Taylor Lewan focused on football, with one eye on his contract

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- All NFL players pay attention when free-agency dollars are thrown around. Tennessee Titans left tackle Taylor Lewan is no different, as he awaits a potential big-money contract extension with the understanding he might have to play out 2018 as his contract year.

"Of course I think about it. I'm a professional athlete. I'm going to see these things. You see Nate Solder making the contract he did, it's awesome for him and the position," Lewan said. "I hope everybody gets paid, 'broke off,' 'gets their bag.'"

Solder received a four-year, $62 million deal with $35 million guaranteed from the New York Giants in March. That's the threshold Lewan and his management team hope to surpass. It would make him the NFL's highest-paid left tackle.

Lewan should be the Titans' next extension, because it seems more likely that a big extension for quarterback Marcus Mariota would happen during the 2019 offseason. Titans general manager Jon Robinson has told Lewan they want to get a long-term deal done with him.

The Titans have more than $30 million in cap space, but as of now they are holding tight. According to Lewan, negotiations haven't been fruitful thus far. "Nothing worth talking about," he said.

Many players sit out voluntary organized team activities as one of their only sources of leverage when hoping for a long-term extension in a contract year. Lewan decided quickly that wasn't how he was going to go about his situation this offseason.

"I guess that's who he is. He loves ball. It shows," Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. "The more guys that we can get that are here with some energy, some excitement, some talent, the better."

Lewan certainly doesn't lack for energy. He is the Titans' biggest personality, often playing the bodyguard role for the team and Mariota. Lewan's nasty streak shows up often -- occasionally after the whistle. He's also one of the team's most important leaders and voices.

By all accounts, he seems to be someone the Titans want to invest in long term. And as for now, both sides seem willing to wait.

"When it comes to this kind of stuff, that's why I have an agent. I don't give them 3 percent to sit on their ass. I'm being serious," Lewan said. "If they want to go, and Jon wants to call and they want to have a conversation, I'm more than willing to, but I'm not going to move forward any in my life not focusing on football. That's the main, most important thing, and I can't lose track of what is important, and that's playing football."

One player with a similar situation is Falcons' left tackle Jake Matthews, who is also set to play out his fifth-year option if Atlanta doesn't sign him to an extension this offseason. Lewan and his agents will be watching that situation closely.

Neither Solder nor Matthews has made a Pro Bowl. Lewan has been selected in each of the past two seasons.

It's entirely possible Tennessee is waiting out Atlanta's potential deal with Matthews or vice versa. But the price for left tackles seems likely only to go up considering the dearth at the position.

A little farther down the line, Titans right tackle Jack Conklin (the No. 8 overall pick in 2016) could be due an extension as early as 2019. And Mariota's deal, if he has a strong Year 4 like the Titans hope, could reach nine figures. This all factors into Tennessee's decision regarding when to pay who and how much.

One element that doesn't work in Lewan's favor is his 2018 salary. Because he fell out of the top 10 of the 2014 draft (he was pick No. 11), he gets paid the average of the third through 25th highest-paid players at his position, which is $9.341 million. Matthews gets paid the average of the top-10 left tackles -- $12.496 million -- because he was the sixth pick in that same draft. The fifth-year option was put in place to encourage early extensions, but Lewan's salary is low enough that it doesn't significantly hurt the Titans' 2018 salary cap.

Either way, former NFL agent Joel Corry, a contract and salary-cap analyst for CBS Sports, says the Titans "may have to set the market at offensive tackle" with a long-term deal for the 26-year-old Lewan. That would mean surpassing Solder's deal.

The Titans do have a history of locking up homegrown players. Last August they rewarded defensive lineman Jurrell Casey with a four-year, $60.4 million extension -- including $40 million in guarantees -- even though Casey had two years left on his deal. A new contract for Lewan could see him rival Casey as the Titans' highest-paid player in terms of gross money, guarantees and maybe even average yearly salary. And given Lewan's value, it likely would be worth it.

"If the contract is going to get done, it's going to get done. If not, I understand -- it's a business," Lewan said. "It's cool to look at numbers and 'what if,' but at the end of the day, I've got to play ball. I've got to be the best left tackle I can be, the best left tackle in the NFL."