Dougherty: Lane Taylor deal could help Packers keep line intact

Pete Dougherty
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Green Bay Packers guard Lane Taylor make a protection call at the line of scrimmage during the game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017.

Remember all the hand wringing a year ago?

Josh Sitton was out at left guard, Lane Taylor in. General manager Ted Thompson had blown it. He’d dumped one of his best players without warning, and worse yet gained nothing in return.

Now, a year and two days since Sitton’s release, the unheralded player who replaced him, Taylor, has become a core member of the Green Bay Packers. On Monday he signed a three-year contract extension worth $16.5 million, including a $5 million signing bonus.

RELATED: Taylor earns extension by replacing Sitton

So now, the Packers have three of their five starting linemen under contract through 2018, with a realistic chance to retain a fourth (center Corey Linsley), too. That’s no small thing, because this is an offensive line that Sports Illustrated just rated fifth-best in the NFL.

That continuity is possible because Thompson and team vice president Russ Ball signed Taylor early, and thus got him at a palatable cost. Taylor’s deal, in new money, averages $5.5 million over the three added years. But in reality he now has a four-year contract. If you include the $2.75 million he already was making this year, it’s worth $19.25 million, or an average of $4.8 million.

That’s core-player pay, but it’s not enough to upset the offensive line pay scale, either among the linemen individually or the money spent at the position overall.

Taylor is the third-highest paid lineman on the team, behind David Bakhtiari ($12 million average) and Bryan Bulaga ($6.75 million). Jahri Evans, the 33-year-old stopgap starter at right guard, will make $2.425 million on his one-year deal. Linsley is on the final season of his rookie contract ($1.84 million cap number).

Taylor’s new deal included, the Packers rank in the middle of the pack (No. 14) in the NFL in cap money spent on their line ($25.3 million), according to Spotrac. Oakland leads the way at $42.9 million, with Cleveland next at $40.5 million. The low is Seattle at $15.3 million, and the Seahawks are getting what they pay for (30th-ranked line, according to SI).

The question now is Linsley’s future with the Packers. And really, there’s no reason to think Thompson can’t sign him to an extension later this year, or to a new deal before the start of free agency, if he likes Linsley’s play.

Thompson hasn’t already approached Linsley for one obvious reason: durability concerns. Linsley has missed 10 of 48 possible games because of ankle and hamstring injuries his first three years in the league.

But he has started all 38 games when healthy, and in camp this year didn’t miss a snap while playing really solid football. Wouldn’t be a surprise if he’s even a Pro Bowler down the road.

He’s also going to cost more than Taylor. The starting point will be the $5.6 million average that former teammate JC Tretter signed for this offseason with Cleveland. Linsley is the better player, so he surely will look for more.

The center market also has escalated recently with three extensions this summer: Jacksonville’s Brandon Linder ($10.3 million average in new money, $8.9 million average overall), Seattle’s Justin Britt ($9 million, $7 million) and Buffalo’s Eric Wood ($8 million, $7 million).

So Linsley won’t be cheap. The Packers probably prefer to see him get through the season first, but if he makes it through healthy, the price only goes up. I’d approach him sometime this year and try to get him in the range of Britt and Wood.

That kind of deal would move the Packers up the list on offensive line spending, but nothing out of whack. Next year they have about $28.6 million in cap room allocated to their line, with Bakhtiari, Bulaga and Taylor accounting for the huge majority of it.

Adding Linsley in the $7 million range would push that to around $36 million, which would move the Packers up to No. 6 on the league list.

Thompson has other upcoming contracts to keep in mind, too. Davante Adams and Morgan Burnett will be free agents in the offseason, and there’s a good chance the GM will extend Aaron Rodgers with a mega-millions deal in the offseason, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix too.

But Thompson has plenty of maneuvering room with an estimated $33 million in cap space in ’18 (according to OverTheCap) and some standard cap moves.

For starters, Rodgers’ $19.8 million base salary next year already is on the books. The Packers can pay him a huge bonus ($60 million or more) that prorates over the length of the new deal, lower his base salary, and end up adding little or nothing to their ’18 cap.

Same with Clinton-Dix, who counts $5.9 million on next year’s cap because the Packers exercised his fifth-year option as a first-round pick.

That’s two major deals with minimal ’18 cap impact. And Adams could end up using the ’18 cap space currently allotted for Randall Cobb ($8.6 million salary in ’18).

The money is there for Thompson to keep his offensive line nearly fully intact for a couple years to come. That kind of continuity is almost unheard of in today’s NFL.

Yes, the Sitton move has played out well for the Packers, short term and long. 

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