Jacksonville Jaguars center Brandon Linder received a contract extension on Tuesday afternoon that made him the highest paid center in the league, with an average of $10.34 million per year over five seasons. Naturally, the topic of a potential Justin Britt extension with the Seattle Seahawks has risen to the surface following Linder’s deal, and the feeling of an ever-rising price tag that could come with it.
Though there are similarities in Linder and Britt’s situations - last year was both their first as a starting center, both have played different positions in the two previous seasons - there are also clear differences which could make Britt’s extension much more palatable. For starters, Linder is simply a better player at this point in their careers. He played well in his rookie season at guard before missing most of his second season with an injury, then excelled at center in 2016. Britt was an above-average player at center in 2016, but was a tire fire at his previous stops along the offensive line. Being a top player at your position and being versatile pays. Although the argument could be made that Linder’s new deal reset the market at the position, the Jaguars are a young team filled with players on first contracts -- they can afford to overpay young, homegrown talent to keep them around.
The Seahawks aren’t in a similar situation.
Linder’s contract being the outlier, teams in recent years have either signed or re-signed the league’s above-average-to-top centers to new deals in the range of $5.6-$9.4 million per year. The true elite at the position - Travis Frederick, Alex Mack, the Pouncey twins and Rodney Hudson - are all making over $8.5 million per year*. All of those deals were signed within the last two offseasons with the exception of the Steelers’ Maurkice Pouncey, who signed an extension in 2014 - following a season in which he was named a first team All-Pro.
*All cap numbers courtesy of OverTheCap.com
The players at the position who have been recently paid but are closer to Britt’s level of play - Eric Wood, Jason Kelce, Max Unger, JC Tretter and Ben Jones - are paid in a range of $4.4-$7.4 million per year. Wood, Unger and Kelce’s deals are all at least three years old, but the two players most comparable to Britt - both in terms of level of play and situation - in Jones and Tretter, were paid last offseason and this offseason, respectively.
Tennessee Titans center Ben Jones bounced around the guard spots as a spot-starter over his first three seasons before becoming the Titans starting center in 2015, starting all 32 games since then. Following the 2015 season he re-signed with Tennessee for $17.5 million over four years, with $7.5 million fully guaranteed. With the line around him having been beefed up, Jones has outplayed his contract value, but at a per-year average of $4.4 million he’s still making OK money for a center that is somewhere between the 10th and 16th best at his position - around the same neighborhood as Britt and Tretter.
Like the situation Britt finds himself approaching, Cleveland Browns center JC Tretter survived a precarious start to his NFL career before getting a second contract. Tretter was usurped by rookie Corey Linsley heading into the 2014 season, and Linsley never looked back, starting 29 of 32 games while Tretter struggled starting just three games in two seasons. A hamstring injury kept Linsley out of the lineup to start the 2016 season and so Tretter was back in, starting the the first seven games of the season and playing well enough to earn a three year, $16.75 million contract from the Browns with $6.5 million fully guaranteed.
Whether the eventual contract extension for Britt comes from Seattle or elsewhere, it will likely surpass both Jones and Tretter’s deals in terms of total money and guarantees. Tretter had just 10 career starts under his belt and went to a team with enough cap space to fill Lake Erie; Jones signed a deal that he’s already outplayed. But those two players also signal a clear drop off from the best at the position, and their figures represent the true worth of a just-above-average player at the center position.
If I had to ballpark what a Justin Britt contract extension might look like, ironically, the closest comparison would be the deal that Unger was given in 2012 - a four year deal worth $24.935. Admittedly the market has risen since then, so it would more likely be a four year deal at around $28-$30 million total, with around $7.5-$9 million guaranteed (which would be between 25 and 30-percent of the total contract).
An average of $7.5 million a year - which would put him at the top of the ‘second’ tier - is more than achievable for the Seahawks, especially if investing in the offensive line is something that will start to become more commonplace in Seattle. And if Britt shines again this season and bumps his value into the great-to-elite neighborhood, the Seahawks have All-American center Ethan Pocic in house as a potential replacement.
For once, there could be a good problem on Seattle’s offensive line.