Finding common ground will be extremely difficult in a contract negotiation with offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins. The main reason? He’s a true offensive lineman, not just a left guard, tackle, or center. He might be any and all of them. When it’s time to structure a new deal, comparing his production with fellow position players and defining his precise value is more challenging. However, re-signing Jenkins before he hits free agency next offseason should be a top priority for the Green Bay Packers.
Jenkins has played left guard, his primary position, but also right tackle, left tackle, and center. The Packers drafted him in the second round in 2019, so he does not have a fifth-year option, which would extend Green Bay’s timeline to make a deal.
In November, Jenkins also tore his ACL, so the Packers still don’t know when he will be available to play. If he misses a significant part or even the majority of the season, it will be even harder to finagle a deal that would be good for both sides.
In these cases, teams tend to wait and see what happens. First, they must determine if, when, and how Jenkins will be back. Later, they’ll decide what position the coaching staff plans to slot him into. His payday might be much higher if he’s the right tackle of the future.
But waiting may not be the ideal solution in this scenario.
Complicating things further, there are no franchise tag or transition tag values for guards and centers, specifically. There’s only one tender for offensive linemen, at large. Therefore, the value is calculated based on the top tackles in the league. Moreover, there have been cases where players forced teams to trade them to be able to play more valuable positions.
For instance, the Baltimore Ravens traded Orlando Brown to the Kansas City Chiefs, where he could play left tackle — and KC paid him like one. If the Packers want to use Jenkins as a guard, he might request a trade to be able to earn a higher raise. Even if the plan is to have him as a full-time right tackle, he and his agents can see a higher floor elsewhere on the left side, just like Orlando Brown did.
Right now, the top guards on the market in average salary per year are Brandon Scherff (Jacksonville Jaguars, $16.5 million), Joel Bitonio (Cleveland Browns, $16 million), and Joe Thuney (Chiefs, $16 million). But the value will go up very quickly as soon as the Indianapolis Colts give star Quenton Nelson a long-term extension. The top tackles are Trent Williams (San Francisco 49ers, $23 million) and David Bakhtiari ($23 million). However, the top right tackle is Ryan Ramczyk (New Orleans Saints, $19.2 million).
Jenkins’ deal may be near Scherff’s contract if he stays at left guard. However, it could be even higher if he establishes himself at right tackle. For the Packers, it would be wise to extend Jenkins before Nelson signs with the Colts to avoid market inflation.
According to Spotrac, Jenkins’ market value is around $13.9 million per year. They project him to sign a four-year, $55.8 million deal. That would be excellent for the Packers. But realistically, it can be higher because Green Bay tends to give players top total money so that contracts can have team-friendly structures without guarantees beyond the first year.
If the Packers cannot re-sign Jenkins before or during this season, they might have to use a franchise tag on him. That would be around $17 million next year without the benefit of structuring it in a team-friendly way to lower the immediate cap hit. In the case of Jenkins hitting the open market, he could generate strong interest for his versatility and his proven ability to be an above-average left tackle. Even an NFC North rival such as the Chicago Bears could be interested. However, it’s unlikely he will reach free agency at this point.
As the market goes up and new TV deals tend to increase the salary cap, Elgton Jenkins will only get more expensive. After extending Jaire Alexander, and with fifth-year options secured for Rashan Gary and Darnell Savage, Jenkins is the top priority for Russ Ball.