We expected to hear a lot of talk about contracts going into this year’s Dallas Cowboys training camp, but Zack Martin’s name wasn’t supposed to be one of them. Now with the 10th-year veteran rumored to be considering a holdout for a new deal, what can Martin reasonably expect to get from Dallas in revised compensation?
Martin is entering Year 5 of the six-year extension he signed back in 2018. He is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in 2025 and will be turning 35 years old. That alone is an important detail in this unforeseen dilemma.
The key issue is money, of course. Right now Martin is averaging just $14 million per year despite being universally considered one of the best guards in the NFL, if not the very best. The current market value for elite guards is $20 million per season after recent deals signed by Falcons’ Chris Lindstrom and the Colts’ Quenton Nelson.
Despite being significantly older than those fellow standouts, Martin remains their peer and perhaps more. While all three were in last season’s Pro Bowl, he was the only one to be a First-team All-Pro. Still producing like of the top offensive linemen of his generation, Martin is now woefully underpaid with seven other guards currently making more money.
- Chris Lindstrom, $20.5m/year
- Quenton Nelson, $20m/year
- Elgton Jenkins, $17m/year
- Brandon Scherff, $16.5m/year
- Joel Bitonio, 16m/year
- Joe Thuney, $16m/year
- Wyatt Teller, $14.2m/year
- Zack Martin, $14m/year
This is only one side of the argument, though. While Martin is no doubt looking at his accolades and consistent level of elite play, the Cowboys are looking at the fact that he’s about to turn 33 and is older than everyone else on that list. Lindstrom and Nelson are around the age that Martin was when he first signed this deal, which was fair value for a top-tier, prime-age guard back in 2018.
Given his age and mileage, Martin can’t reasonably expect to get a deal like those two did. His decline could begin any minute now and the Cowboys would be hesitant to increase their long-term financial stake in a player at this stage of his career.
That said, Martin has a clear argument for deserving something closer to elite market value. He especially needs to get it now as, when this deal runs out in 2025, he’ll have a hard time convincing any team to pay him top dollar. Even if Martin’s next two years are just as outstanding as the last nine, turning 35 is a scary age in the NFL, even for offensive linemen.
So what’s reasonable here? The Cowboys could rework the final years of Martin’s deal, perhaps extending it into 2025 or 2026. This would go beyond standard restructuring; that just converts salary into bonus money but doesn’t change overall compensation. This would be truly increasing Martin’s pay either in base salary or bonuses to raise that average closer to the $20 million mark.
The big debate between the two sides will be guaranteed money. Martin’s age, especially in a couple more years, is going to make Dallas wary of losing their long-term leverage. If Martin is willing to bet on himself, he might follow Tyron Smith’s course and allow the Cowboys to work incentives into the deal.
One plus for Dallas here; there’s already $9.98 million of dead money allocated to void years after restructuring the current contract. This is an existing cap cost that the Cowboys could absorb into a contract extension, actually improving their future cap a little if Martin is still a starting guard in 2025 or beyond.
However it shakes out, Zack Martin knows what he’s doing. He’s striking while he’s still one of the consensus elite at his position and before Father Time finally comes calling. The Cowboys have enjoyed his services at a relative discount the last few years and now it’s time for an equalizing. And with several other star players heading into contract negotiations, how Dallas treats such a longtime asset could impact those discussions as well.