What a time to be a wide receiver. If you have ever caught a touchdown or two in an NFL season, or reached the lofty perch of, oh, 30 catches in a 16-game campaign, and happened to hit the free agent market in 2018, life is good. There was indeed a pot of gold on the other side of that rainbow.
Of all of the wild and wacky moves that took place during the "it's cool to negotiate with players on other rosters" window, or whatever the NFL wants to call it, the amount of money some marginal pass catchers pulled down has to be among the most noteworthy trends. It was hardly an isolated thing -- wide receivers who are less than household names began flying off the board well before the league year had even officially begun -- and by Tuesday night was a full-fledged, league-wide trend.
If you weren't over-paying for a borderline No. 2, No. 3 or No. 4 receiver, then you didn't have any cap money to spend. Because anybody with a little bit of room and a modicum of a need at receiver got in on the act. When the price to Donte Moncrief – who certainly has plenty of upside but whose only truly productive season was in 2015 – is $10 million, it's safe to say the receivers are doing quite well (excellent work by his agent, Joel Segal, to land that deal).at a guy like
Somehow the Jaguars reckoned that paying Marqise Lee (for a guy with eight career touchdown catches) was the best way to spend their money rather than retain Allen Robinson. Robinson, of course, despite coming off two lost years (one to poor production and the other to injury), but that was to be expected given his gifts and the 1,400-yard season under his belt.
But Sammy Watkins, who was drafted to be a No. 1 receiver but has proven in two places already not to be that, and who carries significant injury risk, ? Really? (I'll reserve any other adjectives until I get to see a full breakdown of the contract and can parse out the true guarantees, but man -- the Rams generally overspend to keep their own guys and wanted Watkins back, and they balked even needing receivers. That should tell you something.) Forget the fact of where he was drafted, and forget the fact the Rams traded a second-round pick for him before the 2017 season and consider the following: Watkins has 67 catches for 1,003 yards and 10 touchdowns over his past two seasons combined.
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I guess some of this makes sense when you consider that the rate of renting a young quarterback with roughly zero track record as a true starter hit $18 million a few years back with the rise of Brock Osweiler and Mike Glennon. Eventually there would be a similar pattern with receiver, right? If that's the cost of doing business with a total gamble of a quarterback, then the price of hoping and praying on the players there to prop them up in the passing game was going to take a leap, too. And so a year after Terrelle Pryor ended up settling for an $8 million prove-it contract off what appeared to be a breakthrough year in Cleveland in 2017, you now have to spend $10 million just to get Moncrief in your building (plus pay him two million more in incentives if he does get back to that 2015 form).
Throw in the fact that the Dolphins kicked off the receiver offseason by deciding to put an franchise tag on a guy who averaged 8.8 yards per catch last season (Jarvis Landry), and the utter lack of low-risk, blue-chip offensive playmakers available on this market, and add in the fact few receivers are drawing first-round grades from scouts in the draft, and you have the making of a feeding frenzy for pass catchers.
I mean, I love Paul Richardson's speed, and I get Washington , but the dude has never caught even 45 passes in a season or reached 750 yards and has started just 18 games in his career.
It didn't take long for the trickle-down economics to keep going. If you a team like the Browns (who ) or the Bears (a team with ample cap room that also hasn't won anything of note in a long time and is trying to build around a novice QB, as the Browns will be once they use a first-round pick on a passer), then splurging on the likes of Robinson and Taylor Gabriel is a more a mitigated gamble.
And for teams like the Ravens, desperate for pass catchers but with a very tight cap window and who seem torn between trying to win now and rebuilding, the consequences can be dire. Baltimore entered free agency with role guy Chris Moore and first-round bust Breshad Perriman as the only receivers on the roster, and quickly found out it was going to require $6.5 million per year to take a total flier and rent guys like John Brown and Ryan Grant. Yeah man, .
Brown has elite speed but has been constantly dogged by injuries. He caught just 21 balls for 299 yards last season and has just 50 catches for 816 yards and five touchdowns over the past two years combined. And Grant getting $14.5 million guaranteed (again, I want to see the entire contract with my own eyes) was another example of what a strong receiver's market this was; Grant has 84 catches for 985 yards and six touchdowns (averaging a modest 11.7 per catch) in his entire four-year career (hat tip to agent Rocky Arcineaux for his work here).
Which brings us to Jordy Nelson, .
Now with teams like the Raiders and Seahawks and, yeah, still the Ravens in need of receivers and all hot for him (along with the Saints, who lost Jimmy Graham to the Packers, which resulted in Nelson's release), well, how do you think the former All-Pro is going to fare on this open market? Other teams didn't think he'd be cut given his accomplishments and with Aaron Rodgers, but his surprise availability has teams chasing.
Given his resume, his age and declining speed should be of relatively little concern at a time like this. Can't blame him one bit for not taking a big pay cut to stay in Green Bay at a time when guys who haven't achieved in their careers what Nelson, who has gone over 1,200 yards four times and has at least 13 TDs in three seasons, did in his best season (98 catches for 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2015), are getting money thrown at them at a dizzying rate.
When the Raiders cut Michael Crabtree, he should do quite well, also. Maybe eventually some of the money will run out and veterans will have to settle for a few millions bucks to try to make a team if they are cut down the line. But it hasn't trended in that fashion yet -- we'll see what someone gives Pryor even despite his totally dismal 2017 showing -- and it's a bad time to be hard-pressed for receivers. And a very good time to be a free-agent receiver.