When the Cowboys were on the clock with the 16th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, many thought they were eyeing the possibility of selecting Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel. However, despite the mythology, within the team headquarters, a consensus had been reached. The team (with Ryan Shazier just having gone to Pittsburgh) was ready to spend a third first-round pick in four years on the offensive line, and selected Zack Martin, an offensive tackle from Notre Dame, with the intention of moving him to guard.
Martin immediately stepped in to the starting right guard spot for the team, and played at a level few rookies achieve, earning First Team All-Pro honors in his first year as a pro. With two more years of All Pro level play (including another First-Team Honor in 2016) under his belt, and entering the final year of his four-year rookie contract, it will be time this off-season for the Cowboys to make Martin the next in their line of highly-paid offensive cornerstones.
What can we expect the contract to look like, and how will it impact the Dallas Cowboys salary cap in 2017 and beyond?
In the 2016 off-season, the Raiders signed free agent guard Kelechi Osemele to a five-year, $58.5 million contract, including $24.5 million in full guarantees, $12 million of which was in the form of guaranteed roster bonuses.. At the time, Osemele’s average salary of $11.7 million was the largest for a guard in the league by almost $2 million. Then this off-season the Browns signed Kevin Zeitler in free agency to a five-year $60 million deal with $23 million guaranteed and a $12-million signing bonus, which upped the ante again for the guard market.
These deals should be seen as the starting point for Martin’s upcoming contract.
Here’s an example of a five-year, $62.5-million Martin “Cowboys for Life” contract, with a $13-million signing bonus with $29-million fully guaranteed and another $5-million guaranteed for injury..
This contract would allow the Cowboys to make Martin the highest paid guard in the NFL by a half-million per year in average salary, but would give him $4.5 million more fully guaranteed than Osemele, and $1.5 million more in signing bonus than Zeitler.
For 2017, Martin’s deal remains essentially cap-neutral, only a small $2.6 million increase for prorated signing bonus in the new deal. In 2018, the Cowboys can pull their standard contract trigger and restructure the deal, dropping his cap number by just over $10 million. This structure allows Martin’s cap number to remain low for the next two seasons, while the team salary cap continues to rise. There is no tie here to the coming $14 mil from Tony Romo's departure, and there is no need for a tie there; the money is available and the price is affordable.
So in a very real sense, Dallas this summer will try to lock in Zack Martin as a "Cowboy For Life'' with a "highest-paid-guard-in-football'' deal that also includes a couple of low, low price tags.