Austin Blythe has twice made the Rams look savvy. What will be the “smart move” with Blythe in 2021 though as he enters the free agent market as an established center on a playoff team as opposed to his previous two stints on the open market?
That’s a costly question to answer.
A seventh round pick of the Colts in 2016, Blythe was picked up on waivers in May of 2017 and Sean McVay kept him on the roster for all of that season and protected him as a part of the offensive line’s future. That plan came to fruition when Blythe won a job as the starting right guard on the 2018 Super Bowl team, but Blythe’s potential as a guard went ‘plop’ in 2019 and the desire to retain him waned considerably from fans who wanted an o-line overhaul.
McVay hadn’t given up on Blythe however and the team gave him a one-year, $3.9 million contract at a time when the market didn’t value him as being worthy of a multi-year pact. It just required an adjustment to get him back on track. Blythe was about as good of a center in 2020 as he as was a guard in 2018 and that transition could make it easier for him to move into long-term territory.
According to OvertheCap.com, there are eight right guards in the NFL making at least $6 million per year on multi-year veteran contracts. By comparison, there are 18 centers by that same measure! A nineteenth player, Chargers Mike Pouncey, made $8.5 million for one-year in 2020. A right guard making $8.5 million would be near-elite territory. (Patriots G Shaq Mason makes $9 million per year.)
Austin Blythe may not be exciting, but consider the rising cost of centers recently. While they aren’t nearly as respected as left tackles, the center position has moved into second place, making more on average than right tackles and either guard position. The 19th-highest paid center is Ben Jones of the Titans, a good player who might be taking less than he’s worth because of the success he and the rest of the o-line is having in Tennessee recently.
The 20th-highest paid center last year was Blythe.
But while the cost of a top-10 center has not gone above $13 million per season yet, 10 centers make at least $10 million annually. Four more make $9 million per season. Three more make $8 million.
Among those making less than Blythe were quality players on rookie contracts, including Garrett Bradbury, Frank Ragnow, and Erik McCoy.
So before the Rams lose Blythe, they should hope to feel really comfortable with Austin Corbett moving back over to center. But maybe Corbett can make the Rams look savvy like Blythe once did and his potential could be even higher.
If teams value Blythe as a starting center, he could be able to secure a deal near what Connor McGovern got from the Jets in 2020: three years, $27 million. That could just be the floor.
If Blythe does leave in free agency, even with Corbett in line, center may become the highest priority in the 2021 draft. The cost to buy one on the market is pricier than you may imagine.
Should the Rams re-sign Austin Blythe?
This poll is closed