Lane Johnson got paid. The Philadelphia Eagles signed their rising offensive tackle to a six-year contract worth up to $63 million with $35.5 million guaranteed. Here are some thoughts on this deal.
Lane Johnson is the left tackle of the future
Everyone already knew this, but the new contract serves as confirmation. The Eagles have always viewed Johnson as a future left tackle, and he even said that during his press conference on Friday. Here's a quote about Johnson from Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, circa June 2015:
"I feel like we have two left tackles that are playing on our team with Lane and [Jason Peters]. I mean that sincerely."
Johnson's deal makes him the highest paid right tackle in the NFL. His contract ranks fourth overall in total value, tied for fifth in annual value, and second in guaranteed money. That's left tackle money.
Lane Johnson is probably not the left tackle of the present
The Eagles still seem committed to Jason Peters. Head coach Doug Pederson said he wants 34-year-old Jason Peters back for the 2016 NFL season. Even Johnson admits Peters is still one of the best tackles in the NFL. While Johnson expects to move over to left tackle eventually, he also said he's fine with staying on the right side for now.
There's been speculation Peters might be a cap casualty since he can be cut for a savings of $6 million. Based on Pederson's comments, however, it doesn't seems like that will be the case. The Brent Celek extension also bodes well for Peters. It's a sign of how the team is committed to their leaders. Peters is immensely respected by his teammates. He's a future Hall of Famer. Players probably want him to stay.
Lane Johnson is good but has room for improvement
I'd argue the eye test says Johnson has been a good player during his time in Philadelphia. He's struggled with pass protection at times but he's always been a good run blocker. He has everything you want in a tackle: great size, great athleticism, and a great motor. He's also tough as hell. He's never missed a game due to injury and he played through the 2015 season with a number of apparent injuries.
But just how good is Johnson? According to Pro Football Focus, he graded out as the 10th best right tackle and the 25th best overall tackle in 2015. He ranked sixth and 19th in 2014, respectively. As a rookie he finished 26th and 51st. PFF grades obviously aren't the definitive method for evaluating a player, so take these rankings for what they're worth. Still, it's clear Johnson has room to improve. He committed the fourth most penalties (11) of any offensive tackle. Nine of those were pre-snap mistakes (seven false starts, two illegal formations).
Lane Johnson's contract might not be as expensive as we think
Make no mistake, Johnson got a lot of money. But the exact details and structure of his contract haven't been revealed yet. Guaranteed money isn't always as "guaranteed" as it's made out to be. Some of the money is guaranteed for injury only, for example. Some good points here:
Lane guarantee: remember that he had $3.1mm due this year and an option for over $11.1mm next. That's $14.2mm that was already "guaranteed".— Sam Lynch (@shlynch) January 29, 2016
Trent Williams' overall guarantee is $41.25M. $30M of it fully GTD at signing. I doubt Lane Johnson has $35.5M fully GTD at signing.— Joel Corry (@corryjoel) January 29, 2016
It'll be interesting to see how the market plays out in the future. Just like with the Zach Ertz deal, the Eagles have the advantage of getting out in front of other extensions. You can bet that the agent of Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel, the two tackles selected before Johnson in the 2013 NFL Draft, are going to look at Johnson's deal as a starting point. Johnson has been better than those players, but he could potentially be making less than them.
Eagles need to start planning for right tackle of the future
When Johnson eventually moves over to left tackle, the Eagles are going to need someone to replace him on the right side. The Eagles currently don't have an ideal internal option at that spot. Getting a player in the 2016 NFL Draft would be ideal. Perhaps the Eagles can draft a guard with the ability to move to the outside in the future. Or maybe the Eagles can bring in a backup player who will eventually get the chance to start. Peters might not be done just yet, but he'll be 35 after the 2016 season. It's clearly time to start thinking about the future.
Signing Lane Johnson before Fletcher Cox makes sense
Cox is a better player than Johnson and he's scheduled to reach free agency before Johnson was. So why did the Eagles sign Johnson first? Well, Johnson was a high pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. It would have cost the Eagles a lot of money to slap the fifth-year option on him like they did with Cox, who was drafted outside of the top 10 in 2012. The Eagles don't need to rush to sign Cox since he's under contract this season and the franchise tag for defensive tackles won't be crazy for 2017.
The timing of these deals relative to each other doesn't necessarily matter, though. Cox and the Eagles are reportedly close to a contract extension.
The Johnson deal is yet another reminder Howie Roseman is back in charge. The Eagles are looking to lock up their young talent. Deals for Cox, Vinny Curry, and others could be on the way.