Quenton Nelson is one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL and has proven to be a crucially important player for the Colts ever since he stepped on the field in 2018. While it’s hard to truly measure someone’s importance, there are two ways we could break down Nelson’s importance:
- Trade return
The two questions that will be asked are:
- If Nelson became a free agent today, how much would he make?
- If Nelson were to be traded, what could the Colts get for him?
First, let’s take a look at the financial aspect of this question.
Nelson is 24 years old, arguably the best guard in the NFL and one of the best offensive linemen around. If he were to be a free agent tomorrow, he would break all sorts of records.
Brandon Brooks, Zach Martin and Andrew Norwell have the three largest offensive guard contracts in the NFL. The average of their three contracts, adjusted for salary cap inflation is:
5 years, $72.75M (14.55M per year) with $37.85M guaranteed
They all signed their contracts in their late 20s or very early 30s. Nelson has at least 5 years on them. Nelson is just as good as the others and has room to get body. Many offensive linemen only hit their athletic prime in their late 20s and Nelson can actually mature or develop more. He also only has 3 years of experience and usually offensive linemen hit their peaks between years 5 and 8. Nelson is going to get better and that’s crazy to say about a player who’s already a 2-time First team All Pro.
Due to his age, his potential and his already dominant play, I’d say he would be worth 20% more than the average contact listed above and a few percentage points higher on the guaranteed amount. That means he would be entitled to a contact that’s around:
5 Years, $87,300,000 (17.46M per year) with $48,015,000 Guaranteed
This would break most, if not all, interior offensive linemen records and would make him the third highest paid offensive linemen in the NFL by yearly average. The guaranteed amount would also put him in the top 4. The total value of the contact would rank as the 2nd highest in the NFL after Tyron Smith, a future Hall of Fame player. The contract would also make him the 20th highest paid non-QB in the NFL on a yearly average basis.
Trade Return Part
If Jim Irsay, Chris Ballard and company were to go on a crazy bender and decide to put Nelson on the trade block, how much would they be able to get for him? There are a few trades in NFL history that can be used as comparisons:
- Cowboys trading Herschel Walker to the Vikings
- Rams trading Eric Dickerson to the Colts
- Raiders trading Khalil Mack to the Bears
All three trades involved trading a superstar non-quarterback in their prime. Nelson fits that bill. The compensation for the trades were:
- Cowboys received 1st, 2nd and 6th Round Pick in 1990 | 1st and 2nd Round Pick in 1991 | 1st, 2nd and 3rd Round Pick in 1992 | 3 Starter Quality Players and a Backup
- Rams received 2 first round picks and 2 second round picks for 1988 and a first round pick in 1989 | A Starter Quality Running Back and a Backup Quality Running Back
- The Raiders received a 2019 and 2020 first round pick | 2019 6th Round Pick | 2020 3rd Round Pick
Each team did have to give up a bit more than just the player in return, but none of the other compensation came anywhere near the value of the player.
In the 1980s, running backs were crucial a team’s success and meant a lot more to the team than offensive guards do to their teams now. Nelson would not fetch a price like Walker or Dickerson, but it’s not as far off as you think. The Mack trade is a lot more of a reasonable comparison for Nelson, although the general consensus is that the Raiders could’ve gotten more for a top 5 defensive player in his prime.
Based on those three deals, I believe Nelson could fetch something along the lines of:
- 2 First Round Picks (in successive years)
- 1 Second Round Pick (in the current season)
- 1 3rd Round Picks (in the following season)
- 1 4th Round Pick (in the current season)
If the Colts were to throw in a player or a draft pick, they could potentially pick up more, but if Nelson was not packaged with anyone, he should receive something along those lines.
In short, Nelson is a valuable piece for the Colts and a team would have to pay an absurdly high price to take him off their hands. He’s on path for the Hall of Fame and those players don’t come cheap.