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Why Talent Influx Eventually Affect Ballooning NFL WR Contracts?

  • Joe Marino
  • August 16, 2022
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As our scouting department gets deeper into our summer scouting process, I continue to find talent at the wide receiver position that I really like. Headlined by Kayshon Boutte, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and Jordan Addison, the rising crop of receivers in the 2023 NFL Draft is loaded. When our preseason process is concluded in the coming weeks, I will likely have a top-three-round grade on nearly 20 receivers entering the 2022 season. 

While it appears that this is a special group of receivers, it’s par for the course in recent years when it comes to what has been supplied to the NFL through the draft. And it’s not just first-round talents like Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith, Justin Jefferson, and CeeDee Lamb, either. The impressive part of what college football is grooming for the NFL is how many non-first-round talents are delivering major impacts. A notable chunk of the league’s premier wide receivers is a who’s who of day-two picks including the likes of Deebo Samuel, A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf, Terry McLaurin, Tee Higgins, Michael Pittman, Cooper Kupp, and Chris Godwin among many others. 

The influx of talent at the receiver position makes sense. It’s a glamorous position that is highlighted in the modern era of football given the rule changes that have led to the most prolific passing offenses in NFL history. Those dynamics have led to more passing at the middle and high school levels which is fueled by 7-on-7 passing clinics and the adoption of spread offenses. Gone are the days of attending a high school football game on a Friday night and it being sweep left, sweep right, dive, and option plays. Because of that, receivers get to the NFL with more reps and development than ever before.

With all of that said, I find the relationship between how much the NFL is willing to pay wide receivers in comparison to what appears to be a consistently steady well of talent through the draft to not be in alignment. This offseason, a whopping 11 receivers signed an extension that pays them an average annual salary of $20-plus million per season—that doesn’t include the contracts of Brandin Cooks or Diontae Johnson, who came in just shy of the mark. In 2021, only three receivers met that criteria.

The boom in pay for receivers is stunning and in the overall landscape of position groups earning high-end salaries, it significantly stands out. Here’s a breakdown of each position and how many players are earning an average annual salary of $20-plus million per season:

  • Quarterback: 15
  • Running Back: 0
  • Wide Receiver: 14
  • Tight End: 0
  • Offensive Line: 3
  • EDGE: 7
  • Interior DL: 6
  • Linebacker: 0
  • Cornerback: 3
  • Safety: 0 

There is one less receiver earning $20-plus million per season than quarterbacks and double that of the next highest position. Not including quarterbacks, receivers (14) have just five fewer $20-plus million per season players than every other position group combined.

Despite the massive contracts being handed out to so many players, not every team has been willing/able to accommodate the salary commitment. This offseason, receivers were traded left and right, including first-round picks (and more) for the likes of Tyreek Hill, Davante Adams, A.J. Brown, and Marquise Brown, not to mention Robert Woods, Amari Cooper, and DeVante Parker being shipped to new teams.

While the value in the draft has been significant at the receiver position, teams are paying veterans at a rapid pace and in some cases, doing so while parting with premium draft capital. All of the data surrounding the receiver position adds up in a way that is uncommon in the NFL. But one thing is clear; the NFL is placing a premium value on the receiver position and it’s skyrocketing at a rapid pace.

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Joe Marino