Historically, Offensive Guard has been one of the least recognized positions in football. However, over the last two seasons, the Guard Market in the NFL has been “Boomin’.” Per Jason Fitzgerald’s article in March detailing Market Movement, six contracts signed by Guards in 2017 were high enough to be valued in the top 10 at the position and the top 20 average APY for Guards increased by 23% this year. The next player that will continue to contribute to the growth of the Guard Market is Dallas Cowboys Right Guard, Zack Martin.
Martin signed a 4 year, $8.967M deal with the Cowboys after being selected 16th overall in the 2014 NFL Draft. His deal includes a 5th year team option, similar to all first round draft picks under the current collective bargaining agreement, which the Cowboys had no reluctance to exercise last March. Martin’s 5th year option, currently guaranteed for injury, becomes fully guaranteed on the 1st day of the 2018 league year and will pay out $9.341M in P5 Salary. However, when a player of Martin’s caliber has less than 2 years on his deal, it is smart for teams to start considering an extension as it prevents the player from testing the open market. The player benefits as he gains long-term financial security and transfers injury risk to the team.
Before forecasting an extension for Martin there are a few points to consider. In determining an appropriate value for a player, teams and agents typically pull a list of comparable players from the player’s respective position. However, in Martin’s case, because he is regarded as one of the best Offensive Lineman, his comps should include Guards and Left Tackles as Left Tackles dominate the top of the Offensive Line Market. Second, the Cowboys have a precedent of signing their first round Offensive Lineman to long term, top of the market deals, exemplified by Tyron Smith’s and Travis Frederick’s extensions. Looking at their contract structures will be important in determining the appropriate structure for Martin. Lastly, ESPN’s Todd Archer reported Martin’s camp and the Cowboys halted contract talks in September and will resume again next off-season. That being said, Martin will be only one year from free agency when negotiations resume, so the cash flow in Martin’s first new year should be, at minimum, the 2019 franchise tag number for Offensive Line, which is forecasted at approx. $14.2M. In addition, Martin’s APY should be based off the 2018 NFL Salary Cap. For the purpose of this article, I’m assuming it will grow at its average growth rate of 5.71% per year since 2011. That would bring the 2018 Salary Cap number to $176.54M.
Below is a list of recently signed deals in the Tackle and Guard market and each player’s performance 2 years leading up to his new deal:
Not only has Martin shown incredible toughness and durability as he has only missed 2.5% of snaps the last two years, but Martin has also earned 1st and 2nd Team All-Pro Recognition from the highly regarded football analytic site, Pro Football Focus. That being said, the $12M mark set by Kevin Zeitler in the Guard Market should be the floor in negotiations for Martin’s extension. The Cowboys could argue against this as Zeitler’s deal was done in Free Agency, where he had more leverage. However, Martin is regarded as the better player and, as previously mentioned, the Cowboys have set a precedent for their First Round Offensive Lineman, Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, by making them the highest paid players at their position at time of signing.
Considering the points above, I project Martin’s extension:
- 6 Year Extension worth $84.6M in new money ($14.1M APY)
- $38M Total Guaranteed (includes signing bonus, 2018-2019 base salaries, and $6.459M of 2020 base salary guaranteed for injury.)
- $31.541M Guaranteed at Signing (includes signing bonus, 2018-2019 base salaries)
- $8M Signing Bonus
- 1st Year Cash Flow: $17.341M
- 3 Year Cash Flow: $44.541M
The table above illustrates Martin’s key metrics against his comps. As I believe Zeitler’s $12M mark should be the floor for Martin’s negotiations, the next question would be where he fits among the three highest paid Tackles. Martin is a far better player than Okung, so it should not be a surprise for Martin to get the better deal. Then comes Trent Williams and Terron Armstead, who are also better than Okung and played at elite levels leading up to their deals. That being said, I would expect Martin’s numbers to be more in line with Williams’ and Armstead’s figures. If the Cowboys aren’t willing to sign Martin to the $14.1 APY figure that I’m projecting, Martin’s side should use the argument that a $14.1M APY would only be 7.99% of the 2018 projected cap. Williams’ and Armstead’s APY were 9.21% and 8.37% of the salary cap at time of signing. Regarding Martin’s guarantee structure, although his dollar figures are higher than most of his comps, the % of guarantees to his total contract value will be lower than his peers as that would be tradeoff for having the highest APY dollar figure. However, Offensive lineman typically have longer career spans and are more likely to play out their entire deal, so compromising with a lower % guarantee for a higher APY is the route Martin should take.
Now that we’ve looked at Martin’s projections, it is important to see how his numbers align with his counterparts on the Cowboys Oline.
Looking at APY as % of Cap, Martin’s 7.99% is only lower than Tyron Smith’s 9.17%. The reason Smith’s number is so high relates to his deal being team friendly as illustrated by guaranteed % and the length of the extension. That being said, Dallas had to compromise by inflating Smith’s APY. The only other outlier on the table above is La’el Collins % Guaranteed and Signing Bonus percentages. This is because Collins’ recent extension reflects what he would have approximately earned on his rookie deal had he not fallen out of the draft.
In looking at Martin’s Cap Numbers throughout the deal, his cap hit will be at its peak in 2019 at a whopping $15.8M. This could lead Dallas to restructure Martin’s deal by converting a large chunk of his P5 into a signing bonus. As a result, Dallas would free up cap space in 2019, but Martin’s Dead Money figures would increase in the later years of his deal. This would make it more difficult for Dallas to release Martin later in his career.
Since entering the league in 2014, Martin has played at a high level, consistently. His first round status, dominance in the trenches, and being one year from free agency will give Martin leverage in negotiations with Cowboys Brass. This leverage should not only be used to make Martin the highest paid Guard, but the highest paid Offensive lineman by APY. The tradeoff for Martin will be to have a lower % of his deal guaranteed. However, with Martin playing a position with a longer career span, he is more likely to play his entire deal so going for a higher APY is worth the tradeoff for lower guaranteed %. I would expect both sides to reach an extension by the beginning of the 2018 League Year.
Hardik Sanghavi graduated from DePaul University in 2016 with a major in finance and minor in accounting. During his time at DePaul, Hardik interned with ESPN Chicago and Priority Sports & Entertainment. He now works as a Commercial Underwriter in the Insurance Industry and is a guest contributor on sportsagentblog.com. You can follow him on twitter at @hardiks94.