So today I was busy working on some projects and finally got around to going online and saw the Chiefs signed tackle Eric Fisher to a four year, $48 million contract extension. I actually did a double take on that one just to make sure I actually read it correctly. Fisher has never really been a great player. I’m not even sure he has been a good player. Sure he is a former top draft pick, but it was in such a weak draft that the draft status should come with a disclaimer. I had the same reaction when the Eagles signed Lane Johnson this past offseason to a large extension despite never standing out in any manner. Ive seen many say that this is a contract that shows you what the Chiefs expect of Fisher in the future since he has shown improvement, but I think its really more of an indictment of the talent coming out from college and into the pros.
We’ve heard numerous scouts and coaches complain about the lack of ability of players coming out college to play a professional style game. Some say they are terribly coached and its basically having to start over from day one. This take has seemingly coincided with the growth of the spread, trigger happy offenses in college. There may be some data to back it up. For a time, left tackle was one of the safest draft picks a team could make. Often if a player was scouted as a top 10 draft pick talent the player was penciled in for a Pro Bowl, with a few exceptions as Bills and Raiders fans can attest to. From 2000 to 2011 the top 10 produced something like 60% of tackles in a Pro Bowl. Since then its been closer to 10%.
While some may argue that this is just a normal trend, in my opinion the league is putting validity to this through the contracts that we are seeing. With both tackle positions I think we are beginning to see the fear of the unknown and perceived scarcity of talent at the position dictate contracts. Rather than the best players earning the most money what we seem to have is a logjam of salaries.
Tyron Smith is far better than any of the players who recently signed extensions. His contract isn’t so old that agents should have been able to totally disregard it but instead we have a number of inferior players earning close to what Smith earned. Compare that with something like receiver where there is a pretty clear hierarchy and when a few players seem to surprisingly break into that group (Allen Hurns, Doug Baldwin, and Jeremy Maclin being the most recent) it raises eyebrows and generally indicates a sign of things to come for increased salaries.
Left tackles are all just beginning to accumulate in a narrow band. Cordy Glenn, Terron Armstead, Eric Fisher, and Lane Johnson are in the same band as much more accomplished players and its becoming the norm. Matt Kalil will probably end up in the same location once he agrees to some kind of contract extension and he is another player with questions around him. The Russell Okung grouping if you consider their contract options a true second contract also fall in that same narrow band.
This is exactly what has happened with the QB position where the fear of the unknown dictates what are often overvalued contracts for the likes of Colin Kaepernick, Ryan Tannehill, Sam Bradford, Brock Osweiler, Alex Smith, Jay Cutler, and others who have all been in this tiny narrow band of values that trend far too close to Aaron Rodgers (or Peyton for the older players). None belong in the same category as the true stars but the college talent just isn’t there to count on.
Right tackles also fall in the same narrow band but with an exception- most of these players are not being re-signed until after their contract expires and in many cases they are switching teams. The top left tackles are all extended or tagged. Im not sure if this is a sign that teams are more willing to slot draft pick on the right side as a developmental talent that can maybe swing to the left side or just a sign that teams are putting much less value on the right side, but either way we are seeing very little differentiation between talent when it comes to salaries.
While I haven’t seen much in the way of particulars of the Fisher contract as I type this the reported guarantees I don’t think show a real conviction that they expect him to turn into a dominant player. Remember that Fisher was already guaranteed to earn $15.3 million over the next two seasons. A $20 millionish full guarantee really just represents an added $5 million commitment. A $28 million early vesting guarantee represents a slightly discounted franchise tag season without the cap issues raised by the tag. So in essence the Chiefs just exercised a franchise tag option on Fisher two years early rather than haggling over his contract value, which like many playing the position should have been millions less than this. Those same teams will go to war with real stars at other positions on contracts just as the Chiefs did with Justin Houston because of the influx of talent that may be available.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.