On March 10, 2015 Mike Iupati signed a five-year, $40 million dollar contract with $22.5 million guaranteed. He was 28 years old and considered one of the best guards in the NFL at the time, having made three straight Pro Bowls between 2012-2014, and being named First Team All-Pro in 2012. The market for offensive guards, generally one of the most overlooked positions in football, had seemingly been set.
However, the salary cap has risen dramatically since then and over just the next two offseasons a litany of players, many of whom are inferior in comparison to Iupati, were signed to contracts with a higher average annual salary. This includes T.J. Lang, Ronald Leary, Joel Bitonio, Larry Warford, and Kyle Long. Several of these players have never made a Pro Bowl, much less First Team All-Pro, yet most have received contracts averaging about $9 million per year.
One of the most shocking contracts handed out to an offensive guard may be the extension that Laurent Duvernay-Tardif recently signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. Despite only having two years of experience as a starter, and never being named to a Pro Bowl or All-Pro team, the Chiefs signed Duvernay-Tardif to a five-year, $42.3 million contract with over $20 million guaranteed on February 27, 2017.
In just two years the going rate for one of the best guards in the league, in his prime, now seems to be the going rate for a quality, but not elite starting player at that position.
Where does that leave the Cowboys with Zack Martin, quite possibly the best guard in the entire league?
Well, to get an idea of what kind of numbers the Cowboys will be looking at on an extension with Martin let’s take a look at the contracts of the top three highest paid guards in the league:
|Highest Paid NFL Guards|
|Years and Total Value||Average Annual Salary||Guaranteed Money||Date Signed||Age When Signed|
|Kevin Zeitler||5/$60 Million||$12 Million||$31.5 Million||3/9/2017||27|
|Kelechi Osemele||5/$58.5 Million||$11.7 Million||$25.4 Million||3/9/2016||26|
|David DeCastro||5/$50 Million||$10 Million||$16 Million||9/8/2016||26|
Despite not making a single Pro Bowl or All-Pro team over five seasons with the Bengals, the Browns, flush with cap space, decided to make Zeitler the highest-paid guard in the league. When Osemele signed his deal with the Raiders he also had not made a Pro Bowl or All-Pro team, although he had experience playing tackle with the Ravens and it’s possible that the Raiders had that in mind when they signed him to a deal of that magnitude. The Raiders weren’t sure if they were signing him to play tackle or guard at the time, but he did end up settling in at left guard this past season, making First Team All-Pro in the process.
DeCastro is the only one out of these three who had made either a Pro Bowl or All-Pro team at the time of his extension (he made both for the first time in 2015), and it seems the Steelers got a bargain, perhaps because Osemele’s deal was still viewed as that of a guard/tackle.
So considering that Zack Martin has made the Pro Bowl each of his first three seasons in the league, and was named First Team All-Pro in 2014 and 2016, it seems clear that the Zeitler deal will be used as the starting point in negotiations.
Last August the team signed Travis Frederick, who was going into his fourth season in the league, to a deal that made him the highest paid center in the league on the basis of average annual salary. That was a six-year, $56.4 million extension with over $28 million guaranteed.
Extending Martin as he goes into his fourth season is clearly the top priority of the offseason for the front office, and if they follow the same playbook as they did with Frederick, they will surely be looking to get hot and heavy in negotiations to make him the highest-paid player at his position over the next three or four months.
This is one of the main reasons that the Cowboys have been so frugal as of late in free agency, including not bringing back Ron Leary, but with the Tony Romo contract soon to be completely off the books and Dak Prescott on a rookie contract, expect Martin to become not just the highest-paid guard in the league but one of the highest-paid offensive linemen in general.
It would seem at the very least that Martin will get a contract averaging somewhere in the $12.5-$13 million per year range, with at least about $30 million guaranteed. With that said, don’t be surprised if he ends up getting over $13 million per year, and perhaps even closer to $14 million, along with $35-$40 million guaranteed.
To be blunt, there is absolutely no comparison between a player like Martin and Zeitler, and I wouldn’t blame Martin and his agent if they were to take an offer of only a marginal increase over the Zeitler deal as somewhat of a slap in the face.
Frederick was 25 years old when the Cowboys signed him to his extension while Martin is 26, going on 27 in November, so it wouldn’t surprise me if the team only extended him for five years, as opposed to the six that Frederick got. Either way, they will have to back up the Brinks truck, and should be happy to do so because Martin is the type of player who will likely define his position for the era he played in when you look back 10 years from now.
I’m estimating that sometime over the next six months Martin will receive a five-year, $68 million extension with $35 million guaranteed. That is left tackle money in this day and age, but given the Zeitler contract and how much more Martin has accomplished than him, I think this is the range the Cowboys will have to be in to finalize a deal.
One last item I’d like to point out is that Justin Pugh, the left guard for the Giants, is currently making $8.8 million in the fifth-year option of his rookie deal. The Giants seemingly want to extend him although they don’t have much space against the cap having invested so much in their defense. However it is a possibility that he receives an extension sometime before the season, and there is a small chance that he receives an extension somewhere in the range of the Zeitler deal, or perhaps just a bit more based on his experience playing tackle as well as guard. I wouldn’t say it’s likely, but it’s something to keep in the back of your mind.
At this point any deal signed by a guard that exceeds the Zeitler deal only pushes up Martin’s asking price. This could give the Cowboys a little extra motivation to get something done sooner rather than later, before the regular season begins.