In LASkin’s recent piece on the drafting and development of tackles he made a variety of great observations and useful insights.
One claim that he made though, got my particular attention. Not because he’s the first to say it, but because its almost slipped its way into conventional wisdom at this point:
Is He A LT or RT? I don’t think it’s very worthwhile any longer to make heavy distinctions between LT and RT. With similar DEs playing on both sides of the line, any tackle without traditional LT traits is going to get humiliated in the pass rush. As teams use movement and two-TE sets that allow them to run effectively to either the left or right, LTs cannot be pass rush specialists; they need good RT run blocking traits too. Indeed, many of the top LTs in our sample have played mostly RT in some years of the careers, including Bakhtiari, Stanley, and Thomas.
Thus, it should be no surprise that RTs have much greater value than in the past.
Why Are Left Tackles So Valuable?
The story has been told many times over now, but the outsized importance of left tackles has its roots in Redskins’ lore.
However, it was not always like this.
Not until another LT, Lawrence Taylor, came into the NFL and changed how the game was played.
The end of Joe Theismann’s career was anything but glamorous. When he was hit by LT, coming off his Blind Side, his leg snapped and that was all she wrote.
Some NFL coaches still did not know how to deal with such a force coming from the quarterbacks blind side, and this was 1985. In 1982, however, Bill Walsh set the blueprint for handling the blind side, and gave way for a new premier position in sports.
Walsh decided to use his guard, John Ayers, to pull off and be a blocker for Montana. From the first play of the game, when LT came out of his stance to blitz Montana, he was met by a brick wall.
After this game, Bill Walsh knew that in the next draft, he needed to get two pieces to his puzzle. He would need a pass rusher like LT, but with his first pick, he would need a left tackle who could handle a pass rusher like LT.
Are Right Tackles Much More Valued Now?
Thankfully, with the wealth of information that we have at our fingertips at this point, this is a pretty easy question to answer. There are a variety of ways to determine value, but in this case we have a direct signal: What are teams willing to pay? For this exercise, I went back a decade, to 2014, to look at both the “mean” and “median” salaries for the top ten right tackles over that timeframe, using cap hit data from Overthecap.
Over that timeframe, expectedly, top right tackle salaries have increased dramatically. The mean salary has increased 79% from about $5.1M to 9.2M, and the median salary has basically doubled from $5.2M in 2014 to $10.4M in 2022.
But How About Left Tackles?
This comparison is really what people mean when they say that right tackles are “valued more” now. They intend to indicate that the value of right tackles is beginning to approximate the towering value of left tackles.
In 2014, the top left tackles had a huge head start on right tackles, getting paid about 86% more than their peers on the opposite side of the line. The raw comparison was $9.6M to $5.1M. By 2022, the disparity remained, with the mean of the top ten left tackles being paid $16.3M and the mean of the top ten right tackles being paid $9.2M. A figure charting those trends can be seen below:
- In 2014, the top left tackles made 86% more than the top right tackles. By 2022, that had shrunk just a bit, to 78%.
- The rate of increase of the mean salary of right tackles was slightly greater (79%) than that of left tackles (71%) from 2014 to 2022
- The rate of increase of the median salary of right tackles was a bit more pronounced (100%) than that of left tackles (80%) from 2014 to 2022.
So, while there has been a marginal, but measurable, increase in the salaries of top right tackles compared to left tackles over the course of the past decade, in raw numbers, left tackles are still dramatically better compensated - and thus “more valued” - than right tackles in the modern game. It’s going to be interesting to see if these trends continue over the coming years.
What position do you think is more important?