Offensive guard is a position where big bucks typically have not been spent in the NFL.
But, that has been changing more and more as guys like Kelechi Osemele and David Decastro have signed contracts paying them more than $11 million annually in the last year. Even this week, Chiefs guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif signed a massive contract extension, that will pay him like one of the league's top guards with a five-yard, $41.25 million deal.
Kevin Zeitler is about to be added to the list of guards making five figure annual salaries. He’s become one of the best right guards in the business, and he’s about to be paid like an elite offensive lineman, though it probably will not be in Cincinnati.
According to Draft Analyst’s Tony Pauline, Zeitler will likely be signing a massive deal this offseason, and we should expect it to be with a new team.
I’m told Kevin Zeitler of the Bengals is likely to sign a deal close to $10 million a year if not slightly over that amount. Most I’ve spoken with believe Cincinnati won’t re-sign Zeitler as that’s out of the range they are willing to pay for a guard.
This jives with what’s been reported on Zeitler and his impending payday for much of this offseason. That number is also close to what Spotrac is projecting for Zeitler.
The contract resource website has him projected to earn a deal paying him around $11.6 million annually, which is likely far above what the Bengals are willing to pay the stud guard. Spotrac's exact projection for Zeitler is five years, $58,107,783 with an average annual salary of $11,621,557. That would make him the second highest paid guard and 64th highest paid NFL player. For comparison, Bengals left guard Clint Boling makes the 20th ranked annual guard salary and he has a five-year, $26 million contract. He's currently entering the third year of the deal in 2017.
Sports Illustrated’s Chris Burke believes Zeitler is the cream of the crop in terms of free agent guards this year. He also thinks the Dolphins could be his best fit.
Zeitler has started all 16 games for Cincinnati each of the past two seasons, and he’s been in the lineup for 72 of a possible 80 games since his first-round draft selection back in 2012.
The NFL’s franchise-tag setup tied the Bengals’ hands a bit—there is no tackle, guard or center designation; all offensive linemen are priced the same. This year, that cost sits at around $14 million, or $4 million more than the league’s highest-paid guards (David DeCastro and Kyle Long) make on average. Given the type of attention he would draw as a free agent, Zeitler could set his sights on $10 million per year himself.
Ideal team fit: Dolphins. With Laremy Tunsil set to move to tackle, the Dolphins likely need to fill two guard spots this off-season. May as well go for the best option available, right?
It also helps that there’s a connection between Miami and Cincinnati that could help make the Dolphins a viable landing spot. Former Bengals linebackers coach Matt Burke, who served in that role for the Bengals from 2014-15, is now Miami’s defensive coordinator after Vance Joseph, also a former Bengals assistant, became the head coach of the Broncos this offseason.
Denver could be another team to watch out for as they need help up and down their offensive line. Joseph obviously knows what Zeitler brings to the table after both were in Cincinnati from 2014-15, which is also the case with Burke in Miami.
It helps that both teams are also projected to have $40-plus million in cap space this offseason. That makes them very dangerous teams who could be poised to lure Zeitler away from Cincinnati.