Ryan Clady: Knowing Your Worth

| July 23, 2012

It must be nice to turn down a five-year $50m deal. According to reports in the Denver Post, that’s exactly what Ryan Clady’s advisors have done, with them believing their client is worth more than the eight-year $92m offer signed by Joe Thomas.

That’s crazy on so many levels.

The offer itself is only $1.5m per annum short of the Thomas offer, although without knowing the guaranteed numbers it’s hard to effectively compare. So, what really stands out to me are two things: that teams overvalue left tackles and the question of how Ryan Clady got it into his head that he’s in the same class as Joe Thomas.

 

 

The Myth of the Blindside Tackle

David Diehl (-58.1). Chad Clifton (-6.3). Jermon Bushrod (-16.5). Those are the last three Super Bowl-winning left tackles with their grades for the season their teams lifted the Lombardi trophy.

Not so great.

We know the quarterback is the most important position on the team. So logic would tell us that the guy who protects that most vulnerable of spots is pretty important as well, right? After all, as I said in this piece, when passers are pressured their numbers take a hefty tumble.

The thing is, though, that philosophy gives left tackles more credit than they are due. It doesn’t take into account the help they get or the scheme they play in, and perhaps more importantly it takes an attitude that the quarterback can’t protect himself. Nothing is further from the truth. Ryan Clady knows this only too well. Look at his rookie year where Jay Cutler allowed none of Clady’s league-leading 44 pressures allowed to turn into sacks and compare that to last season when of the 41 total quarterback disruptions he allowed, six turned into sacks with Tim Tebow behind center for the most part.

Offensive tackles–and left tackles in particular–are rarely greater than the whole. A great left tackle won’t stop pressure from getting to the quarterback, because there are four other guys who can still give it up on every play, not to mention the backs and tight ends who are in almost as vulnerable a position when they stay into pass block. Having Jason Peters didn’t stop Michael Vick spending 39.8% of plays under pressure, and having Duane Brown didn’t prevent Matt Schaub having to deal with some heat on 34.8% of plays (11th-highest in the league).

If having a good left tackle was all protection was about, then maybe those guys who can blanket pass rushers should get paid nearly $12m per year. But it’s not, and a left tackle, as good as he may be, is just part of a unit that needs a quarterback to do a lot to look after himself. It’s why a quarterback like Matt Hasselbeck is a tackle’s best friend; he gets rid of the ball before pressure can get to him, leading the league in how quickly he did so (on average 2.4 seconds). It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the amount of pressure both David Stewart and Michael Roos gave up declined as a result.

 

Top Five Tackle?

It’s just my opinion, but while I think Joe Thomas is the best tackle in football I still think the position he plays means he’s overpaid. I’m not so shortsighted as to know some will value left tackles considerably more than I do. That’s their prerogative. So if Joe Thomas is worth all that money, and that’s the amount the game’s top left tackle should be paid, then why would Ryan Clady feel entitled to the same?

Perhaps I’ve been a little harsh on Clady in the past. The truth is he’s developed into a good tackle. Last year was a down year for sure, but with the installation of what was essentially a gimmick offense, and having a quarterback who held onto the ball longer than anyone else, there are some mitigating circumstances. We handed him a -24.1 grade, with most of the damage being done with some poor run blocking and 12 penalties surrendered. His pass blocking, always his strength, was also sub-standard but not by such a distance that he gave up a huge amount of pressure. As mentioned earlier, he actually gave up less total pressure in 2011 (including playoffs) than he did in his famed rookie year where he didn’t give up a single sack.

You get a better appreciation of what he can do when you look at his 2009 and 2010 seasons. In ‘09 he gave up 34 sacks, hits, and hurries and finished 15th in our pass blocking grading (and 15th overall) and in ’10 he moved up to seventh in pass protection and ninth overall while giving up 37 QB disruptions. Those are solid credentials, but he’s never outplayed Jake Long or Joe Thomas, never had the kind of year that Jason Peters just had, and has never impressed like Andrew Whitworth has since he moved to full-time starting tackle.

With those four guys as the top left tackles in the game when healthy, Clady should consider his peers the likes of Eugene Monroe, Michael Roos, Duane Brown, Jordan Gross, and D’Brickashaw Ferguson. Would any of them reasonably expect to get paid more than Joe Thomas? What’s more would they expect it after having the kind of year Clady had?

 

Keeping Peyton on his Feet

Of course there’s a counter argument that Peyton Manning needs all the help available in avoiding hits. The Broncos have invested big time in him and they don’t want their franchise quarterback being drilled to the turf on a regular basis. Having Clady is imperative in protecting the Broncos’ investment in Manning many may say.

I’d beg to differ, and if anything Clady should consider himself fortunate to play with Manning. This is a quarterback who has dealt with players like Tony Ugoh and Charlie Johnson at left tackle, and consistently taken less sacks and hits than others. For Clady he gets his Jay Cutler year all over again with a passer who will make those sacks allowed numbers look a lot better than they should. I mean in 2009 and 2010 combined, Manning’s left tackle Charlie Johnson gave up 23 combined sacks and hits, while in the same period Clady gave up 22 with Kyle Orton (who got rid of the ball the 9th quickest in 2011) as his QB.

The real truth is while it’s nice to have a good left tackle like Clady protecting Manning, you can get to a Super Bowl with Charlie Johnson there. So why overpay for something that the QB does a good job taking care of anyway?

 

The Domino Effect

No, if what the Denver Post reports is true, Clady should consider himself lucky to get $10m per year, especially after 2011. He’s a Top 10 tackle who does a good job holding pass rushers at bay, but he has rarely offered much in the run game, isn’t in the upper echelon of left tackles and now has a quarterback who has demonstrated he can get by without an elite pass protecter on his blindside.

Will the Broncos cave? Nobody can tell, but it’s an interesting year for tackles. Players like Jake Long, Duane Brown, and Branden Albert are all set to hit free agency after the season so they’ll likely be a lot of posturing going on as agents try and land their client a better deal than the one that came before. Maybe that’s why Clady’s camp has such ridiculous demands, hoping the Broncos get spooked when other deals are completed.

Whatever their reasoning, my advice is stay strong Denver, your franchise left tackle is more replaceable than he thinks.

 

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