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Colts Should Sign OG Quenton Nelson to the NFL's Next Megadeal

Brent SobleskiAugust 1, 2022

Icon Sportswire

What would you pay to own the world's best pancake-maker?

The Indianapolis Colts are contemplating a similar question with guard Quenton Nelson, who's set to enter the final year of his rookie contract.

However, the organization should do everything in its power not to let that happen and come to an agreement on a contract extension sooner rather than later—it should have already happened yesterday.

An obscene amount of money changed hands this offseason as the NFL's position market resets. A few individuals are now doing their best impressions of Scrooge McDuck swimming in a vault of cash.

Deshaun Watson, Kyler Murray, Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Kirk Cousins, Tyreek Hill, Deebo Samuel, Stefon Diggs, D.J. Moore, Chris Godwin, Mike Williams, A.J. Brown, Christian Kirk, Allen Robinson II, Brandin Cooks, Cooper Kupp, Terry McLaurin, DK Metcalf, Cam Robinson, Terron Armstead and Brandon Scherff combined to sign deals with over $1.1 billion guaranteed the moment ink touched paper. That's billion with a 'B' and doesn't include a single defender.

Of course, Nelson, who's often considered the game's best interior blocker, is "not focused" on a new deal, according to The Athletic's Zak Keefer. He shouldn't be.

The Colts, on the other hand, should make it their top priority. Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer expects the Colts front office to make a "strong push to get [a] deal done before the end of summer."

A prominent NFL coach told ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, "He's still the guy you would start a team with [at guard]. You just have to watch him to know he's a special player who can dominate a game at times."

Since entering the league in 2018, the 26-year-old blocker has earned three first-team All-Pro and four Pro Bowl nods. Although injuries slowed him a year ago—a left foot injury suffered during training camp followed by a high right ankle sprain during the season—Nelson is back to full strength this summer.

"Good, strong, healthy—just ready to go," Nelson told reporters last month. "Excited for camp [and that] I'm not going in there with two surgeries."

AP Photo/Adrian Kraus

Full pads will be on this week, and Nelson will get to do what he does best once again.

When fully healthy, the former sixth overall draft pick is a force of nature capable of overwhelming some of the biggest and most athletic men walking this planet.

Prior to the injuries, Nelson held the highest grade among guards since entering the league, according to Pro Football Focus. The site's WAR metric labeled him the game's most valuable offensive lineman—not just as a guard—during the 2019 and 2020 campaigns. He's allowed only four sacks in four seasons.

Nelson's style of play is just as important as the performance itself since he serves as the team's tone-setter.

Football is a game of imposing one's will over an opponent. Nelson's physicality and on-field temperament serve as the foundation of the entire Colts offense. He's going to uproot defenders at the point attack. He'll always find someone to hit. Upon arrival, a good chance exists that a defender will find himself on the ground or flying through the air.

Indianapolis features one of the game's best ground games, and its starting O-line is considered among the league's best, with Nelson leading the way.

But an argument immediately jumps to the forefront about what a franchise should invest in a guard. It's not considered a premium position, nor do the Colts prefer to completely reset the positional market. However, the latter might be what it takes to get Nelson under contract through the rest of his prime years.

"Quenton is a Colt," general manager Chris Ballard said earlier this offseason (h/t Indianapolis' 91.3FM WIBC). "I want him to be a Colt long-term. When we do the contract, we will work through that."

Brandon Scherff reset the guard market this offseason when he signed a three-year deal worth $16.5 million annually. That's not even the starting point for Nelson, who's nearly five years younger and has already been named to more All-Pro teams.

"Nelson is widely considered the NFL's best guard by a wide margin and could want closer to $20 million annually," Fowler reported in June. "I have heard the same sentiment from several veteran agents: Nelson will break the bank. While Nelson—who has a career pass block win rate of 94.7 percent—doesn't play left tackle, this might be a left tackle conversation based on money."

David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Currently, three offensive tackles—Trent Williams, David Bakhtiari and Laremy Tunsil—average $20 million or more per season. As the salary cap continues to rise and new television money gets pumped into the NFL's ecosystem, a concerted move to get a deal done now instead of waiting out the market is a far more intelligent play.

As of next offseason, Tristan Wirfs enters the window to sign his first contract extension. The Kansas City Chiefs will once again negotiate with Orlando Brown Jr. after the two sides couldn't reach a deal before the franchise tag deadline. The Cincinnati Bengals will look to keep Jonah Williams in the fold as well.

A potential Rashawn Slater deal is coming down the pipe a year later. Each is a high-profile signing waiting to happen in a market that's likely to be in flux.

A deal at $18-20 million annually for Nelson now will look much better in retrospect as the tackle position resets.

One league tenet states, "Identify and pay early." Why? An organization wants to keep its young talent on the roster through its prime years on terms that often turn out to be favorable in future years.

Similar hurdles can be found with other ongoing negotiations because of how certain individuals are perceived.

The Lamar Jackson drama continues. This particular deal is a little more involved because it's about handling a franchise quarterback the right way, and the Ravens must do so after the curious contracts signed by Watson and Murray.

Watson's fully guaranteed $230 million shook the entire league in its approach to the game's most important position. Meanwhile, the Cardinals don't appear fully committed to Murray despite the organization pulling the "independent study" clause in his new contract, which includes $160 million in practical guarantees.

Furthermore, Jackson's unique skill set makes him a different type of investment based on his integration into the team's run game. Jackson has already set a soft deadline to get something done by the start of the regular season.

"I said there is going to be a cutoff [in talks]," Jackson told reporters Thursday. "So, hopefully."

The San Francisco 49ers agreed to terms with Deebo Samuel on Sunday, but the organization still has an even bigger deal to strike with defensive end Nick Bosa, who could reset the entire defensive market.

The Tennessee Titans' Jeffery Simmons shouldn't be too far behind Bosa as the game's best young interior defender. His standing as a defensive tackle likely lessens his overall value, though, particularly on a team with heavy investments in both of its edge-rushers.

Simmons' representation must argue he's closer to the level of Aaron Donald to demand a $90-plus million deal.

Chris Unger/Getty Images

Derwin James Jr. brings more value to the Los Angeles Chargers than a typical safety. He set the standard for what the position should be based on his versatility as a defensive back capable of playing both safety spots, nickel corner, dime linebacker, pressure package defender, etc.

The two-time first-team All-Pro is currently in a "hold-in" and not practicing.

"We're working through his contract situation," Chargers head coach Brandon Staley told reporters Wednesday. "Just making sure that gets situated here. He's out here doing all the walk-throughs, he's going to be working out, but he won't be going full speed until that gets situated."

As the NFL games changes, how teams mix the batter evolves. Specific designations aren't nearly as important as they once were. How an individual affects the game is far more predictive than archaic notions of what the most valuable position is. Guys who cook get paid.

Nelson is a five-star Michelin chef when it comes to flipping dudes and controlling the line. His compensation should reflect his station.

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