Since 2004 we've been watching, but not really noticing Nick Hardwick for thousands of plays every year. As the guy who snaps the ball to the QB, he's right in our line of sight with every offensive play. However, we can appreciate him the most when he's never seen. We don't want to see a blown block that gets the QB sacked. We don't want to see a bad snap that kills a play and possibly a drive. We don't want to hear his name called on a false start, holding, hands to the face or chop block penalty. But, that's just them minimum requirements for the job. He's also got to set up the rest of the line to get the protection schemes right. He's also got to work to open running lanes. Back in 2009, when Hardwick only started 3 games and Scott Mruczkowski filled in, I think the biggest change that most people noticed was how there seems to be less holes opening up for the running backs. Nick Hardwick in all his quiet glory has been a very valuable part of the team.
In March, the trustworthy center linesman will become a free agent. His 5 year, $17 million extension he signed back in 2006 has come to an end and, despite talks of retirement, he'll get a new contract this offseason to play profession football either in San Diego or elsewhere. The Chargers' eggs are currently in the basket where Hardwick re-ups with the Blue and Gold. His backup, the aforementioned Mruczkowski, is also a free agent. The Chargers have one center under contract in Colin Baxter who made his NFL debut last season. Baxter has potential and there are some decent options in free agency at the position, but Nick is the best fit.
In 2006, when he signed his big money extension, the Boilermaker alum was only 24 years old and so he's only 30 as he enters free agency for the first time. Centers seems to stick around for a while, so the contract for many seems to be that they play out their rookie contract and then get a big money deal that takes them into their early 30s. They can then get another contract that takes them into their mid 30s. Then they give some pretty lucrative short term contracts. Some of this varies based on how long the players takes to establish himself. Since Hardwick is looking at that contract that takes him into his mid 30s, let's take a look at some similar deals after the jump.
|Player||Age||Year||Contract Yrs||Total Contract Value
|Matt Birk||33||2009||3||$12 million
|Jeff Saturday||31||2006||3||$7.7 million|
|Olin Kreutz||31||2007||3||$17.5 million|
|Shaun O'Hara||30||2007||5||$19 million|
|Jonathan Goodwin||33||2011||3||$10.9 million|
|Todd McClure||30||2007||5||$10 million|
|Brad Meester||32||2009||4||$10 million|
|Dominic Raiola||32||2010||4||$20 million|
|Jake Grove||29||2009||5||$29.5 million|
It's funny how different many of these contracts are. Perennial Pro Bowler Jeff Saturday got one of the smallest deals here and then followed it up with a much bigger 3 year, $17M deal. Jake Grove got a ton of money to leave the Raiders and take his talents to South Beach, but then was out of the league in a year. Grove, Birk and Goodwin all changed teams, but the rest re-signed with their former clubs including some that signed extensions.
I'd love for you to share your thoughts on Nick, his free agency and any of the contract hodgepodge in the comments.