It’s safe to say it’s been a successful offseason for Braden Smith. Alongside plenty of fishing and freely giving out gardening advice on Twitter, Smith has found time to come to an agreement on a big new contract with the Colts.
According to Ian Rapoport, Smith’s deal is a 4-year, $70M extension, with $42 million guaranteed. That works out at $17.5 million a year on average.
It’s certainly not a surprise Smith has secured this big extension as both Chris Ballard and Jim Irsay have consistently said they hoped to finalize new deals for Smith and Leonard before the season.
Ballard has tended to prefer giving out shorter, three-year contracts to players to provide more flexibility and reduce the chances of incurring big dead cap hits. However, Ballard has also been willing to give out more extended contracts to key elite players like DeForest Buckner. Braden Smith (alongside Leonard and Nelson) certainly fits into that category, so it’s no surprise to see him get a four-year deal.
Chris Ballard has also said this offseason that “you never regret paying a great player. I don’t give a crap what position it is.” But I think if you forced Ballard to prioritize which positions he paid, the offensive line would be very high on that list.
Colts fans are only too aware of the role years of inadequate offensive lines played in Andrew Luck’s premature retirement. Chris Ballard is well aware that he’s still dealing with the fallout from that retirement, having secured the Colt’s fourth starting quarterback in as many years in Carson Wentz.
Smith isn’t as flashy or as brilliant as Quenton Nelson, and I have little doubts the new contract Nelson should get next offseason will (justifiably) dwarf Smith’s. That being said, both deserve an immense amount of credit for the way they quickly turned the Colt’s offensive line into one of the league’s best.
While Smith didn’t hit the ground running as impressively as Nelson, he has consistently improved year after year. Last year he allowed precisely no sacks despite playing over 900 snaps (499 of which were passing snaps, according to PFF). He’s been equally impressive against the run, so I’m sure both Jonathan Taylor and Carson Wentz are celebrating Smith’s new contract with him.
Braden Smith’s new contract makes him the fourth highest-paid right tackle in the league, behind only Ryan Ramczyk, Lane Johnson, and Taylor Moton. At 25, Smith is also considerably younger than the other best-paid right tackles. You have to go all the way down to 17th best paid right tackle Tristan Wirfs on his rookie contract to find a younger elite right tackle.
Smith’s age is certainly relevant to the size of his news contract. A 25-year-old elite tackle like Smith is more valuable than a 31-year-old like Lane Johnson, particularly when the Colts have a Super Bowl window built around players like Buckner, Kelly, Nelson, Smith, and Leonard.
Smith’s age is also relevant because we know that when it comes to elite players, the player paid last tends to get paid best. The Colts have avoided having to reset the market to pay Smith. His contract will also likely be significantly cheaper than the one Wirfs receives in a few years if he continues to achieve his potential.
Smith is yet to get an All-Pro selection or a Pro Bowl nod, but I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if he got both this season. In some ways, I think Nelson is so good that it makes it harder for his elite teammates like Smith and Kelly to get the national attention and recognition they deserve.
Make no mistake, if Smith continues to improve, he will undoubtedly be one of the best right tackles in the NFL, and I’m confident the accolades will follow. His new contract makes him the best paid right tackle in the AFC, so the team will expect him to be playing at an All-Pro level to justify his payday. That’s not an easy expectation to meet, but there are plenty of reasons to believe Smith can do it.
There was never any question of the Colts and Smith not trying to work out a new contract; it was just a question of when they’d agree on it and what the final details would be. Chris Ballard has built this team on drafting well and paying those great players when the time comes, and Smith has developed into a great player.
We know how much Ballard values a tremendous offensive line, and we understand how vital the Colt’s elite offensive line is to ensuring Carson Wentz is a success in Indianapolis. It’s also beneficial when you have one of the best running back groups in the league headed by a stud running back you drafted last year.
Apparently Smith’s new contract wasn’t that close to being agreed yesterday. But Smith wanted the deal sorted today so he could focus on football. That says a lot about Smith the man and how he approaches the game. Colts fans will just be grateful he’ll be focusing on playing football in Indianapolis for the the foreseeable future.