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Sunday, March 4, 2007

Gross Option, Wahle Restructure, and the Future Of The Offensive Line

Jordan Gross' triggered incentives, threatening to increase his cap hit to $4.9 million, turned out to be a buyout clause that allowed the contract to be torn up for the 2008-09 seasons, which means the remaining bonus proration is absorbed into this season. Gross' new cap number is $3.4 million. Most of that number isn't able to be reworked, so no cap relief could be earned from an extension, unlike restructuring deals put together for players like Jake Delhomme and Mike Wahle.

The team has talked about an extension with Gross, and given the high cost of linemen Eric Steinbach and Derrick Dockery (in the range of $7 million a year, at the cheaper position of guard), it's unlikely they would've been the party to void the final two years if they do want to keep him around. It would be unlikely they could find a replacement outside of the draft that would be more reasonably priced.

Wahle, who restructured this week, saved the team $1.3 million by converting salary into signing bonus.

The rest of the line is in flux, ready to be re-structured by new OC Jeff Davidson, a former line coach, and new line coach Dave Magazu. One positive about the 2006 season, despite the line being heavily blamed for lack of production, is that young players Evan Mathis, Geoff Hangartner, Jeremy Bridges, and Will Montgomery all received significant experience. At least two of these players will compete for the one vacant position, right guard; at this point, it's most likely that Bridges will remain a backup tackle.

Mathis and Hangartner will be restricted free agents after this year, and starting tackles Gross and Travelle Wharton are unrestricted free agents. Once the team finds its best five starters, undoubtedly the next worry will be finding a way to keep it together, and most troubling of the group is the tackle situation. The team could stand to lose one tackle, but not both; losing one would require a high expenditure on a veteran.

To compound things, Wharton is coming off of injury, so the team would have to wait until the end of the year to talk extension with him, and his backup, Rashad Butler, was inactive the entire year despite being able to play only left tackle and there being a major injury at his position.

If the team has room to make a move this offseason on the line (and with a full roster of 9 on staff and tons of needs at other positions, it's unlikely at this time), it would be at left tackle, pitting another player against Butler.
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