Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his notebook. Today's installment explores this offseason's contract explosion at the wide receiver position ...
If you want to know how general managers, head coaches and scouts view the importance of a position in the team-building process, simply follow the money. As a passing league in the modern era, the NFL has consistently paid a premium for passers, pass rushers and pass protectors. But this offseason, a bevy of wide receivers have joined the financial elite, christening the position as one of the marquee pieces of the championship puzzle.
Since March, a whopping 11 wideouts have signed contracts averaging at least $20 million per year. The latest beneficiary? Deebo Samuel, who just signed a three-year, $73.5 million deal to remain the San Francisco 49ers' No. 1 offensive threat.
Clearly, the WR marketplace has significantly changed in 2022. In fact, teams are not only paying bona fide No. 1 receivers what we used to call "quarterback money," but they are willing to give big bucks to fringe WR1/WR2 types. Just look at the cash collected by Mike Williams and Chris Godwin -- who each signed a three-year, $60 million deal in March -- and you can see how executives are breaking the bank to surround their quarterbacks with potent playmakers on the perimeter.
As a former player, I love seeing these young pass catchers cashing big checks. At the same time, the former scout in me wonders how many of them will be able to provide enough bang for the buck to encourage a continuation of this trend.
Consequently, I decided to examine the situations of all 11 receivers who just joined the $20 million club, assessing contracts, quarterbacks and coaching staffs. Here is my ranking -- in countdown style, from 11 to 1 -- of who'll provide the best value.
THE CONTRACT: Three years, $61.9 million ($20.6 million average per year).
This is a loaded list of top-tier playmakers, so there's definitely no shame in ranking 11th. The Panthers' WR1 might not be a household name, but he's a precise route runner with outstanding timing and rhythm. Most importantly, the fifth-year pro is a reliable pass catcher with strong hands and a fearless attitude. While his touchdown total (14 in 63 career games) leaves something to be desired, it is hard to score points when you are playing with sub-standard quarterbacks and play-callers. If the Panthers fix those issues, Moore will put up big numbers and finally get the recognition he deserves as a top-20 player at the position.
THE CONTRACT: Three years, $60 million ($20 million APY).
The sixth-year pro is an ideal No. 2 receiver in today's game. Checking in at 6-foot-1 and 208 pounds, Godwin has a knack for making the tough grab in a crowd. With a pair of 1,000-yard seasons under his belt and a solid overall game that continues to improve, the veteran pass catcher is a dependable option on the perimeter. Although a torn ACL could take away some of his speed and explosiveness, Godwin should continue to flourish as the Buccaneers' designated chain mover opposite Mike Evans.
THE CONTRACT: Three years, $60 million ($20 million APY).
Fresh off the second 1,000-yard season of his career, Keenan Allen's sidekick has emerged as one of the top deep-ball threats in the league, boasting a career average of 16.1 yards per catch. While plenty of teams would love a WR2 with Williams' gifts as a 50-50 ball specialist, it is hard to envision him supplanting his teammate as the No. 1 option in the passing game, given Allen's ridiculous route-running skills and pure "get open" ability.
THE CONTRACT: Three years, $70 million ($23.3 million APY).
McLaurin has put up impressive numbers despite playing with a revolving door at the quarterback position. The fourth-year pro already has a pair of 1,000-yard seasons under his belt, averaging nearly 14 yards per catch in a pedestrian offense that is unable to maximize his talents as a big-play threat with electric catch-and-run skills. If McLaurin ever plays with a top-notch quarterback, he will enter the conversation as a top-five receiver and look like one of the best bargains on this list.
THE CONTRACT: Three years, $72 million ($24 million APY).
The ultra-explosive touchdown maker is a problem for defenses lacking size or speed on the island. Possessing 4.3 speed at 6-4 and 235 pounds, Metcalf can run past or run over defenders in single coverage. And his improving route-running skills enable him to find the soft spots against zone coverage. Although the Seahawks' murky quarterback situation could mitigate his impact as a playmaker in 2022, Metcalf's potential as a big-play threat will continue to alter how opponents defend an offense intent on pounding the rock and throwing downfield.
THE CONTRACT: Four years, $100 million ($25 million APY).
The Eagles traded for Brown to alleviate the pressure on DeVonta Smith and provide Jalen Hurts with a catch-and-run beast. Although Brown and Smith will share the workload as WR1a and WR1b, the new guy in town possesses the size and strength to come down with 50-50 balls in the clutch. With defensive coordinators intent on slowing down Hurts and Co. on the ground, the addition of a big-bodied playmaker gives the Eagles an effective counter to the loaded boxes and single coverage they will face this season. How often Hurts connects with Brown could ultimately determine if the dual-threat playmaker remains Philadelphia's quarterback for the foreseeable future.
THE CONTRACT: Four years, $96 million ($24 million APY).
It is not a coincidence that Josh Allen became a top MVP candidate after Diggs was acquired to fill the Bills' WR1 role prior to the 2020 season. The crafty route runner wins against any coverage and his reliability has helped Allen learn to trust his playmakers in the passing game. With Allen's burgeoning confidence resulting in more aggressive play from the pocket, Buffalo's aerial attack has become must-see TV, with the flamethrower finding his No. 1 option early and often in games.
THE CONTRACT: Three years, $80 million ($26.7 million APY).
The reigning Super Bowl MVP and triple-crown receiver is the centerpiece of an offense that relies on his extraordinary skills as a chain mover. As a third-down/red-zone specialist with exceptional route-running skills and sticky hands, Kupp enables Sean McVay's imagination to run wild when crafting plays for No. 10. And he provides Matthew Stafford with a reliable playmaker to target in the clutch.
THE CONTRACT: Five years, $141.25 million ($28.25 million APY).
The route artisan joins an offense that was already dangerous with a pair of potent pass catchers in slot receiver Hunter Renfrow and tight end Darren Waller. No. 17's arrival on the outside makes the Raiders offense a true nightmare to defend, with an explosive aerial attack complementing a punishing running game spearheaded by Josh Jacobs. Given Josh McDaniels' creativity as a play caller and play designer, Adams' impact as the most important chess piece on the board sets the stage for Las Vegas to emerge as a Super Bowl contender for the next few seasons.
THE CONTRACT: Four years, $120 million ($30 million APY).
The hype is real when it comes to the six-time Pro Bowler's impact on Miami's offense. Hill's speed and explosiveness will not only lead to chunk plays for No. 10 himself, but they'll set up his teammates for big gains against overextended defenses. As one of the most feared big-play threats in the league, Hill's mere presence changes how opposing defenses will approach the Dolphins. With Jaylen Waddle opposite Hill and tight end Mike Gesicki on the inside, this is a track team of a receiving corps that'll keep defensive coordinators up late into the night.
THE CONTRACT: Three years, $73.5 million ($24.5 million APY).
The modern-day wing back is revolutionizing today's game as a hybrid RB/WR with big-play potential. Samuel's 1,770 scrimmage yards and 14 total touchdowns keyed San Francisco's seventh-ranked offense last season. With a dynamic athlete taking over at quarterback in Trey Lance, Kyle Shanahan could unveil a creative run-heavy scheme that maximizes No. 19's playmaking prowess as a runner/receiver.
Christian Kirk: Buy in before it's too late!
If you play fantasy football and are looking for an unheralded wide receiver -- at least in the fantasy realm -- to target in your draft, you might want to grab the Jaguars' new WR1, Christian Kirk. Despite the uproar surrounding the blockbuster deal (four years, $72 million) he signed this offseason, Kirk could put up ridiculous numbers as the go-to guy in an offense that is built around his talents as a playmaker.
Perhaps I am viewing the fifth-year pro's potential through teal-colored glasses -- FULL DISCLOSURE: I am the Jaguars' preseason TV color commentator and regular-season radio field analyst -- but Kirk should have plenty of opportunities to showcase his well-rounded game as the featured pass catcher in Jacksonville's offense. He is a versatile inside/outside wideout with outstanding route-running skills and sneaky RAC (run after catch) ability. Moreover, he is a high-IQ player with a toolbox that enables him to find soft spots in the zone and separate from defenders in bump-and-run coverage.
The combination of intelligence and explosiveness makes him a valuable chess piece in coach Doug Pederson's playmaker-friendly offense. Kirk can align in the slot to execute bubble screens, option routes and a variety of short crossing routes or run the complete route tree from an "X" (split end) or "Z" (flanker) position. Such versatility -- combined with the adaptability of Jacksonville's other pass catchers -- could enable the team to play musical chairs on the perimeter to create and exploit mismatches.
As part of my training camp tour for NFL Network, I had a chance to watch the Jaguars practice earlier this week, and Kirk stole the show. He was all over the field making plays, and you could see the bond forming between him and second-year QB Trevor Lawrence. While the skeptics will wonder how a veteran player without a 1,000-yard season on his résumé can evolve into a No. 1 receiver, it boils down to talent, opportunity and play design.
In Jacksonville, where there is no established No. 1 receiver, the door is wide open for Kirk to become the top target. And Pederson is a creative play-caller with a flexible system that creates easy catch chances for his best receivers. With a month to go before the start of the regular season, the team still has time to experiment and tinker with the scheme to ensure that No. 13 gets enough opportunities to make an impact once the games begin. I expect the Jaguars' new WR1 to put up big numbers in a system that should showcase his talents.
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