There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the right tackle spot on the Minnesota Vikings offensive line, but it seems as though Andre Smith has the upper hand heading into training camp. The Vikings brought him in on a one-year, $3.5 million deal this offseason to compete for the starting spot with Phil Loadholt.
Loadholt may have been the one to originally take the first-team reps this offseason, but those reps diminished as time went on through organized team activities and minicamp. And as Loadholt’s first-team reps became less and less, Smith’s increased. Smith seemed to move better and handle speed rushers better, but that could also be because Loadholt is coming off of two season-ending injuries.
The two will still have to compete throughout training camp, but the loser of that battle could be looking for work.
At this point, Smith appears to have a slight upper hand, but what does that mean for the team moving forward? Odds are, if Smith earns the spot and plays well during the season, that they will try to sign him to a multi-year deal. He is only 29 years old, so he should have a couple years left in him.
And if things work out to where Loadholt is able to knock all the rust off, turn things around and eventually earn the starting job then he is in a similar situation. He is 30 years old and could probably play for another couple years, barring any more injuries, so the Vikings would likely add on to the one-year, $4 million deal he’s currently on.
Of course, right tackle is not as lucrative a position as left tackle, but they can still make a pretty penny if they perform well on the field.
The highest paid right tackle in the NFL is currently Philadelphia’s Lane Johnson, who signed a five-year deal this offseason worth $56.26 million. But that is a little out of reach in terms of what right tackles usually make, as the second-highest paid right tackle is Green Bay’s Bryan Bulaga who is currently on a five-year, $33.75 million deal.
If either of the Vikings’ right tackles is to earn a high-end deal after this season, he will need to earn it on the field. Last season, analytics site Pro Football Focus gave Smith a grade of 39.6. That made him the 56th-ranked offensive tackle in the NFL and he will need to play a lot better if he is hoping for a large sum of money to head his way. Loadholt, on the other hand, is hard to judge based off grades since he missed all of last season.
Ryan Schraeder of the Atlanta Falcons was the top-rated right tackle by PFF last season with a grade of 87.0, and he just signed a one-year deal this past offseason worth $2.553 million. Clearly, several teams in the NFL didn't agree with PFF’s grades, as Schraeder should have been able to command more if he truly was the best right tackle in the league last year.
The second-highest graded right tackle by PFF was Kansas City’s Mitchell Schwartz, who was given a score of 86.6. He signed a five-year, $33 million deal this offseason, which made him the third-highest paid right tackle in the NFL.
But what could Smith or Loadholt expect to see if he is the one that is named the starter Day 1 of the regular season and the Vikings wish for them to remain that way the next couple of seasons? One player you could compare Smith to, if he plays the way he did last season, is Tampa Bay’s Gosder Cherilus. Cherilus played in a similar amount of snaps and was graded just 0.9 points lower than Smith.
Cherilus signed a two-year deal worth $7 million back in 2015. He is currently 32 years old, older than Smith and Loadholt. That should help both of them in their contract negotiations as this is a deal they could look at during negotiations.
For the sake of argument, let’s say that the right tackle that earns the starting job is able to turn things around this season. What type of deal could he expect to see if he improves his game and ends up scoring in the 60-70 range?
One player to look at is Derek Newton of the Houston Texans, who was given a score of 71.2 by PFF last season. He is currently 28 years old, one year younger than Smith and two younger than Loadholt, and he signed a five-year deal worth $26.5 million back in 2015. It is hard to see the Vikings paying either of their guys that much money because of all the young players they have who will be needing contract extensions in the coming years, but if you break that down by years it may be more reasonable.
Newton is making an average of $5.3 million a year, so the Vikings could end up offering Smith or Loadholt something similar, like a two-year, $10 million deal, but only if they really turn their play around. But contract talks are still a long ways out.
The two will first have to compete during training camp and the preseason to see who will earn the starting job, and then the victor will have to play well during the course of the regular season. There is still a lot for them to do if they hope to earn a multi-year deal from the Vikings.