Another day, another dose of big-name drama in the NFL. Just over a week after Stefon Diggs landed a lucrative extension with the Bills, three other star wide receivers are angling for new contracts, with Deebo Samuel, A.J. Brown and Terry McLaurin reportedly prepared to sit out their respective teams’ offseason programs absent long-term deals. So what’s next? Why is this happening? Here’s everything you need to know about the situation:
Why do they want new contracts?
Because in a matter of months, the entire wide receiver market has changed. None of the three at hand — Brown, McLaurin, Samuel — are as proven as the guys who commanded top dollar this offseason (Tyreek Hill, Davante Adams). But they are younger, and they are proven, Pro Bowl-caliber No. 1 targets. Yes, they could take their chances at look for big paydays as free agents after the 2022 season, but all three enter this year averaging an annual pay under $2 million. In a market where even some No. 3 receivers are netting $10+ million per year, they’re simply looking to get a head start on deserved raises.
What will they cost on new deals?
It’s tough to pinpoint each guy’s value considering the disparity in deals this offseason. Adams, for example, is consistently one of the game’s best players at his position, so the Raiders giving him $28M per year was a massive but understandable investment. Christian Kirk, on the other hand, got $18M per year from the Jaguars as clearly a projected No. 1. We’d expect the floor for Brown, McLaurin and Samuel to be somewhere around $20M per year, which is what fellow starters Chris Godwin and Mike Williams got from the Buccaneers and Chargers, respectively. Brown and McLaurin, being more traditional outside starters, may argue they deserve closer to the $26M annual price tag of Diggs, but the Panthers’ D.J. Moore, a similarly accomplished up-and-comer, recently “settled” for $20.6M per year, perhaps limiting their ceiling.
What happens next?
Both player and team have a role here. The preferred outcome for all sides would be contract resolutions. But if extensions prove too costly or risky, it’ll first be up to each receiver to decide if he’s willing to incur financial penalties for a legitimate holdout — into mandatory minicamp, training camp or even preseason games. If that happens, the teams may be more inclined to field interest from potential trade partners, making like the Chiefs and Packers and selling their top weapons in exchange for both draft picks and long-term salary cap space.
Who is most likely to get paid?
Let’s go with Deebo Samuel. The 49ers may not have had a ton of financial flexibility this offseason, but they’re projected to have nearly $60M in 2023 cap space, and more importantly, Samuel has established himself as something of an offensive catalyst for Kyle Shanahan. Yes, the coach has proven capable of getting production from just about any running back, but that only makes it more likely San Francisco would be willing to invest in Samuel as the hybrid star and take its chances at the other spots. Deebo likes playing for the 49ers, and the team needs building blocks for the start of the Trey Lance era. Even if Samuel’s not a prototypical outside WR1 (and even that notion is probably exaggerated), he’s perfect for the system he’s in. It makes sense.
Who is most likely to be dealt?
Not a single one of the three is presently likely to be traded, but if we had to pick, we’d go with A.J. Brown. The young wideout has publicly lamented his name’s circulation in trade rumors, but the reality is, Tennessee is built from the ground up, relying mightily on a smash-mouth run game, with or without Derrick Henry. There’s also Brown’s recent injury history, and the looming challenge to identify a long-term quarterback, with the pricey Ryan Tannehill becoming expendable after 2022. Tennessee’s addition of Robert Woods and Austin Hooper this year would still allow them to vie for a playoff run.