Although NFL left tackles are not household names, on a professional football team the left tackle is a key player. The players on this list are special athletes that toil in anonymity while getting a substantial paycheck. Teams are willing to make their left tackle a wealthy man because they protect the team’s most important player, the quarterback. Most quarterbacks are right-handed, so when they drop back to pass they are extremely vulnerable to their left-side, their blind-side. The left tackle position received some notoriety from the movie, ‘The Blind Side.’ A film based on the life of Michael Oher, a huge left tackle.
A great left tackle is a gifted athlete who possesses great size, unusually long arms and extremely quick feet. Very few athletes are blessed with this unique combination of size, strength and quickness. Without a left tackle possessing these assets, a team is very vulnerable to the opposition’s best pass rusher, a player who can completely disrupt a team’s offense.
10. D’Brickashaw Ferguson – New York Jets: $5,588,665 in 2013
D’Brickashaw Ferguson started in all 16 games last season for the New York Jets, the team that drafted him out of Virginia in 2006. When the Jets picked Ferguson with the 4th overall pick in the draft, they were selecting a hometown kid; D’Brickashaw went to Freeport High School on Long Island. Ferguson earned this spot on the list when he signed a 6-year, $60 million contract extension in the summer of 2010. Ferguson is a rough player; in 2013 the Jets fined him $15,750 for fighting.
9. Donald Penn – Tampa Bay Buccaneers: $6,333,333 in 2013
Even by NFL standards, Donald Penn is a big man. Standing 6’5” and weighing at least 340 pounds, Penn must be a difficult man to move! In the 2006, Penn left Utah State and entered the NFL draft. Having gone undrafted, Penn signed as an undrafted free agent with the Minnesota Vikings. Later that year, on October 4th, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed Penn from the Vikings’ practice squad. After three very strong seasons with the Buccaneers, on July 30, 2010 Penn signed a 6-year $43 million contract that put him on this list. Yet the highlight of that season for Penn occurred on September 21st, when Penn experienced the ‘lineman’s dream’, catching a touchdown pass in a game against San Francisco. In 2013, Penn started all 16 games for the Buccaneers, and he has been a fixture on the Tampa Bay offensive line, starting 92 consecutive games.
8. Andrew Whitworth – Cincinnati Bengals: $6,750,000 in 2013
Whitworth is a big, strong left tackle from Monroe, LA. He is 6’7” and weighs in at 330 pounds. The LSU product was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2006 in the 2nd round, the 55th overall pick. Offseason knee surgery made 2013 a sub-par season for Whitworth; he missed all of the pre-season games and missed the ninth game with a knee strain. Even with the injuries, Whitworth started 14 games for the Bengals, although he spent about half the season at left tackle and half at left guard. Whitworth has been extremely durable for Cincinnati. Since 2006 he has started 102 of their 106 games. On August 31, 2011, the Bengals rewarded Whitworth’s durability and fine play with a 2-year, $19,525,000 contract.
7. Michael Roos – Tennessee Titans: $7,500,000 in 2013
Roos is the seventh member of this list, and he is the first native Estonian to play in the NFL. 2013 was another great season for Roos; he was elected a team captain by his teammates, and started all 16 games for the Titans. At 6’7” and 313 pounds, Roos possesses the physical tools to play in the NFL, and he has been an incredibly durable player. Roos has only missed one game, for an emergency appendectomy, during his 9-year NFL career.
In the 2005 draft, the Titans selected Roos in the second round, with the 41st overall pick. On July 28, 2005 Roos signed a 4-year, $3.46 million contract with Tennessee. Then, after proving his abilities, in 2008 he signed a 6-year, $43 million contract extension.
6. Trent Williams – Washington Redskins: $7,980,393 in 2013
Williams went from Longview, TX, to becoming a star at the University of Oklahoma. In 2010, his dominating college play resulted in the Washington Redskins using the 4th overall pick to select Williams, creating a memorable television event. Backstage during the draft, Williams convinced NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to use his nickname during his selection announcement. So when Goodell announced the 4th pick he said, “Trent ‘Silverback’ Williams.” Williams’ nickname is connected to the tattoo on his back of a silverback gorilla. A couple of months later, on July 30, 2010, Williams signed a 6-year $59,940,000 contract, making him one of the game’s richest tackles. As a pro, Williams has twice earned Pro Bowl honors.
5. Russell Okung – Seattle Seahawks: $9,540,000 in 2013
The 2013 season started out poorly for the 6’5” Okung, but it ended in the best possible fashion, with a Super Bowl Championship. In week two, Okung injured his toe and could not play again until week 11. Once Okung returned, he quickly regained his form, and the offensive line became a cornerstone to a world championship team.
A Texas native, Okung played college football at Oklahoma State and entered the 2010 NFL draft. As a tall, long, and strong tackle, he was an easy 6th overall pick by the Seattle Seahawks. That summer, Okung signed a 6 -ear, $48 million contract, and he became a mainstay on the Seattle offensive line.
4. Branden Albert – Kansas City Chiefs: $9,828,000 in 2013
Albert, a former University of Virginia player, had to overcome academic problems to make this list. Albert possesses all of the physical tools necessary to be a great left tackle, he stands 6’5”, and weights 315 pounds. Albert’s academic difficulties started in High School when he failed his Freshman year twice. As a result, Virginia was the only school to offer Albert a scholarship. At Virginia, Albert thrived on the football field, and in 2008 he became the Chiefs first pick, and the 15th overall.
A knee injury hampered Albert in 2013, allowing him to play in only 12 games. When healthy, Albert has been an excellent player for the Chiefs, so when he became a restricted free agent in 2013 the team used their franchise tag worth $9.828 million on him.
3. Jason Peters – Philadelphia Eagles: $11,042,000 in 2013
Peters in arguably the best left tackle in the game, yet coming out of college he was not considered worthy of being drafted. Before being drafted, Peters was a player without a position. While at Arkansas Peters played tight end, but did not project as an NFL tight end.
As a player without a true niche, Peters signed as an un-drafted free agent with the Buffalo Bills. As a pro, Peters moved to tackle and quickly transformed into a star. Two years into his professional career, Peters signed a 5-year, $15 million contract extension. Three years later, the Bills traded Peters to the Philadelphia Eagles for a 1st and 4th round pick in the 2009 draft, and a 2010 pick. As an Eagle, Peters continued his dominant play and was rewarded on April 28, 2009 with a four-year, $51,450,000 contract extension, making him the NFL left tackle with the highest average yearly salary, and the third-highest-paid left tackle in 2013. In 2013, Peters played in all 16 regular season games for the Eagles, plus their playoff loss to the Saints.
2. Joe Thomas – Cleveland Browns: $11,400,000 in 2013
Thomas, a 6’6”, 312 pound native of Brookfield, WI, was the 3rd player chosen by the Browns in the 2007 NFL draft after a stellar college career at the University of Wisconsin. Not only was Thomas an outstanding football player at Wisconsin, he also excelled as a shot putter. Thomas has been voted to the Pro Bowl 7 times, and he has 5 All-Pro selections in his 8 professional seasons.
Football is not the only sport Thomas enjoys, as he is also an avid outdoorsman. This passion has opened up a potential post-football opportunity for Thomas. In his spare time, he hosts an Outdoor television show that airs in the Ohio area.
Thomas signed a 5-year, $42,500,000 contract on July 27, 2007, and then earned a spot on this list on August 22, 2011 when he signed a 7-year, $80.5 million contract extension. In 2013, Thomas played all 16 games for the Browns.
1. Ryan Clady – Denver Broncos: $9,828,000 in 2013
Clady is one of the best left tackles in the NFL, and as the 12th pick in the 2008 draft, he left Boise State and became a starter from day one. Clady’s first five seasons were remarkable; he started every game for the Broncos and earned three Pro Bowl appearances. To begin their careers, only two other offensive lineman in NFL history have been able to start every game during their first five seasons, and earn three Pro Bowl appearances.
In week 2 of the 2013 season, Clady’s campaign ended when he suffered a Lisfrac injury to his foot. Aside from the injury, 2013 was a great year for Clady. In March the Broncos used their franchise tag on him, then on July 14, 2013, he signed a 5-year, $52,500,000 contract, making him the 5th highest-paid left tackle in history, and the highest-paid player at his position in 2013.