When Dallas Cowboys right guard Zack Martin showed up at The Star in Frisco this week for the team's first mandatory offseason mini-camp, it was in the air. After sitting out three weeks of organized team activities, the two-time All-Pro was about to get paid.
Late Wednesday afternoon, the Cowboys confirmed they've reached an agreement with Martin. The terms, according to multiple reports, guarantee the 2014 first-round pick $40 million as part of a contract that could pay Martin as much as $84 million over six years. Martin's deal has a higher guarantee and a higher average annual value than the $66.5 million five-year contract Andrew Norwell signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars earlier this year.
If any guard is worth $14 million per season, it's Martin. The former Notre Dame standout is dominant in the run game, routinely creating huge running lanes on the right side of the Cowboys' offense with All-Pro center Travis Frederick. He excels as a pass blocker as well. In 2017, he gave up a single sack to an opposing offensive lineman, one of just seven he's given up in 64 starts. In four seasons, he's only been penalized 13 times. He's athletic, durable and intimidating.
Martin's deal solidifies the Cowboys' offensive line, still one of the NFL's best units despite several injury-related hiccups in 2017, for at least the next two seasons. Martin, Frederick and All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith all have six years left on their contracts. Connor Williams, the talented University of Texas product picked by the Cowboys in the second round of April's draft, is expected to be the team's starter at left guard. He's got four years left on his rookie deal. La'el Collins, the Cowboys' right tackle, is signed through 2019.
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In writing such a big check to Martin the year before he would've hit free agency, the Cowboys signaled a couple of things. First, while Martin's new deal does reportedly give the team an extra $3 million in cap flexibility this season, they are unlikely to make another big move this offseason. Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, thought to be a trade target for the Cowboys, is now seemingly out of the picture. The Cowboys would put their future salary cap health at risk if they hand out another big time extension in 2018 and Thomas doesn't make sense as a rental. Second, the Cowboys are betting their future on their front five.
With Martin's new contract, the Cowboys are set to spend about 30 percent of their salary cap on the offensive line, about double the percentage the New England Patriots spend on Tom Brady's protectors. The Cowboys are betting on All-Pro level performances from Martin, Smith, Frederick, Williams and Collins, in addition to running back Ezekiel Elliott. If they produce anything less than the best rushing attack in football, the Cowboys could find themselves back in salary cap jail, a place from which they only recently escaped.
For the time being, however, the Cowboys have no major contract headaches on the horizon. Star defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence will play 2018 on the franchise tag, giving him another year to work out a long-term deal with the Cowboys if that's the direction the team chooses to go. Dak Prescott and Elliott, the team's precocious offensive stars, both have at least two years left on their rookie contracts. The Cowboys' financial health is better than it's been in years — as long as things go as planned.