I know it's free agency week. I know Patriots have a cap space total rivaling the GDP of a small Pacific island country. And I am also aware that with all the excitement that Thursday’s start of the new league year brings, in-house lineman extensions don’t exactly move the needle like a juicy free agent signing. But this is important.
Left tackle Nate Solder is heading into the final year of his contract. His deal also contains a clause which prevents the club from franchise tagging him in 2018, and there is currently no viable option on the roster to protect Tom Brady's blind side should he leave after the upcoming 2017 season.
With the extension of right tackle Marcus Cannon in November proving to be quite thrifty as the offensive line market readies itself for a generous boost in the coming weeks, the Patriots will now need to address the contract situation with their 2011 first round pick out of Colorado.
In what was viewed as a mutually beneficial deal, Solder signed a two-year contract extension in September of 2015 worth just over $20 million in new money, and included a $12.5 million signing bonus. To date, here are his cash totals per year with the Patriots:
2011 - $5,086,268
2012 - $763,204
2013 - $1,151,408
2014 - $1,539,612
2015 - $13,938,000
2016 - $6,505,990
Solder is due to earn a $6.5 million salary in 2017, as well as $500,000 in per game roster bonuses, and a $31,000 workout bonus. He also can earn an additional $500,000 for making the Pro Bowl on the original ballot. His 2017 cap hit of $11,166,418 is the second highest on the team behind Tom Brady's.
So what would another Solder extension look like?
Solder will be 30 years old as he heads into the 2018 season. Let’s take a look at other left tackles and their cap hits for their age 30-33 seasons. These numbers, compiled using overthecap.com, are from the players’ current deals and include prorated portions of signing bonuses.
Essentially, all these figures tell us is that Nate Solder can and will continue to earn at or above his current level well into his thirties.
In 2016, Solder graded out as PFF’s 19th best tackle, and tenth best left tackle. He has played at least 15 games in five of his six seasons, with the only significant chunk of missed time coming in 2015 after being placed on IR following a torn biceps muscle in the team’s week-4 matchup against Dallas.
Here is what an extension could look like for Solder if the Patriots want to keep him paired with colleague Marcus Cannon through the 2021 season.
In this scenario, the Patriots would convert $4.5 million of Solder’s 2017 salary into signing bonus money. This deal would make Solder the eighth highest paid left tackle in football in average per year dollars, and the $26.5 million in guaranteed money would tie Buffalo’s Cordy Glenn for the second most among left tackles behind Washington’s Trent Williams ($30 million).
Is this a realistic scenario? Who can say. From a market value perspective, it would seem to compensate Solder adequately for his age and performance level.
However, the real question would be this — Do the Patriots really want to risk losing the man protecting Tom Brady’s blindside as he comes down the home stretch of his career?
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