Boone is apparently planning to hold out, unhappy with his current contract. Boone is schedule to make $2 million this season under the terms of the extension he signed at the end of the 2011 season. That was a four-year, $6.54 million deal signed before Boone had started a single game for the team.
Since then, Boone has taken the starting guard spot over from Adam Snyder and played at a very high level. His current deal gives him only the 40th-highest average salary among guards, and you’d be hard-pressed to name 39 guards better than Boone has been over the last two seasons.
How good is Boone, precisely, and how much money would he earn on the open market? That’s a tough question to answer, for several reasons.
First and foremost, evaluating any offensive lineman is tricky, especially interior linemen like Boone. They work in tandem, rather than on an individual level. Some of Boone’s success, or lack thereof, will be due to playing next to Anthony Davis and Jonathan Goodwin for the past few seasons, and some of their success will be due to playing next to Boone. Talented players make each other look better.
In addition, there really aren’t any easily accessible stats for offensive linemen. They don’t touch the ball, and they don’t defend anybody. You can record the number of sacks and hurries they allow, but that’s an inexact science, because it can be difficult to tell whether a busted play was really a missed block, or if a different player missed their blocking assignments. Without knowing the line calls, it’s impossible to precisely judge what went wrong on a given play.
The best source out there for grading line play on a systematic level is probably Pro Football Focus’ grades, and they are pretty high on Boone. In 2012, PFF graded Boone as the third-best guard in football at positive-24.6 (subscription required). His grade dropped to a more average negative-0.8 in 2013, but summing the two years together places Boone as the 11th-best guard in football—right above Mike Iupati, coincidentally.
That feels about right, for Boone anyway. I do think Iupati’s better than Boone, if for no other reason than he’s been a starter for four years and has ranged from good to great in each and every season. Boone’s track record is less extensive.
I don’t think I could name a dozen guards who I’d rather have than Boone, however, and most of those are the true All-Pro studs at the position, like Josh Sitton in Green Bay and Evan Mathis in Philadelphia. Putting Boone somewhere in the 11-15 range passes the eye test, at the very least.
The 11th- through 15th-highest-paid guards in the league make between $5 and $6 million a season. However, saying Boone should therefore make about $5.5 million a year is oversimplifying the situation.
First off, Boone has two years left on his deal as it stands now, and the 49ers have several potential replacements at guard behind him. Losing both Boone and Iupati, whose contract expires after the 2014 season, would be bad, but the 49ers could probably absorb the loss of one. Basically, Boone doesn’t have much leverage to force a deal being done right now.
Secondly, Boone doesn’t have the track record of some of the higher-paid guards in the league. Boone’s 32 games started is the 55th-most among active guards, and it’s less than five times as much the likes of Roberto Garza. Boone has also never made the Pro Bowl. There’s a premium paid for experience, and Boone doesn’t have that.
With that in mind, I went out and searched for recent contracts signed by players with similar experience and PFF grades over the last two seasons as Boone. I ignored any player over 30, because they have the experience Boone lacks. I also ignored any rookie deals, because those are governed by different rules. I came up with six players within nine points of Boone for comparison purposes:
|Comparable Guard Contracts|
|Player||PFF Grade||Years||Value||Guaranteed||Avg Salary|
|Andy Levitre||32.6||6||$46.8 million||$13 million||$7.8 million|
|Jon Asamoah||26.4||5||$22.5 million||$8 million||$4.5 million|
|Matt Slauson||25.4||4||$12.8 million||$4.9 million||$3.2 million|
|Ramon Foster||18.1||3||$5.5 million||$0.9 million||$1.83 million|
|Kraig Urbik||17.9||4||$14.6 million||$4.5 million||$3.65 million|
|Geoff Schwartz||15.6||4||$16.8 million||$4.7 million||$4.2 million|
|Average||27.7||4.3||$19.83 million||$6 million||$4.2 million|
|Spotrac; Pro Football Focus|
Andy Levitre and Ramon Foster seem like outliers on this list. Levitre is the fourth-highest-paid guard in football, and it seems highly doubtful that Boone will come anywhere near that sort of money. Foster’s making just about what Boone makes now, and there’d be no reason for a holdout if Boone was satisfied with that.
If, for the moment, you treat the Pro Football Focus grades as exactly accurately depicting how good each of these players are, then each grade point is worth about $185,000 in terms of average salary. That would make an average salary for Boone about $4.4 million, which would make him the 17th-highest guard in football. In a vacuum, I could see Boone going for that much; that’s essentially Jon Asamoah’s contract, and both are good players.
Of course, Boone’s not a free agent. He’s locked onto the team for two more seasons regardless. Therefore, while he might be able to get a raise, the 49ers might be able to do it at a relative budget price.
Iupati’s deal has him making about $3 million a season, give or take. His cap hit in 2014 is even higher, at $4.6 million. It seems likely that he’s due for a pretty decently sized free-agent contract, one the 49ers may not be able to match.
What San Francisco might be able to do is extend Boone with a contract that looks something like what Iupati’s been making to this point—or something like Matt Slauson signed with the Chicago Bears this January. Basically, Boone would take Iupati’s slot in the 49ers’s salary scale, while his replacement, be it Joe Looney, Marcus Martin, Brandon Thomas or a free agent, could settle in at Boone’s salary slot.
There is a drop-off between Iupati and Boone and between Boone and the next player up, but these are reasonable drop-offs to make for a team having to make tough salary choices. If the 49ers can get double Boone’s salary and still get him at under market rates, then that’s a wise decision to make for the long term.
Of course, it’s highly improbable that the team will negotiate with Boone while he’s holding out. Boone has no leverage, and the 49ers wouldn’t negotiate with Frank Gore in 2011 until after he reported to camp.
Gore came to a deal with the 49ers about a month after he reported in 2011. That might be Boone’s best strategy here, too. Boone can hold out for a week or two, to show the 49ers he’s serious, then show up and come to a deal that fits both player and team. That’s the best-case scenario for the end of this holdout.
Bryan Knowles is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Follow him @BryKno on Twitter.