The 2013 NFL free agency period has been very lucrative for offensive linemen. As the league becomes more and more pass-oriented, and pass-rushers become more disruptive, teams are more willing to spend a premium on elite pass protectors. The 2013 franchise-tag number for offensive lineman, an average of the salaries given to the top 5 players at the position last season, came out to $9.828 million, behind only quarterbacks, wide receivers, defensive ends and cornerbacks.
Below is a look at the biggest contracts handed out to offensive linemen during the 2013 offseason, and what those contracts mean for those who have yet to sign.
1. LT Jake Long, St. Louis Rams - four years, $34 million ($16 million guaranteed; $8.5 million per season)
2. LG Andy Levitre, Tennessee Titans - six years, $46.8 million ($10.5 million signing bonus; $7.8 million per season)
3. LT Will Beatty, New York Giants - five years, $37.5 million ($19 million guaranteed; $7.5 million per season)
4. LT Jermon Bushrod, Chicago Bears - five years, $35.965 million ($22.46 million guaranteed; $7.2 million per season)
5. RT Gosder Cherilus, Indianapolis Colts - five years, $34.5 million ($15.5 million guaranteed; $6.9 million per season)
6. LT Sam Baker, Atlanta Falcons - six years, $40.85 million ($18.25 million guaranteed; $6.8 million per season)
7. RT Phil Loadholt, Minnesota Vikings - four years, $25 million ($7 million signing bonus; $6.25 million per season)
8. OG Louis Vasquez, Denver Broncos - four years, $23.5 million ($13 million guaranteed; $5.875 million per season)
Bryant McKinnie - At 33 years old, McKinnie does not have an apparent precedent in this year's class of free agents. The Baltimore Ravens allowed him to walk after the 2012 season, despite protecting Joe Flacco admirably late in the schedule and throughout the team's Super Bowl run. He also struggled to stay in shape during the offseason, however. As the most senior big-name free-agent tackle on the market, it's possible that McKinnie will have to wait until younger options to longer deals before working out a two or one-year contract for a team in need of a stop-gap solution at left tackle.
Andre Smith - Smith will look to Gosder Cherilus and Phil Loadholt to gauge how much he should be earning as a right tackle. After a rough first few years with the Cincinnati Bengals, Smith has blossomed into a solid road-grader over the last two seasons. He was the highest-rated right tackle in the NFL in 2012 according to Pro Football Focus, just ahead of Cherilus, and should be expected to earn as much or more than the former Detroit Lions lineman. The Bengals claim that Smith is the team's biggest priority, in which case they should be willing to shell out a fair amount of change.
Eric Winston - Winston is another big name on the right-tackle market, though he may have to wait for Smith and Vollmer to fall before signing anywhere. He was third-highest rated run-blocker among free-agent right-tackles according to Pro Football Focus, behind only Smith and Loadholt. He was less effective as a pass blocker, however.
Brandon Moore - Moore could have possibly earned Andy Levitre-type money this offseason if he wasn't set to turn 33 before the 2012 season. He graded out as the No. 4 tackle in the league last year according to Pro Football Focus, No. 3 among right guards. He may still earn a solid base-salary, but don't expect more than a two or three-year deal for the veteran.
Tyson Clabo - The Falcons right tackle became a cap casualty on Thursday morning. His release helps the team free up money to get an extension for Matt Ryan, and it also adds another very effective right tackle to the market.
2012's Biggest OL Contracts
1. OG Carl Nicks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers - five years, $47.5 million ($31 million guaranteed; $9.5 million per season)
2. OG Ben Grubbs, New Orleans Saints - five years, $36 million ($15.9 million guaranteed; $7.2 million per season)
3. OT Demetress Bell, Philadelphia Eagles - five years, $35 million ($3.25 million guaranteed; $7 million per season)
4. C Chris Myers, Houston Texans - four years, $25 million ($14 million guaranteed; $6.25 million per season)
5. OT Jared Gaither, San Diego Chargers - four years, $24.6 million ($13.5 million guaranteed; $6.15 million per season)
Contracts for the top offensive guard this year, Andy Levitre, and last year, Carl Nicks, are about in line with what you would expect. Prior to the start of free agency, many assumed that Vasquez would get a similar deal, but the Broncos got an absolute steal. Notice the step down in the second biggest contracts for guards between the last two seasons?
Last year's tackle market was thin, but look at the deal Bell signed compared to the top tackles this year. Bell didn't play a single snap in 2011, and he still managed to get a $36 million deal. Jake Long, a two-time Pro Bowl player, got a similar deal to that one. A glut of tackles on the market and a draft class filled with blue chip talent at that position, undoubtedly helped create a market favoring teams ... except for the Colts who really look like they overpaid for Cherilus.