Yesterday, the Dallas Cowboys re-signed RG Zack Martin to a massive six-year, $84m extension with $40m guaranteed that reset the market for offensive linemen. The deal outpaces the one the Cleveland Browns gave Andrew Norwell in free agency a few months ago to make Martin the highest-paid interior lineman with the most guaranteed money.
For the Los Angeles Rams, it also sets the ceiling for the interior lineman market as LG Rodger Saffold, RG Jamon Brown and RT Rob Havenstein are all scheduled to be unrestricted free agents in nine months.
A reminder of how things look next year in free agency:
2019 LA Rams Free Agents
|Brandin Cooks||WR||UFA||Re-signed, 5-yr, $80m|
|Todd Gurley||RB||UFA (option)||Re-signed, 4-yr, $60m|
|Marcus Peters||CB||UFA (option)||Optioned|
So with S Lamarcus Joyner likely gone and DL Ndamukong Suh all but certain to exit as well, the Rams’ most important contractual decisions will come down to DL Aaron Donald (#paytheman), WR Brandin Cooks and their offensive line trio. And while NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport recently reported that other potential extensions were being held up until the Donald issue is finalized, there’s nothing concrete stopping the Rams from making a deal happen with any of their offensive linemen prior to an AD payout.
How might things look for Saffold? He re-signed with the Rams in 2014 after a strange dalliance with the Oakland Raiders on a five-year, $31m deal. Two things to note there. For one, Saffold was coming off of three injury-plagued seasons in which he started just 28 of 48 games while playing left tackle and then moving around. Should he enjoy a healthy season in 2017, he’d be negotiating after three healthy seasons which would be a pretty different situation. Secondly, the salary cap in 2014 was $133m. The cap in 2019 will be more than $50m greater, so there’s gonna be money to spend.
For Brown and Havenstein, it’s a bit more open. Both are in the final year of their rookie contracts as picks from the 2015 NFL Draft. As such, Brown is making less than $2m this year and Hav is under $1m. So they’re both looking at significantly higher salaries.
But what kind of market will exist for the three? Saffold just enjoyed his 30th birthday last week while Hav and Brown are 26 and 25 respectively. All have a chance to put in a 2018 season that they will use at the forefront of their negotiations.
And it’s absolutely relevant to point out the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement after the 2020 season. While this could be Saffold’s last payday, Brown and Havenstein might be looking at another contract into a new market shaped by entirely new salary cap constraints or a lack thereof. That might create the motivation to avoid longer deals in lieu of a shorter one that would allow them to re-negotiate sooner in the new market. Or the opposite!
But with three offensive linemen yet to put ink to their NFL futures, the Rams have some major decisions to make. And the Martin deal might help frame the shape of those decisions with just nine months left to make them.