Taylor Lewan just got a 5 year, $80 million deal this morning, Somewhat predictably, the Falcons are hot on the heels of that deal with an extension for Jake Matthews that comes in juuust shy of the record-setting numbers in Lewan’s deal, per Ian Rapoport.
The Falcons just confirmed the signing:
As Rapoport notes, this makes Matthews one of the three highest-paid tackles in the NFL. After a brutal rookie season, Matthews has settled in between good and great, and he’s coming off one of his finest seasons in the NFL.
The #Falcons and star LT Jake Matthews are finalizing a 5-year, $75M deal, source said. Atlanta has a young core to pay, and Matthews gets the first crack as a top 3-paid LT.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) July 27, 2018
Matthews getting less than Lewan is fair, even if the gap between the two players is somewhere been small and nonexistent. Throw out the Pro Bowls for Lewan, because the Pro Bowl is largely a popularity contest, and you have two players who grade out very similarly on a year-to-year basis. Lewan is the super pass protection option, but Matthews is probably a better run blocker, and Matthews is still young enough that his best football might be ahead of him.
Chances are the tackle market will start to blow up shortly after this, so the Falcons have savvily gotten a deal done that may look relatively cheap in a couple of seasons, assuming Matthews stays healthy and plays at a high level. With Andy Levitre potentially finishing up his last year in Atlanta, Alex Mack aging, and Brandon Fusco serving as a stopgap option at right guard for the next couple of seasons, it’s important for Atlanta to have their bookend tackles locked up. It sounds like they’ll have it done soon.
What’s ahead and why
Matthews has been one of the most divisive players since his rookie year, when injury and ineffectiveness soured a lot of fans on his play. Since then, Matthews has generally turned in good years with some genuine susceptibility to speed rushers and the occasional truly ugly missed block. He’s been a big part of the team’s success running the football and is coming off a 2017 when he was ranked as the #14 tackle in football by Pro Football Focus, putting together one of his finest seasons in pass protection.
He’s just 26 years old, which means this extension should carry him into his early 30s and cover his prime. Matthews probably needs to be a bit better to truly justify the numbers in this extension—though we haven’t seen the structure yet—but he’s certainly in the same neighborhood as Lewan and is set to earn less money than him in this reported extension. Pass protection will continue to be the biggest area of potentially improvement for him.
For those in the “the Falcons shouldn’t have paid Matthews crowd,” please understand the why here. Getting quality tackles has never (or at least rarely) been more difficult than it is today, with a steep learning curve for linemen who aren’t necessarily learning NFL blocking schemes at the collegiate level. The Falcons could have saved a lot of money by letting Matthews go, but there’s a very strong chance the player they would have snagged to replace him would have been a significant downgrade, and it’s not worth doing that for a team that is a genuine playoff contender on paper for the next few seasons. Plus, when Nate Solder is getting more money than you and playing at a lower level, the contract’s easy enough to justify.
Matthews is not an elite tackle, but he’s a very good one, he’s still quite young, and the Falcons managed to work out a deal that (while certainly expensive) may not look so bad in a year or two once the flurry of tackle extensions happens. As the team tries to keep their core together and keep that Super Bowl window open, I’m certainly happy with the numbers on first blush. Matthews just needs to stay healthy and keep (or improve upon) his 2017 form and this will be a fine contract.