Offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil decided to take matters into his own hands by firing his agent Jimmy Sexton in early March shortly after the NFL Combine. He follows in the footsteps of wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, offensive tackle Russell Okung, cornerback Richard Sherman and inside linebacker Bobby Wagner in acting as his own agent on a veteran contract.
Tunsil has done the best job of any of the players going the self-representation route. He took advantage of the Texans making a tactical error in neglecting to secure a new deal when he was traded from the Dolphins right before the start of the 2019 regular season where essentially two first-round picks and a second-round pick were given up. The lack of a new contract and the massive trade compensation gave Tunsil the upper hand in negotiations. He made the Texans pay for the mistake by fully exploiting his extreme contract leverage better than some prominent agents would have done.
Tunsil, who was scheduled to make $10.35 million on his fifth-year option, received a three-year, $66 million contract extension from the Texans. His deal contains $50 million in guarantees, $40 million is fully guaranteed at signing.
Tunsil is getting $23.85 million, a $13.5 million raise, this year. The $23.85 million is a $13 million signing bonus and a fully guaranteed $10.85 million 2020 base salary. He gets his entire signing bonus by the end of the 2020 calendar year.
Tunsil's $16.15 million 2021 base salary is fully guaranteed to make up the remainder of the $40 million fully guaranteed at signing. $10 million of Tunsil's $17.85 million 2022 base salary is guaranteed for injury at signing to make the total guarantees $50 million. The $10 million becomes fully guaranteed next March on the fifth day of the 2021 league year. Tunsil's $18.5 million 2023 base salary is unsecured.
The Texans are using an additional $3.75 million of salary cap room on Tunsil under the new contract. Tunsil's 2020 cap number goes from $10.35 million to $14.1 million. His 2021, 2022 and 2023 cap numbers are $19.4 million, $21.1 million and $21.75 million.
Putting the deal into context
Tunsil becomes the highest paid offensive lineman in NFL history at $22 million per year. He also corrects an offensive tackle market anomaly where right tackles Lane Johnson and Trent Brown became the league's highest paid at the position last year.
Traditionally, the highest paid left tackle has made more than the highest paid right tackle by a considerable margin. Over the last five years (2015 through 2019), the highest paid left tackle's deal has averaged 13.73 percent more than the highest paid right tackle's. In order to restore the traditional left tackle/right tackle financial relationship, Tunsil's extension needed to average just under $20.475 million per year since the four-year extension Johnson signed with the Eagles last year averages $18 million per year. He shatters this mark by averaging 22.22 percent more than Johnson.
Tunsil's $40 million fully guaranteed at signing sets a new standard for offensive linemen. The previous benchmark was Trent Brown's $36.25 million with the Raiders. Tunsil's $50 million in overall guarantees is tied for second among offensive linemen with Titans left tackle Taylor Lewan behind Johnson's $54.595 million. It should be noted that Lewan and Johnson's deals put them under contract for six and seven years respectively while Tunsil's is only for four years.
Tunsil's deal ties him with Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones as the NFL's third highest non-quarterback. Only Bears edge rusher Khalil Mack and Rams interior defensive lineman Aaron Donald are ahead of Tunsil at $23.5 million per year and $22.5 million per year respectively.
Jones is the only non-quarterback with more full guarantees per contract year than Tunsil's $10 million per year ($40 million over four total contract years). The five-time All-Pro wide receiver's contract is an outlier in a lot of respects structurally. No other non-quarterback (deals averaging $15 million per year or more) besides Tunsil has reached the $10 million per year mark. At $12.5 million per year, Tunsil is fourth among non-quarterbacks in total guarantees per contract year.
One critical aspect structurally is the early vesting of Tunsil's third-year guarantee for 2022. This prevents the third year from being a team option where the Texans could get rid of him in 2022. With the $10 million becoming fully guaranteed in 2021, Tunsil's practical guarantee is $57.85 million. It's hard to envision a scenario where the Texans would cut Tunsil in 2022 and potentially be on the hook for the entire $10 million. In the unlikely event Tunsil is released in 2022, he will have signed a one-year extension for $39.65 million minus what could be recouped from his 2022 compensation with another team since the guarantee has an offset.
Tunsil is making out like a bandit relative to letting his rookie contract expire and playing under two franchise tags. The offensive lineman franchise tag is currently $14.781 million, which is 7.46 percent of the salary cap. The 2021 number should be 7.52 percent of the cap. Projecting an actual dollar amount is more difficult than usual because of the uncertainty with sporting events stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. It's a realistic possibility that the 2021 salary cap will not increase from this year's $198.2 million number or could go down.
Under ordinary circumstances, the 2021 salary cap would at a minimum be in the $210 million neighborhood. This would put Tunsil's 2021 franchise tag right around $15.8 million. A second franchise tag in 2022 at an NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement mandated 20 percent increase would be in $19 million range. Tunsil's $57.85 million three-year cash flow puts him approximately $12.75 million ahead over being a year-to-year proposition during this span. He is making nearly 30 percent more under his new contract than playing the franchise tag game through 2022.
Tunsil also comes close to making as much in 2020 with the $23.85 million than he would under his fifth-year option and one franchise tag, assuming usual salary cap growth. His two-year compensation would likely be just over $26 million.
Tunsil's contract has a surprisingly short term. The average length of the five highest paid non-quarterback deals before Tunsil's signing was 4.8 new contract years. Tunsil is well positioned to take advantage of the significant growth in salary cap that should occur with the addition of a 17th regular season game and new media rights deals. His contract is set to expire when he is 29.
Tunsil is easily the winner in his negotiation with the Texans. He is getting to have his cake and eat it too with a shorter-term contract containing strong guarantees that's near the top of the non-quarterback market.
The player who should be happiest with Tunsil's deal besides himself is Ravens offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley. Tunsil was selected seven picks after Stanley in the 2016 NFL draft with the 13th overall pick. Both were named to the Pro Bowl for the first time last season, with Stanley also earning first team All-Pro honors.
Since Tunsil's contract has a higher than expected average yearly salary on a shorter than anticipated term, his extension likely complicates Stanley's negotiations. Outside of cornerback Marcus Peters, the Ravens aren't accustomed to doing high-end deals where players only give up three new years on extensions signed in the final year of rookie contracts or at their expiration. Unlike Tunsil, Peters had to sacrifice his average yearly salary to get the shorter term. It will be interesting to see how Stanley reaps the benefit of Tunsil dramatically re-setting the offensive tackle market.
Tunsil could find himself back at the bargaining table in 2023 when entering a contract year especially if his Pro Bowl selection is an indication that his best football is ahead of him. Interestingly, Tunsil could get another bite at the apple for a third contract before Mack or Donald since their respective six-year extensions are set to expire after the 2024 season.
There could be an extremely high starting point for those negotiations. With Tunsil's 2023 salary cap number at $21.75 million, it would be $26.1 million to franchise him in 2024. A second franchise tag in 2025 would be $31.32 million. Those two franchise tag numbers will undoubtedly factor into any future contract discussions with the Texans provided Tunsil remains one of the league's top pass protectors.