Today’s franchise tag deadline looked to be going very quietly but at the last minute the Panthers and right tackle Taylor Moton agreed to a new five year contract worth about $85 million with $43 million guaranteed at signing. The move should validate the massive increase in the right tackle market that occurred when Ryan Ramczyk signed a very lucrative contract extension about two weeks ago.
The wording on the Moton contract is interesting. In general franchise players, even when they have signed a tender, are negotiating a new contract. In this case the announcements of the deal were very clear to paint this as a four year extension worth $72 million. The difference in the two numbers is notable as a four year deal averages $18 million a year while the five year deal would average around $17 million a year. The $43 million guarantee (my guess is it will be a few dollars more than $43 million) should wind up as the top number among right tackles just edging out the Ramczyk deal. Ramczyk’s deal had incredibly strong cash flows so we will have to wait and see if this deal even comes close to that.
While the extension vs new contract debate is a bit of semantics I would guess this is where the two sides were able to come to an agreement. From the Panthers perspective they should clearly view this at $17 million a year which is probably closer to what they were considering as an offer when they tagged him. The $18 million number is closer to the Ramczyk number and valued in the same manner which makes it reasonable for Moton to accept.
Both sides in a sense benefit from this. If Moton does not take this deal there is the risk that the Ramczyk number could have been painted as an outlier in the market and that he is effectively a “left tackle in waiting”. That would drop the right tackle market back down to $15 million or so a year. If the number is validated by another team during the 2021 season it may have driven Moton’s price even higher and cost the Panthers more than the $17M a year number.
The deal itself should fundamentally change the right tackle market. Right tackle money has lagged for years, generally fluctuating between the 2nd or 3rd least valuable position in the league. There have been a few outliers but those players were considered left tackles who happened to play the right side. More often than not teams either paid down or used it as a position to groom a future player.
As of last year the high water mark was $14 million a season with most contracts in the $10-$12M range. There are now two deals in the $17M+ category which should give plenty of ammunition for upcoming free agents to punch up. This may be a drastic change for teams who likely projected the market to be no more than $15M when they were going to enter into negotiations. Now the numbers will be closer to $20M a year for a top market player. The teams that snagged their young left tackles to contracts prior to this June (notably the Broncos, Ravens, and Raiders) are big winners in this too.
The next question I would have is whether or not this impacts other positions. In recent years the salary hierarchy on the line was left tackle, guard, and then a drop to center and right tackle. Here is the average salary paid for the top 10 signings at each position between 2017 and 2020 (for this we are considering Lane Johnson and Trent Brown as left tackles).
With right tackle clearly on the move it would make sense, unless there is a fundamental difference to the way that the NFL is now viewing the value of the right side of the line, for a top guard to certainly make a case that they are worth $20 million a season. A case can probably be made for a top center to top $15 million a year as well. To me that is the most interesting in all of this- do these two contracts send offensive line spending that much higher or do we see teams begin to let more players test free agency and let someone else pay up while they play cheaper veterans and draft picks? The ball is probably in the Colts court for the first case study in where the market is headed.