The Seattle Seahawks greatly improved their offensive line with the addition of left tackle Duane Brown midway through the 2017 season, and talk of a potential contract extension has been bandied about by both fans and the media. While there is no question that plugging a Pro Bowl tackle in for an injured first year starter improved the line, the question becomes what the risk is surrounding Brown’s age.
In his second game with the Hawks, and just his third game of the season, Brown suffered an ankle sprain that plagued him the rest of the year and hindered his mobility. His toughness and grit in playing through the injury definitely showed, but what are the odds someone his age stays healthy for a full season? In order to get a rough idea on this, I turned to the Pro-Football-Reference.com player season finder to find the oldest offensive linemen in the NFL for the 2017 season.
Here is the list of the 24 oldest offensive linemen who played in the NFL this past season, with Duane Brown nestled in nicely in the 16th spot.
The first thing I would like to do with that list is to remove four names from consideration, and those are Khalif Barnes, Eric Winston, Will Beatty and John Greco. I’m not removing those names randomly, I’m removing them because each of them spent at least a month unemployed during the 2017 season. If a lineman can spend a month unemployed while I sit and watch horrific offensive line play across the league, then I’m comfortable not including them in my sample. The only player in that group who saw significant action was Eric Winston, who played 198 of his 201 snaps in weeks 15, 16 and 17 after both Jake Fisher and Andre Smith had landed on injured reserve.
Removing those four from the sample leaves us with the 20 oldest offensive linemen in the entire NFL last season. So, what happens when we look at which of those 20 linemen ended the season on injured reserve? Well, it looks like this (purple denotes eliminated from sample, red means ended the season on injured reserve):
That’s a lot of red. In fact, it’s nine of the twenty players on the list. Not only that, neither Ty Nsekhe nor Allen Barbre were full time starters during 2017, so it’s actually nine of the eighteen starters who ended up on injured reserve.
That’s fifty percent, and Duane Brown isn’t getting any younger. So, while I am all for the Seahawks keeping Duane Brown around for as long as he is healthy and can contribute, to do so at anywhere near the amount of money that is being thrown at offensive linemen around the league right now does not seem prudent.
Just for an example of what big money is buying from offensive linemen in the NFL, here’s a sample size of one play of Matt Kalil. Last offseason the Carolina Panthers signed Kalil to a five year, $55M contract to play left tackle (He’s number 75 in the video).
Watching CAR offense and keep feeling sorry for McCaffrey pic.twitter.com/Mc0cDjK4CL— ben (@guga31bb) March 16, 2018
I’m having trouble deciding whether my favorite part is where he runs past the defensive end without really engaging or whether it’s where he takes such a bad angle on the linebacker he wants to block that he ends up in pursuit of the defender in pursuit of the ball carrier.
In any case, back to the question of offensive linemen getting up there in age, the Seahawks aren’t the only team in the NFC West with their left tackle on that list. Both the San Francisco 49ers and the Los Angeles Rams have their starting left tackle on that list, but I want to address the Rams situation. In particular, let’s not just look at the top of the list, let’s look at the bottom as well.
What that leads to is finding Rams starting offensive linemen occupying two spots among the oldest offensive linemen in the league. And in addition to being old, they are not cheap. Rams tackle Andrew Whitworth, the oldest offensive linemen in the NFL, is set to carry a $12.7M cap hit in 2018. In theory the Rams could ask Whitworth to take a pay cut, but coming off an All Pro season how likely is he to be amenable to being paid less? In particular, what are the odds of that when Nate Solder, who has never even made the Pro Bowl, just signed for $15M a year?
The reason this is worthy of being discussed right now is the following:
C John Sullivan's deal is worth $15 million over 2 years.— Rams Showcase (@RamsShowcase) March 17, 2018
While we don’t know the exact details of Sullivan’s deal, we do know that if Sullivan hits the incentives in his contract, the Rams could be looking at spending over $40M on Whitworth and Sullivan over the next two seasons. They’re both quality players - I’m not trying to take anything away from them and say that they’re not - but they’re both among the oldest offensive linemen in the NFL. That alone means it’s possible that one, or both, of them could land on IR. The Rams were lucky in 2017 in that their offensive line stayed healthy, and that may have been something that defied the odds given the ages of their offensive linemen.
So, as the offseason hype for the Rams continues to build in the media, this is just one thing to keep in mind. All quarterbacks perform worse under pressure, and if the Rams line suffers an injury or two that leads to a decline in the quality of protection they afford Jared Goff, it could certainly make for a long season for Rams fans. In fact, it could be a fast track right back to 7-9.