The market situation for wide receivers has changed markedly, especially in this NFL offseason. Their importance has grown and it is now easier for some teams to give up any stars. The reasons for this are complex.
The 2022 offseason was unlike any other offseason in recent memory. The current offseason is marked by aggressive traits that were simply not known in the NFL.
And while it’s ultimately the quarterbacks and contracts that will be remembered because they have the biggest impact on the success – or failure – of any team, this offseason was particularly indicative of the consideration and evaluation of wide receivers.
Wide receiver has long been considered one of the premium positions, although the pay for such positions has not differed significantly from other positions. Broad receivers have been important players, especially over the past decade, as the passing game has become more prominent. More and more teams have understood that passes are simply more effective than the outdated focus on the running game.
And yet, the main focus was always on QB. As a result, quarterback salaries have risen sharply in recent years. A trend that has risen sharply since Patrick Mahomes’ contract was extended. When Mahomes signed his new ten-year contract with the Chiefs for $ 450 million (plus bonuses) in the summer of 2019, he set the standard. And most importantly, he opened the locks for other QBs in this league.
Mahomes was the first quarterback to average more than $ 40 million a year. Right now, there are seven QBs earning at least as much – Aaron Rodgers even cracked $ 50 million with his new deal in Green Bay. And with Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow and Kyler Murray, the next members of this club are likely to follow soon.
NFL: The league’s paid quarterbacks
|player||team||Total contract (dollars)||Average salary (dollars)|
NFL: No arguments against mega-contracts for top stars
The teams simply have no arguments against it, especially as the new TV contracts come into force in the coming year and the total turnover in the league will increase by several billion dollars.
But back to the wide receivers in this league, where a marked market change can now most recently be seen. In the last few years, a couple of broadband receivers have touched $ 100 million in total contract value. Amari Cooper even reached that with the Dallas Cowboys. He gets an average of $ 20 million a year for his ongoing contract – though now in Cleveland.
This summer, three recipients were added, earning at least $ 100 million in total – and Stefon Diggs received a total of $ 96 million as part of a contract extension with Bills.
Diggs now earns an average of $ 24 million a year and ranks fifth among wide receivers in current rankings. In front of him are Tyreek Hill ($ 30 million on average), Davante Adams ($ 28 million), DeAndre Hopkins ($ 27.25 million) and most recently AJ Brown ($ 25 million). What is striking here is that all of these players, including Diggs, did not sign these agreements with the team that originally drafted them. What’s more, with the exception of Diggs, the agreements came about largely immediately after a trade.
NFL: The league’s highest paid wide receivers
|player||team||Total contract (dollars)||Average salary (dollars)|
|by Andre Hopkins||Cardinals||54,500,000||27,250,000|
Top players typically do not enter the free agent market in the NFL unless someone does something wrong – or a player is desperate to leave. And so, even more than ever, the trading market is an important part of today’s NFL team building strategy.
And it’s not just since the Rams finally won the Super Bowl after ultra-aggressive trades. But this triumph underscores the idea that team building through the draft is probably no longer the undisputed best way.
NFL: Aggressive trades are coming into vogue
Aggressive trading is now becoming something of a fad, and as a result, this year separates the wheat from the chaff quite markedly, if you will. We are talking about teams that want to win with the proven best players in the league, and teams that seem to be happy to compete without having the absolute will to do everything in their power to get success.
Look at the teams that gave up their star receivers this spring. It all started with the Cowboys, who eventually abandoned their top receiver Cooper under the pretext of small cap spaces. Part of that was the still-absurd decision to make Zeke Elliott the highest paid running back in the NFL at the time – his 2022 cap hit is $ 18.2 million, a record for a running back. But we had already discussed this explanation in detail at the time.
And no matter how legitimate it may seem at first glance, it is ultimately hypocritical. For the truth is that cap space is just an excuse. If teams also want to find cap room, they can do that too. Be it with contract restructuring or invalid years with shorter new contracts. Or you get rid of inherited burdens. But too little cap space should never be an acceptable explanation for a team giving away its top player, especially for fans of a team.
The Cowboys were followed by the Chiefs with Hill, the Packers with Adams, and on the first day of the draft, the Titans with Brown. And especially the Brown deal showed very well what the team’s motivation was: It was about saving money – real money, not attic space!
NFL: Titans send AJ Brown to Philadelphia
The Titans sent what is probably their best offensive player, to Philly for a first-round pick. With the said pick, they then got a similar receiver type in the Treylon Burks, which will probably lower the quality significantly in the receiving corps compared to Brown. But so does he just Brown cost $ 16 million – a total of over the next four years – in return, Brown collected a signature bonus from the Eagles that is more than double.
The Titans opted for the cheaper option, which probably also means that their dominance in the AFC South is already a thing of the past after two division titles in a row – the Colts have upgraded well and who knows what the Texans and Jaguars will do in the current phase of their rebuilds.
The Chiefs did not want to pay Hill enough more than the Packers did Adams. And then they also chose the much cheaper route. However, it is unknown at this time what he will do after leaving the post. The Titans have Ryan Tannehill, whose potential successor they have just drafted in Malik Willis. And Tannehill’s contract could theoretically end relatively painlessly after the upcoming season.
This offseason results in the following status quo: In addition to quarterbacks – this year Wilson and Watson – wide receivers are now also a position where teams are very motivated to spend really great resources on absolute top people. Anyone who has not filled these positions with top-notch staff must make an effort to do so.
NFL: Abundance of top talent brings new opportunities
And the fact that this trend could even occur is simply due to the fact that a host of highly talented wide receivers are now streaming into the league via draft every year. It is not just the big Power 5 colleges that have recognized the value of an explosive offense.
Even a traditionalist like Nick Saban in Alabama has put a lot more emphasis on recruiting top players in the passing game over the last two to three years to eventually win shootouts. Therefore, wide receivers are always better encouraged from an early age and come into the NFL “ready” accordingly.
The teams themselves have a very large selection when it comes to future stars. And it again opens up the possibility for those franchises that do not want to win with all their might right away, to sell a potential top recipient at a high value and bring the next star out of college in the future.
Hill, Adams and Co. have benefited from this new market situation, and so have probably their new teams. How much the losing teams will ultimately suffer under these decisions is still unknown. But it should already be clear now that the end of the road has not yet been reached.
Deebo Samuel and DK Metcalf are currently fighting for new top contracts with the Niners and Seahawks. And they will probably also move into the now established economic spheres that their pioneers have already reached. And maybe even without trade.