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Panthers 2021 season opener countdown: 72 days to go

We’re counting down the days until the Panthers kick off the 2021 season.

Tennessee Titans v Carolina Panthers Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

We’re 72 days away from the Carolina Panthers 2021 season opener, so that means today’s countdown piece is devoted to No. 72 on the roster — right tackle Taylor Moton.

Sooner or later, the Carolina Panthers are going to have to pay franchise right tackle Taylor Moton. The question is, how much are they going to pony up?

Moton enters 2021 as one of the NFL’s best tackles, and arguably the best right tackle. He has started every game at right tackle for the past three seasons (2018-20), playing 100 percent of the Panthers offensive snaps in 2020.

Pro Football Focus currently ranks Moton as the league’s 13th best tackle. Of those top tackles, only Tampa Bay’s Tristan Wirfs landed a higher grade among right tackles.

Both the Panthers and Moton are reportedly interested in discussing a potential contract extension, despite the Panthers using the franchise tag on Moton back in May.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen with the deal situation. Right now, I’m just focused on being the best Taylor Moton that I can be out on the field. Just focusing on camp and getting better day in and day out,” Moton said last week. “Ultimately, I’m just blessed to be in the building. I’m blessed to be a Panther.”

Experts around the Panthers saw the move as one of buying time. It’ll cost the team $13.75 million to keep Moton around for 2021, but it gives both sides more time to negotiate a new deal. The Panthers have until July 15 to sign Moton to a long-term contract before he is required to play the 2021 season under the franchise tag.

Moton is considered a future elite tackle, and many believe the Panthers would be crazy to let him go. We’re going to see over the 2021 season just how much of a jump he makes into the elite tackle many expect him to be.

Whether he’s reached the top 10 tackles in the game is up for honest debate. It might be more fair to argue that he’s firmly planted within the top 15 tackle group.

How much will he cost long-term?

Moton and his agent could gun for somewhere within the $14.5 to $15 million average annual value (AAV) rank.

At the 11th highest paid tackle, Taylor Decker makes $15 million AAV. One above him, tied for ninth spot is Nate Solder of the New York Giants and Donovan Smith of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, at an expensive $15.5 million.

Per Spotrac, the 12th to 15th highest-paid tackles are currently within the $14 million range. From 12th that’s D.J. Humphries ($14.583 million), Dion Dawkins ($14.575 million), Jake Matthews ($14.5 million) and Jack Conklin ($14 million).

If we go by PFF’s rankings, Moton is performing better than Dawkins, Matthews and Solder, but not as well as Humphries (PFF’s fourth-best tackle), Conklin (10th best tackle) and Decker (12th best tackle).

Purely judging by PFF ranking, an appropriate number could be somewhere around $14.5 to $14.75 million per year. On a four-year deal, that would work out to $58 to $59 million.

Other sources believe the deal may look closer to $14 million annually for three years, similar to what Jack Conklin received from the Cleveland Browns.