gotten along for much of the time, and Zimmerman's arrival. There were numerous factors. However, Zimmerman is one that somehow gets overlooked (in part because people ignore the excellent seasons Elway had in '93 and '94), so that's why I was pointing it out.

by The Hypno-Toad :: Sat, 10/31/2009 - 3:39am

I really can't imagine Clady going that route. More precisely, I won't allow myself to imagine that. His deal goes through... 2012, I think. That provides enough time to start hoarding ink for all the zeros that will be on his checks. I know enough about football to know that I really don't know much about football, but it seems like something really, really strange has to happen for a team to let a cornerstone LT walk over money. If it turns out that, like Marshall, Clady just hates the city of Denver, there's not a lot to be done about that, but for now he seems happy here, and I can't imagine that McDaniels & Co aren't thrilled to have him. All that said, it's hard to make any sort of meaningful guesses about future contracts without knowing how the CBA will shake out.
As to your other point, that Zimmerman doesn't get the credit he deserves for Elway's improvement... That sort of thing will happen in Denver when your contributions are sandwiched between the combined legends Elway and Shanahan. But I the fans generally regard Zim as one of the all time greats, and other than T.D., the most important addition to the offense that finally got the team over the hump and into the upper echelon of the league.

by smilerz (not verified) :: Fri, 10/30/2009 - 11:44am

Is there something special about tackles that have names that begin with 'J'?

by TuMadre (not verified) :: Fri, 10/30/2009 - 3:09pm

I think we've found the right fit for Jamarcus Russel!!

by Tim Wilson :: Fri, 10/30/2009 - 11:49am

Peters looks like a horrible investment thus far. He has played like 2008 Jason Peters, but is getting paid like 2007 Jason Peters.

by Dean :: Fri, 10/30/2009 - 12:23pm

There's not nearly as much guaranteed money there as with some of these other deals, though.

by Sifter :: Fri, 10/30/2009 - 4:48pm

Allow me to humbly disagree. I think Peters has been pretty good, perhaps not 'best OT in the NFL' good, but certainly good enough. And if it takes a contract of that size to make sure King Dunlap NEVER sees the field again, I'll happily pay it...

If you want to criticize an Eagles OL contract, look on the other side of the line (or bench) - Stacy Andrews. I'd argue he played a lot worse than Peters in '08 and he's playing a lot worse this year too. Hopefully Herremans can get up to speed quickly, and then at least we'll have one reasonable guard.

by njjetfan12 :: Fri, 10/30/2009 - 12:29pm

What's the deal with David Diehl's....deal? He only has 17% of his contract guaranteed? Or did he only sign a 2 year extension worth 8.5 per year?

by J.I. Halsell :: Fri, 10/30/2009 - 1:32pm

You are correct. His deal was a 2-year extension; therefore his average per year is representative of the new money he'll earn in exchange for those 2 new years. In short, NYG rewarded him with 3M guaranteed for being the starting LT on their super bowl team & gave him the opportunity to earn a little bit more money, all be it in exchange for 2 more years under contract.

J.I. Halsell
Salary Cap Analyst | "Under the Cap"
Twitter | @SalaryCap101

by Yuri (not verified) :: Fri, 10/30/2009 - 12:30pm

This table lacks a data column: playing weight of each individual... we can then create very meaningful ratios of $/lb, etc.

by Tim (not verified) :: Fri, 10/30/2009 - 12:31pm

Doesn't it seem ridiculous that the Long and Smith have the most percent of their contracts guaranteed?

And Diehl's ridiculously low guaranteed percentage...

Granted, drafting a top tier tackle is all the rage in the NFL now, and seems to be one of the more safe investments you can make with a tip 10 pick. It just seems odd that these rookies are getting so much guaranteed money versus the veterans who have shown their worth (with the exception of Peters... what were the Iggles thinking?)

On that note, how silly do Jones' and Adams' new years look? 7 new years to a 31 year old? That's just setting yourself up for wasted money.

by IanWhetstone (not verified) :: Fri, 10/30/2009 - 1:47pm

Diehl's deal definitely stands out for its differences compared to the others on the list (and Peters', to a somewhat lesser degree). Jimmy, would you characterize the Diehl contract similarly to the contracts for WRs Steve Smith and Chad Johnson that you looked at previously, as not a terribly meaningful market benchmark?

Looking at this list, the Steelers have to feel pretty good about the deal that they worked out with Max Starks. He's not a great player, but he's shown himself to be a competent left tackle and he had the leverage of the franchise tag on his side. I'll be interested to see how things go with Colon next year, too. The patience that they've shown with a lot of those guys has been paying off this year.

by J.I. Halsell :: Fri, 10/30/2009 - 2:02pm

Ian, you're correct in comparing Diehl's contract to that of Chad Johnson & Steve Smith; as those contracts really aren't good indicators of the market.

J.I. Halsell
Salary Cap Analyst | "Under the Cap"
Twitter | @SalaryCap101

by Danish Denver-Fan :: Fri, 10/30/2009 - 1:48pm

I thought Colon was useless? What happened?

The Hotel is a bargain. 7.5 mill a year? thats only like 200k pr false start!

by Dunbar (not verified) :: Fri, 10/30/2009 - 3:07pm

Colon actually hasn't been half bad this year. No way in hell would I ever pay him $7 million, but he's been okay. He's still a shaky pass blocker, but he's better than he was, and he's always been a pretty good run blocker.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Fri, 10/30/2009 - 4:20pm

What, is Flozell Adams getting paid per penalty?

The Vikings are getting decent value with McKinnie. They extremely rarely give him help in pass protection, they get good results without doing so, and he is o.k., if not spectacular, in the running game.

by The Guy You Don't Want to Hear (not verified) :: Fri, 10/30/2009 - 7:30pm

I have wondered for a couple of years how Vikings fans felt about McKinnie. He seemed to be the most hyped offensive lineman in history coming out of the draft and so I wondered if his development into a very good but not really dominant lineman was a disappointment.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Fri, 10/30/2009 - 10:41pm

A lot of people complain about Mckinnie; mostly those who don't understand the value of a tackle who you can mostly leave out on an island, even if he ain't prime time Walter Jones.

by Temo :: Fri, 10/30/2009 - 9:56pm

Flozell had trouble major problems with Dumerville, but aside from that, he's been decent in pass protection. And still one of the best run blockers in the game.

He's still worth the money, penalties and all.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Fri, 10/30/2009 - 4:23pm

Oops, I see the Dane beat me to the wisecrack.....

by Buckturgidson (not verified) :: Fri, 10/30/2009 - 4:30pm

Pittsburgh's Colon was responsible for the worst cheapshot I've ever seen last year against the Colts . On the last play of the game , a hail-Mary , he dove on the lower legs of Robert Mathis from behind while Mathis was being blocked by another Steeler . He is pondscum .

by The Hypno-Toad :: Sat, 10/31/2009 - 3:16am

As a life-long Denver Bronco fan, I'm somewhat of a connoisseur of o-line cheapshots. I didn't see the play you're referring to, but I have trouble believing that it was dirtier than either A) Monday Night Football (2003, I think) George Foster diving onto some Bengal's knee from behind, roughly 40 yards behind the play (I exaggerate, but the only way this Bengal could have been less of a threat on this play is if he had been on the bench)or B) Tom Nalen trying to explode Igor Olshansky's knees on a spike play.

by IanWhetstone :: Sat, 10/31/2009 - 11:10am

I remember Nalen diving at Olshansky on the spike play. That was really, really bad. Most plays that people cite as being "dirty," I tend to think are just aggressive football or accidents, but that one was undeniable.

by bubqr :: Sat, 10/31/2009 - 1:06pm

Only 2 OTs older than 30 : Pace, Jones, Ogden great generation is clearly over.

by Sifter :: Sat, 10/31/2009 - 5:12pm

I find these articles interesting as player payments is one of those areas that even the know-it-all fans don't know about sometimes.

Can I suggest a future article Mr Hassell? It would be a bit more comprehensive as you'd need all the salary figures, but I'd love to see an article comparing what each team spends on each unit: O-line, secondary, receivers etc. and see how that spending correlates with wins and DVOA. Does a team that goes cheap with RBs generally perform better? or teams that sink lots of cash into the O-line tend to succeed more? It'd be an interesting study I think.