Will Laurent Duvernay-Tardif play out the rest of his contract?

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 7: Laurent Duvernay-Tardif #76 of the Kansas City Chiefs is injured on a play during the fourth quarter of the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Arrowhead Stadium on October 7, 2018 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 7: Laurent Duvernay-Tardif #76 of the Kansas City Chiefs is injured on a play during the fourth quarter of the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Arrowhead Stadium on October 7, 2018 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images) /

The Kansas City Chiefs signed Laurent Duvernay-Tardif to a nice-sized extension in 2017. Will he see it through to the end?

It was one of John Dorsey‘s last big moves as general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs. The signing of guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif to a massive five-year extension in the late winter of 2017 signaled another major win for Dorsey’s draft record, the financial rewarding of a former sixth round pick who not only beat the odds to make actual roster contributions. He was a low-round flyer who had blossomed into a very promising starter.

Dorsey actually struck gold twice in that sixth round from the 2014 NFL Draft. At both picks 193 and 200 overall, Dorsey selected two offensive linemen who had been passed over numerous times by every NFL franchise. Zach Fulton would be first, a senior lineman out of the University of Tennessee. Duvernay-Tardif would be next, a Canadian project from McGill Univ. in Montreal, Quebec.

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Fulton would go on to find his major payday with the Houston Texans, signing a four-year deal worth up to $28 million in free agency. The Chiefs kept LDT in house with the aforementioned five-year extension with a ceiling of over $42 million (including $14M guaranteed).

The goal when signing Duvernay-Tardif to such a deal was to lock in a quickly developing starter whose ceiling was yet unknown. LDT had already turned heads with his work ethic and intelligence, an NFL player who actually did the work to also become a medical doctor during his down time. Instead of being a distraction, Duvernay-Tardif proved how much he could handle with such endeavors. It was also a great human interest story.

Two years into the contract, Duvernay-Tardif is a bit of a mystery. In some ways, he’s still clearly developing as a pro player and the Chiefs are paying for potential over actual production. According to Pro Football Focus, LDT was improving in both run and pass blocking in each of his first three seasons with the Chiefs—his pass block rating, in particular, had jumped from 63.2 to 81.8 in that stretch.

Unfortunately his grades/ratings plummeted during the first third of the 2018 season and that was before he was lost for the season due to a broken fibula. It was disappointment before loss and it came at a horrible time for Duvernay-Tardif’s development. Instead of blossoming into a mature starter last season for a Super Bowl contending team, LDT’s season instead brings up a series of questions at an important juncture—one that makes 2019 a very serious season for the 28-year-old lineman.

The Chiefs are committed to Duvernay-Tardif at this point as they’ve reinstalled him as the starting right guard without question this offseason. In fact, they moved his replacement, Andrew Wylie, across center at left guard, leaving Cam Erving without a position to call his own. That speaks to LDT’s talent and hold on the role that Wylie wasn’t given a chance to remain where he was so successful in 2018.

The bad news is that the Chiefs have to also know that this next season is a test run. Can Duvernay-Tardif continue to get better? Can he remain healthy? Have the Chiefs already witnessed his ceiling or was his development merely halted for a season? The guard missed part of the preseason with a concussion and then most of the regular season and playoffs due to the broken fibula. Is this a sign of things to come?

Let’s talk penalties for a second, just as one example. In 827 snaps during his rookie season, Duvernay-Tardif had 6 total penalties while learning to make the leap from McGill to starting in the pros. The next year, he had 5 penalties in 946 snaps. In 2017, he had 6 penalties again in only 688 snaps and last year he had 5 in the first five games—or 331 snaps. In short, he was on pace for 15 penalties last season—a silly amount.

The same trend can be seen in quarterback pressures allowed. As a rookie, Duvernay-Tardif allowed 4 sacks and 19 hurries for a total of 23 pressures. In 2017 that total drops to 12 total pressures. In just five games last year, he matched that total with 12 pressures (4 hits and 8 hurries). The stats would tell you that LDT didn’t allow a single sack last season, but that doesn’t tell the full story in that teams often went through LDT in the first five games last year to force Patrick Mahomes to rush his decisions (and/or sometimes take the big hit).

Why was LDT struggling before he was even injured? Were there residual effects from the preseason concussion? How well will he be able to return from a fracture as big as a broken fibula? And how much higher is his ceiling as an offensive lineman?

These are all important questions because is the fifth highest salary cap hit on the Chiefs this coming season. The way the team structured his extension, Duvernay-Tardif is not only very pricey this year ($8.2M cap hit) but his release would require $12M+ in dead cap space. In short, they have to keep LDT on the books for this season at least.

Starting next offseason, the Chiefs could slip out of their deal with Duvernay-Tardif if that’s what Brett Veach wanted to do. The cap hit to keep him would run exactly $9M with only $4M in dead cap space if they want to decline his last three seasons. From there, the dead cap falls to $2M in 2021 and then zero in 2022, which means after this season, LDT is basically on a series of one-year deals for the Chiefs at $9M or less.

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The extension is still a good one, or at least a palatable one, if Laurent Duvernay-Tardif can return to form and continue the improvement he displayed from 2015-17. After all, LDT looked like a player who could climb high into the upper echelon of NFL guards. In that case, LDT is likely to stick around for not only this coming season but beyond on a deal that gets a bit more team-friendly each season.