The Indianapolis Colts signed right tackle Braden Smith to a new contract extension on Wednesday, giving him $72.4 million over four years with $42 million guaranteed and helping them maintain one of the game’s best offensive lines long-term. The Colts announced the deal on Twitter.
Smith represents a classic jackpot draft pick — an offensive lineman selected outside of the first round who instantly becomes a quality starter. The years the team has got from him on his rookie contract represent some of the best-value years in the NFL. Since being drafted, Smith ranks 11th in PFF’s wins above replacement (WAR) metric among all tackles. The lowest overall PFF grade of his career came in his rookie year when he graded at 72.2.
Smith's overall PFF grade has actually improved in each season he has played, with last year’s 80.1 mark ranking 17th among all tackles and eighth among right tackles.
Braden Smith: PFF overall grade and rank among tackles since 2018 (regular season only)
|2018||72.2||29th of 86|
|2019||79.8||9th of 92|
|2020||80.1||17th of 94|
The Colts have invested heavily in their offensive line from a point when it needed a lot of work, and it has been remarkably successful. The first-round picks they have spent on players such as Quenton Nelson and Ryan Kelly have yielded some of the best players in the game at their respective positions, and Smith was a bonus addition courtesy of the second round.
Related: Ranking all 32 NFL offensive line units ahead of the 2021 season via PFF.com
Now, however, the team will have to reckon with the increased investment that drafting success results in. They have already extended Kelly, giving him a four-year, $50 million extension, and Nelson’s market-setting deal remains on the horizon. When the dust settles, the Colts will have made three members of their offensive line among the best-paid players in the league at their respective positions.
The Kansas City Chiefs made veteran Joe Thuney the highest-paid guard in the NFL this offseason when they signed him to a five-year, $80 million contract extension this offseason. The expectation should be for Nelson to not only surpass Thuney's $16 million APY but also Smith's at $18 million given his level of early career dominance in Indy.
Smith’s deal doesn’t quite become the new standard at right tackle, but his total guarantees come in just under the deals Ryan Ramczyk and Taylor Moton just signed. Kelly was the highest-paid center in the league when he signed his deal — he has since been overtaken by Detroit Lions center Frank Ragnow — and Nelson will almost certainly reset the market for guards when he signs.
The Colts already have one of the league’s most expensive offensive lines and will only be increasing that figure with the deal for Smith and the impending one for Nelson. This presents an interesting dynamic when it comes to roster composition. PFF ranked their offensive line as the second-best in the league entering the season, giving them an outstanding platform for offensive success both in the run game and in regards to the reclamation project on Carson Wentz at quarterback, but few teams have sustained long-term success by investing so heavily in the offensive line as a unit.
Since Andrew Luck retired, the Colts have done an excellent job of ensuring that whoever tries to fill those shoes will have top-tier protection and as much chance as they need of being able to stand in the pocket and execute the offense. But if they can’t find a quarterback that can take advantage of that opportunity, it will all be for naught.
For now, they remain committed to their approach of ensuring a rock-solid offensive line that the rest of their offense can be built upon, and locking down Smith is just the latest step.