No National Football League team is winning a Super Bowl if it does not have at least a solid offensive line. When an offense is not strong up front, it struggles to run the ball. It struggles to produce numbers in the pass game.
That team struggles to locate victories.
Left tackle is, financially speaking, the top position on the offensive line. Over half of the players on this list are left tackles. Two of the men spotlighted in this piece have started for a perennial loser throughout their NFL careers.
It seems that a good offensive line sometimes only means so much.
These are the 10 highest-paid NFL offensive linemen of 2014.
All values courtesy of Spotrac.
10. Andy Levitre — G — Tennessee Titans: $8.6 million cap hit
Levitre made his name and his money while with the Buffalo Bills. He was drafted by the Bills in 2009, and he made the league’s All-Rookie Team for his work on the field during his debut pro season. Having played through the end of his rookie contract, Levitre was scooped up by the Titans in March of 2013.
Tennessee gave Levitre a six-year deal that could be worth a total of $46.8 million. $13 million of that deal is guaranteed money. While he is a versatile offensive lineman who can, in a pinch, play center, guard is his preferred position.
Guard is where Levitre will play in Tennessee for at least the next few years.
9. Ryan Clady — LT — Denver Broncos: $8.6 million cap hit
After being drafted by the Broncos in 2008, Clady emerged as an elite offensive tackle beginning in his second season in the league. He was named to the Pro Bowl every year from 2009 through 2012, and he was a first-team All-Pro in 2009 and 2012. Tasked with protecting Peyton Manning, Clady entered 2013 set to feature on what would be a NFL offense for the ages.
Fate was unkind to Clady, however, as he suffered a foot injury in Week 2 of the campaign. He didn’t take the field again during the season. Clady, recovering from surgery that repaired that problem, is still working on getting to 100 percent.
8. Ben Grubbs — G — New Orleans Saints: $9.1 million cap hit
Grubbs is the first of two veteran New Orleans guards to check in on the list. Drafted by the Ravens in 2007, Grubbs started in 70 of 74 games for the club. He was named to the Pro Bowl in 2011, and Grubbs was, the following offseason, given a five-year deal by the Saints.
Grubbs received $15.9 million in guaranteed cash from New Orleans, and he could make a total of $36 million by the time the deal expires after 2016.
The two-time Pro Bowl guard will turn 31 years old next March. So long as he avoids injuries and keeps himself in good shape, he could have one final significant NFL payday in his future.
7. Jake Long — LT — St. Louis Rams: $9.25 million cap hit
Long earned his current contract while featuring for the Miami Dolphins. The University of Michigan standout tackle was named to the Pro Bowl every year from 2008 through 2011. He had an opportunity to remain in Miami last offseason, but he instead cashed in with the Rams. St. Louis gave Long a four-year deal worth $34 million. $12 million is guaranteed.
The beginning of last winter was harsh on Long. He suffered a serious knee injury on December 22, tearing his ACL and MCL in a Week 16 contest versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Long is expected to get the start on the St. Louis offensive line on September 7.
6. Alex Mack — C — Cleveland Browns: $10 million cap hit
The Browns and Mack engaged in quite the interesting dance this past offseason. Cleveland assigned the rarely-used transition tag and not the franchise tag on Mack, and the Jacksonville Jaguars responded by offering the center a five-year deal. The Browns matched that offer in order to keep their Pro Bowl center, and Mack earned $26 million guaranteed as a result.
The process could repeat itself two years down the road. Mack will have the option of voiding his contract in 2016. With hoped-to-be Browns savior Johnny Manziel waiting for his chance to lead the team’s offense, Mack could be enticed to remain in Cleveland if the team manages to right the ship.
That’s one big “if” considering that the Browns haven’t won more than five games in a single season in seven years.
5. Trent Williams — LT — Washington Redskins: $10,980,393 cap hit
Kevin Ross II of CBS Local Sports recently referred to Williams as “The Godzilla of the NFL.” Checking in at 6-foot-5 and 335 pounds, the product of the University of Oklahoma has earned that distinction.
Williams was not always a hit in the NFL. He was suspended in December of 2011 for repeated violations of the league’s substance abuse policy, and there were concerns about his future as a pro football player.
Those worries have since evaporated. Williams was named to the Pro Bowl in 2012 and 2013. Having turned 26 years old this past July, Williams may be the best young left tackle in the NFL.
4. Jahri Evans — G — New Orleans Saints: $11 million cap hit
Some analysts view the Saints as legitimate Super Bowl contenders this season. Evans is one reason for that optimism. Arguably the best guard in the NFL today, Evans recently earned Top 50 honors from ESPN.
He has more than earned that praise.
Evans has been an All-Pro every year from 2009 through 2013. He is in the middle of a seven-year contract that earned him $19 million guaranteed, one that could be worth a total of $56.7 million. The Saints have Evans locked up through 2016.
3. Russell Okung — LT — Seattle Seahawks: $11.24 million cap hit
The old football adage is that defense wins championships, and the 2013 Seattle Seahawks were one example of this. Having a Pro Bowl tackle on the offensive line also doesn’t hurt. While the Seahawks are on the verge of a title defense, Okung is hoping to have a bounce-back season.
A foot injury cost Okung eight games last year. He had surgery in the offseason to rectify the issue, and the hope is that the 26-year-old will relocate his form. Okung’s current contract expires after next season, so he will be playing for more than just the Seahawks this coming fall.
2. D’Brickashaw Ferguson — LT — New York Jets: $11,698,666 cap hit
Ferguson is one of several players on this list to have seen a rotation of quarterbacks while in the NFL. Gang Green has featured four different starting QBs since 2006, the same year that the Jets selected the left tackle in the first round of the NFL Draft. Ferguson, unlike the revolving door of New York quarterbacks, has been a lineup mainstay for the Jets in his nine years in the pros.
The three-time Pro Bowl tackle will turn 31 in December. He is signed with the Jets through the end of the 2017 campaign. While the club could cut ties with the tackle before his deal expires, odds are that the Jets will be Ferguson’s only NFL team.
1. Joe Thomas — LT — Cleveland Browns: $12.3 million cap hit
Perhaps offensive line isn’t all that important. The Browns have two players on this list, after all, and they have nevertheless been an NFL laughingstock since the conclusion of the 2007 regular season.
Anybody who has followed the Browns during Thomas‘ pro tenure knows that the 29-year-old is not to blame for the team’s woes. Thomas has been named to Pro Bowl squads in each of his seven years in the league. He is regarded as one of the best tackles in the NFL, and Thomas will one day be enshrined in Canton.
Thomas has yet to play with a true franchise quarterback as a pro tackle. Perhaps that will change now that the Browns have the phenom known as Johnny Football on the roster.