With teams continuing to lean more heavily on the passing game each successive season, it pays to be an offensive tackle in today's NFL.
While the quarterback position remains the most important in football and the 11 highest-paid players in the league all line up under center accordingly, teams are also paying a hefty premium on blockers to protect those signal callers. Currently, 10 tackles in the NFL are earning at least $15 million per year, and the majority of those players line up on the left side. Teams have long paid a special premium for "blind side" protectors at arguably the second-most critical position behind the quarterback.
This offseason alone, 49ers left tackle Trent Williams broke the bank signing a six-year, $138 million contract and the Saints recently handed right tackle Ryan Ramczyk a five-year, $96 million extension, establishing new records for both sides of the line in terms of annual salary. Before those contracts, others such as Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari and Texans left tackle Laremy Tunsil struck deals with their respective teams worth more than $22 million per season.
As training camp rapidly approaches, the Seahawks need to negotiate a new contract for one of their own tackles in Duane Brown. Entering the final year of a three-year, $36.5 million extension signed back in 2018, the 14-year veteran reportedly wants an extension and coach Pete Carroll indicated last month the team wants to keep him as long as he wants to play.
Set to turn 36 years old in August, what might an extension look like for Brown? And will these aforementioned deals for Williams and Ramczyk impact negotiations between the player and team?
Tackling the second question first, while the Williams and Ramczyk deals did reset the market and will influence future negotiations for other top tackles, they shouldn't affect Brown's contract situations much at all due to age differences. Both of those players are significantly younger - Williams turns 33 later this month and Ramczyk just turned 27 in April - and only six of the 19 tackles in the league making $12 million or more per year is over 30 years old.
These numbers shouldn't come as a surprise, as teams understandably tend to be more hesitant paying big bucks to aging players at most positions, with quarterback being the one exception to the rule. Though Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth has managed to beat "Father Time" thus far and remains a quality player at 39 years old, he and Brown are the only starters left in the league who are 34 years old or older.
Naturally, Whitworth provides the lone comp for Seattle to work off of when trying to hash out a new deal with Brown. Four months after his 39th birthday in March 2020, he agreed to terms with Los Angeles on a three-year, $30 million contract with $12.5 million in guarantees and a $5 million signing bonus.
From Brown's perspective, he will likely be pushing for a bit more money than that, especially considering how well he performed in 2020. Coming off a season in which he battled bicep and knee injuries and many began to write him off, he enjoyed a clean bill of health thanks to a revised practice plan and started all 17 regular season and playoff games, allowing only two sacks and committing just a pair of penalties while playing at an All-Pro caliber level.
According to Pro Football Focus, Brown finished the season with an 80.0 grade or higher both in pass protection and run blocking, earning the fifth-highest overall grade (87.6) among tackles. Despite his advancing age, he remains a top athlete at the position who mirrors pass rushers well and can swing his hips and sprint out into space to hunt down corners and safeties as a blocker.
If Brown were a few years younger, the Seahawks likely wouldn't have any reservations about paying him top-10 tackle money in the $15-16 million per year range. However, there's always additional risk signing older players and signs of decline could begin showing at any time, so the front office may not be keen on the idea of spending that much to retain a player now in the back half of his 30s who could break down in the near future.
On the flip side, even after using a sixth-round pick on Florida tackle Stone Forsythe, Seattle doesn't have any other viable internal replacement options under contract beyond this year and the franchise would face a different type of risk inserting the youngster into the starting lineup as early as 2022.
It's possible if Brown doesn't receive the offer he desires from Seattle before the start of training camp, he could shift his eyes towards free agency next March, as teams won't have many options on the market aside from Jaguars tackle Cam Robinson. Such a situation may give him a bit more leverage even at his age. But at this stage of his career, it'd be surprising if he wanted to go that route and he's stated on numerous occasions he wants to finish his career as a Seahawk.
Keeping that in mind, the two sides shouldn't have any difficulty finding a middle ground that fits into Seattle's budget and protects the team while also paying Brown the money he has more than earned in his three-plus seasons with the team. In a perfect scenario, the Seahawks would offer a similar extension to the one they gave him in 2018, tacking on up to two additional years for $12-13 million annually while guaranteeing roughly half of that money at signing.
Agreeing to such an extension should be sufficient for Brown as he enters the twilight of his career, while the Seahawks would check off a major box for next offseason and further affirm their commitment to building around quarterback Russell Wilson. In the process, a new deal would likely lower his cap hit for 2021, giving the team a little extra spending power in the present if they want to pursue bringing back an outside free agent such as Richard Sherman or K.J. Wright before camp.