Then, Steve Hutchinson got paid, and the floodgates opened. Now, the going rate for guards is $7-8 million a year.
Why did this happen? It’s a subject I attacked in my Sunday Notes (scroll down).
“First of all, it only takes one – that first one – to set a precedent,” an AFC scout said this week. “Hutchinson was the best at what he did at that time, and he’s still pretty damn good, and now every agent uses that deal. He was the highest paid in the league, but now that’s the average for the elite guys.
“The other thing is teams are asking guards to do more now. It’s not just the big boy who gets help and covered up by the tackle. In the past, if a tackle wasn’t a good enough athlete, you put him at guard because he needed help around him. Now? They’re being asked to do a lot. You rarely find a guard that’s starting now that can’t get to the second level (of the defense).”
That means being able to play a power game in close quarters, but also pull and trap, and play in space and lead on screens.
If you keep reading, the scout advances two methods prevalent over the last decade or so in building an offensive line — a) you pay up, make one side of the line dominant and fill in the blanks with young players or b) stockpile good, not great players and emphasize balance.
The Patriots are caught in the middle on a couple counts on this.
They’ve long built their lines on the “balance” model, but now one of their own has cracked the elite category. And also, while they do emphasize that “team” play, their offense does ask a lot of players at the guard position.
It’s a sticky one, to be sure, and the Jahri Evans deal didn’t make things easier on the team. The Saints Pro Bowler got a seven-year, $56.7 million contract, and the reason why is simple.
“Evans is one of the rarer offensive linemen in the league,” said the scout. “He’s a guy that has the athletic ability to move and get to the second level, but he can still take you on at the point of attack. I can’t disagree with the (Saints’) decision.
“So is it worth it? Yeah, if you can solidify one side. You don’t want to pay astronomical money, though, to your left guard if your left tackle and center are (crap).”
The scout said that he’d always seen New England’s line as one that thrived on its balance and not just one player or another. And so that makes this decision a very, very intersting one.