According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler (subscription), Indianapolis Colts 4x NFL All-Pro offensive guard Quenton Nelson should ‘break the bank’ on his next contract—as an impending top 2023 free agent, on a projected lucrative mega-deal that should assuredly make him the highest paid offensive guard in NFL history:
Quenton Nelson, G, Indianapolis Colts
The Colts would like to prioritize re-signing Nelson but know this will be costly. That’s why this deal could take time. The guard market is very reasonable, with Jacksonville’s Brandon Scherff being the highest paid at $16.5 million per year. But that might be part of the problem. Nelson, 26, is widely considered the NFL’s best guard by a wide margin and could want closer to $20 million annually. I have heard the same sentiment from several veteran agents: Nelson will break the bank. While Nelson — who has a career pass block win rate of 94.7% — doesn’t play left tackle, this might be a left tackle conversation based on money.
Luckily for Nelson and the Colts, Indianapolis budgets for in-house talent and doesn’t spend big in free agency. The Colts still have $14.4 million in 2022 cap space, and that’s with Nelson’s $13.76 million cap hit off the fifth-year option included — which can be reduced on a new deal.
The Colts are realistically in very fine shape for retaining Nelson, as the team still has considerable cap space—with Nelson’s deal already factored in and could always apply the franchise tag next offseason—if the two sides cannot ultimately strike a new deal. It would be truly shocking if Nelson hits free agency as an unrestricted free agent outright.
Colts general manager Chris Ballard has already stated that he has no qualms of paying Nelson what’s he’s worth market value wise—given what he brings to his team and the locker room:
“Yes,” Ballard calmly answered a few months ago on 1075 The Fan’s ‘The Dan Dakich Show’ when asked if Nelson was worth a very loosely provided estimate of $17-20 million per year on his next NFL contract. “Really?” Dakich asked, “A left guard?”, and Ballard nonchalantly answered, “Yeah, yep, yep,” each time.
“What he brings on a daily basis, there’s . . and you know this from basketball, some players add value just by their influence,” Ballard explained. “. . . . Who they are, what they are. What they are in the locker room. What they stand for. Some players, and Q means that, he means that.”
“. . . I mean that might be a little high, but he’s going to be well paid,” clarified Ballard later regarding Dakich’s initial loosely provided contract estimate.
Battling through injuries—including a lingering high ankle sprain, Nelson wasn’t quite his usual dominant ‘First-Team All-Pro’ self, but he still played at a Pro Bowl caliber level during his 13 starts in 2021. The Colts will hope that with a cleaner bill of health, that he can regain his rare status as the ‘Shaquille O’Neal’ of all NFL offensive linemen—as the most physically imposing and dominant in the trenches.
Given what modestly priced free agent Chris Reed brought at offensive guard to the Colts last season as a spot starter, it’s a fair question of whether investing that much cap space into a guard is the most prudent move for the Colts bigger picture—compared to the value of more premium positions on the field.
That being said, Nelson is one of the cornerstone Colts, as one of the team’s best players (and league-wide), who’s on the fast track to Canton, Ohio, at his current scorching pace. He’s a tone setter and a clear catalyst for the offensive line’s collective success.
If the Colts don’t pay him that top dollar for his position, make no mistake about it, somebody else clearly will—and rather quickly.