Apart from quarterback, left tackle is probably the most important position on offense. They are the ones who have to go up against the best pass rushers in the NFL, week in and week out, and protect the blind side of a right-handed quarterback.
Teams are willing to spend a lot of money on a franchise left tackle and will often use picks early in the draft to get one. That is what the Minnesota Vikings did in 2012 when they selected Matt Kalil at No. 4 overall after trading down one spot.
It seemed like a great pick right away. He was a Day 1 starter on the left side of the line, protected well and helped lead the way to Adrian Peterson’s 2,097-yard season. His performance caused him to be named as an alternate to the Pro Bowl, where he would eventually end up playing because Trent Williams of the Washington Redskins was injured in a night club fight and couldn’t attend.
Kalil set lofty expectations for himself by the way he played his rookie season and he has yet to live up to them again. Inconsistent play and injuries have plagued Kalil for the past three seasons and now he will be fighting to earn a new contract as this season is the end of his rookie deal.
The Vikings decided to use Kalil’s fifth-year option so they could get another look at him before deciding if they want to keep him as their left tackle or move in a different direction. They want to make sure they give him every opportunity they can to earn the spot because left tackle is a very important position and Kalil has shown he is capable of playing it at a high level.
This offseason, the Vikings brought in Tony Sparano to be the new offensive line coach. He is a tough-minded guy that isn’t afraid to work his guys or yell at them if he feels it is warranted.. The offensive linemen already know there is a big difference, compared to what they used to have, and the rest of the coaching staff and front office is hoping that will be enough to help Kalil get things back on track.
If the hiring of Sparano isn’t enough on it’s own, the team also signed offensive guard Alex Boone to a four-year, $26.8 million deal this offseason. They are having him line up at left guard, next to Kalil, and are hoping having that reliable presence helps gives Kalil more confidence.
The final thing they are hoping helps out Kalil is they are having offensive tackle T.J. Clemmings work at left tackle as well as right. Not only does that make him a swing tackle, which is very valuable in the NFL, but it also puts someone of the practice field that can push Kalil to be better.
So, for the sake of argument, let’s say that Kalil is able to turn things around and lands a new deal from the Vikings. What kind of dollar amount can he expect to see?
As stated earlier, left tackle can be a very lucrative position. Dallas Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith became the highest paid player at the position this offseason after signing an eight-year deal worth $97.6 million. But the only way to bring in that type of money is to perform on the football field.
Pro Football Focus gave Smith a grade of 93.3 last season, making him the No. 2 tackle in the NFL. The No. 1 tackle was Joe Thomas (94.3), who is currently the second-highest paid left tackle in the NFL.
Last season, Kalil earned a grade of 46.9, which placed him at No. 46 among offensive tackles. He is not going to see top-dollar contracts if he continues to play like that; instead, he would receive more middle-of-the-road deals and it could be hard for him to find a starting job somewhere.
One player that graded out similarly to Kalil was Detroit’s Riley Reiff (57.2). Reiff signed a four-year deal back in 2012 worth $7,993,700, but the price of starters continues to escalate.
Even if Kalil is able to grade out some where in the 70’s, the dollar amounts greatly increase. One example of that is Carolina’s Michael Oher. Oher had a bit of a rough start to his career as well, but played well last season, receiving a grade of 74.5 from PFF - making him the 30th-ranked tackle.
Oher’s play last season earned him a three-year deal worth $21.6 million. That just shows how coveted the left tackle position is. Just by turning things around a little bit, Oher was able to cash in, and Kalil could expect to see the same thing happen if he is able to get his career back on track.
This is going to be a make-or-break season for Kalil when it comes to his financial future. The Vikings have given him every opportunity to succeed by bringing in a new offensive line coach and a talented left guard to play next to him. So if he isn’t able to bounce back they will more than likely move on from him, possibly with Clemmings or by bringing in someone new. If he is is able to turn things around, though, he could expect a nice new contract heading his way.