By Paul Wanecski
As the dumpster fire rages on in the front offices of the Cleveland Browns, perineal Pro-Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas is on his perineal “get me the hell out of here” media tour. It is not hard to blame him for feeling this way either; Austin Davis marked the 17th quarterback to take a snap under center since Thomas was drafted third overall in 2007 (the list is located here). 2016 will also usher a new head coach, which would be the 6th person to take the job while Thomas has been in the NFL.
So you may ask why you are seeing an article on a page that typically focuses on the Buffalo Bills. Well, if you haven’t noticed, the Bills are currently without a left tackle, as Cordy Glenn has run out his final year on his rookie contract. The good news for Glenn is that he would be the top-rated offensive lineman available on the market as it stands right now. He is 26 years old and at a perfect time to make a big payday.
Thomas on the other hand has already had his payday. His contract contains roster bonuses each year, replacing a signing bonus, which means that if he is traded or stays in Cleveland, he can be cut without any money counting against the salary cap. For an elite tackle, he is rather affordable. His salary cap number will be $9.5 million (2016), $10.0 million (2017), and $10.0 million (2018). These numbers could actually be more affordable than what Cordy Glenn is about to be paid. Why is his less than what Glenn might get? Well, this contract extension was signed in 2011, which seems like forever ago in the NFL. The salary cap has sky-rocketed and players are making more money than ever. At the time, this was the premier offensive line contract in the NFL.
The major difference between Glenn and Thomas now is age. Thomas is 31 years old. He clearly is not going to get better, not that he isn’t already one of the best in the league at his position. The issue becomes asking yourself how long you expect him to stay at that level. So, who is ultimately more valuable?
The scales tip to Glenn here, but not by much. While Glenn is talented, the Bills are looking at a huge gap in contracts for tackles. You will see a trend here; teams are signing the following tackles until at least age 32, which puts the starting block for 26 year old Cordy Glenn at a six-year deal. Tyron Smith signed an eight-year, $97.6 million extension with the Cowboys last year. In Smith’s age 26 season, his cap number will be $14 million, and, this contract takes Smith through his age 32 season. Rolling down to the 5th best contract, belonging to the 2013 extension of Duane Brown with the Texans, the average salary cap hit is a little over $9.5 million until Brown’s age 32 season. Glenn’s play doesn’t say that he is the top tackle in the NFL, but may not stop a team from offering him that kind of money. Out of the top 10 contracts for tackles in the NFL currently, only Branden Albert (who signed with the Dolphins in 2014 at the age of 29, a contact that extends through his age 33 season with a salary cap hit of over $10.6 million dollars for all years except one) was signed as a free agent. This makes for an uneven market place since the value of a player in free agency is a bloated, causing players to be paid more due simply because teams are making competing offers. This is where a player like Thomas can carry value. Due to the violent nature that is associated with free agency, the terms for Thomas are set and clear.
Will the Bills have enough to land Thomas via trade from the Browns? Realistically, the Browns lose nothing by trading him. They don’t have any idea what to do at quarterback, they will have a new head coach and general manager, and the value that Thomas could bring is greater to them than the value he can provide in play. So, teams like Seattle are dangerous here. They haven’t had a first round selection since 2012, having traded it each year for players. They will be buried in draft position again this year having made the playoffs, so, it might be enough to take their 2016 first round selection, along with other picks (like a 3rd round in 2017) and ship it off to Cleveland to replace incumbent left tackle Russell Okung, who is in his contract year (that is a conversation for another day, as Okung has been productive in a system that would be similar to what Buffalo runs).
Most NFL teams only have about 15-20 players actually graded as first round selections, which explains why after the 20th pick, things at the NFL draft go crazy. Teams will trade back into the first round if they see a player still on the board, as an example, during the 24th pick. Teams that no longer have (or don’t really value) remaining players they graded as first round selection on their draft board will look to trade away the selection. This is a tactic that teams like Minnesota and Seattle have leveraged the last few years.
While the Bills are going to be looking at all options, the most expensive from a cash perspective is Cordy Glenn. No player has hit the market at his age and talent level at this position in a long time. Resigning him is going to be an expensive notion. Given the alternatives, it’s not out of scope for the Bills to be able to trade for Thomas, although they would probably need to trade back to one of the last selections in 2016, then move that and an ancillary pick to Cleveland to acquire him. Crazier things have, and likely will, happen.
Editor's Note: Those thinking that the Bills will Franchise Tag Glenn, which they could, the cost would be north of approximately $13 million for that season. Of course, these are estimates based on projected salary cap figures. The actual cap doesn't get released for months.