After years of being an average left tackle, 2008 1st round pick Duane Brown finally showed why the Texans used that 1st round pick on him last year, making all 18 of the Texans’ starts en route to an eventual loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Divisional round. Brown, impressively, was the only offensive tackle in the league to make more than 6 starts and not allow a single sack and Brown did it in 18 starts.
Sacks don’t tell the whole story, but Brown also only allowed 4 quarterback hits and 23 quarterback pressures in 18 games and ranked 8th at his position in pass blocking efficiency and 3rd at his position overall on ProFootballFocus. And it’s not like he was protecting quarterbacks who had a knack for getting the ball out quick and avoiding sacks. He started the season protecting one of those, Matt Schaub, but Schaub got hurt and Texans’ quarterbacks overall took a sack on 33 of their 167 pressured snaps, good for a very middle of the pack 19.8%. There’s no doubt that Brown was an elite blindside protector last season.
In an ideal world, the Texans would have made able to make him prove it again. However, the Texans are not in that ideal situation because they need the franchise tag for Matt Schaub, who they are rightfully making prove he can stay healthy. The Texans wouldn’t have had the luxury to franchise Brown if he has another elite season in 2012 and would risk losing an incredibly valuable player on the open market. Left tackle is arguably the 2nd most valuable position in football and, for that reason, you almost never see a franchise left tackle available on the open market. It’s almost as rare as seeing a franchise quarterback on the open market.
Besides, Brown’s extension seems to reflect that he hasn’t been a perennially elite player yet. It’s not like they gave him a contract similar to the perennially elite Joe Thomas (8 years, 92 million, with 44 million guaranteed). Brown’s extension is for 6 years, 53.4 million with 22.08 million guaranteed and tacked on to a 2.082 million dollar salary for the 2012 season. That’s totally reasonable, especially when you considered that a significantly inferior offensive tackle, Ryan Clady, recently turned down 5 years, 50 million from the Broncos. Clady has allowed 20 sacks, 18 quarterback hits, and 120 quarterback pressures in the last 4 seasons, while struggling as a run blocker, and was ProFootballFocus’ 62nd ranked offensive tackle out of 73 last season.
Clady, Brown, Jake Long, and Branden Albert were all part of a strong 2008 NFL Draft left tackle class, all of whom have their rookie contracts expiring this season. Brown was the first to sign an extension and may end up being the most inexpensive of the bunch, especially if Albert continues his strong play from 2011. Long and Clady will both almost definitely get bigger contracts than Brown, especially since Clady will have the benefit of Peyton Manning making him look good this season. Brown is not quite as perennially proven as Long, but he outplayed all 3 of those players last season and he’s definitelyworth more than both Clady and Albert.
With Brown under contract, the Texans will now turn their focus to Connor Barwin as they try to lock up what might be the most talented free agent class of any team in the league. Schaub will not get an extension before the season as the team is rightfully trying to make him prove he can stay healthy. If he can do that, he should be able to lead this team to a very successful season and would be well worth the very expensive quarterback franchise tag (16.1 million in 2012) and the top-5 quarterback contract that will follow.