The wide receiver contract market has been booming. It seems as if every superstar now is either paid handsomely or is holding out to get there after this offseason of moves. They have Christian Kirk of the Jacksonville Jaguars to thank for that- he hasn’t exactly performed to the level of an elite receiver, yet he still was handed a 4-year, $72 million contract, leaving game-changing players like Deebo Samuel or Terry McLaurin feeling like they’re getting paid for pennies on the dollar. Along with Kirk, Davante Adams was given a 5-year, $141 million deal by Vegas, Stefon Diggs was given a 4-year, $104 million extension, and perhaps the most shocking move was Tyreek Hill getting a 4-year, $120 million deal with the Dolphins after the Chiefs traded him away for a haul of draft picks. With the receiver market exploding, the contracts are only going to rise for such an impactful position.\
NFL franchises are beginning to realize the amount of money it’s going to take to keep a receiver on the team satisfied with their deal, and it’s also a position they’re confident enough that they can replace at a cheaper cost as long as they have the quarterback. The Packers traded away Davante knowing he would require that massive deal and they already had to pay Aaron Rodgers. The Cowboys cut Amari Cooper to save money on a position that already was considered an embarrassment of riches. The Chiefs sent away Tyreek Hill in his absolute prime of his career for draft capital anticipating the contract that would be required and already having Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce on the books. Mahomes is locked up on a 10-year, $450 million, Kelce on a 4-year, $57.25 million deal at two of the largest contracts ever for their positions, so some cleaning up on the payroll was needed.
In a copycat, trend-setting league, the Chiefs’ method they used with the Tyreek deal could be yet another method in team-building that takes over in the near future if proven successful.
In the Hill deal, the Chiefs acquired FIVE draft picks: a 2022 first round pick, a second round pick, a fourth round pick, and a fourth and sixth round pick in 2023. With Hill gone, the Chiefs now have the opportunity to use those picks on cheap rookie contracts at the position to replace him in what is considered a loaded wide receiver draft this year. According to CBS Sports, 9 are projected to go within the first two rounds. Depending on who takes who, that would give the Chiefs the opportunity to build around options like Arkansas’s Treylon Burks, Ohio State’s Chris Olave, Georgia’s George Pickens, Penn State’s Jahan Dotson, or Alabama’s Jameson Williams. It’s clear that the Chiefs have already got the hard part of finding the quarterback, so they’re willing to go with the potential long-term gain of pairing him with a younger target since Mahomes is only 26.
We’ve seen rookie wide receivers create an impact on the offense instantaneously and change the game no matter how old they are now. We’re coming off a season where Ja’Marr Chase was such an important part of the offense that the Bengals went from 6 wins in two years to the Super Bowl. The year prior, Justin Jefferson set the rookie receiving record with the most yards in a single season since the merger at 1,400, and Chase broke it just the next year at 1,455. The production rate of young targets has never been more effective more quickly, and the Chiefs recognize that.
They don’t feel the need to pay Tyreek Hill $120 million at an older age than a rookie if they draft a duo like Chris Olave and Jahan Dotson that comes in and works out with Mahomes at a cheaper rate and a younger age. If they have a draft that a group of skill position players that can make up for the losses of Tyreek and load the receiver room, the Chiefs are going to be seen as long-term team-building savants.
This could end up impacting the way that teams treat superstar wide receivers on the team and the way rosters are constructed. Sure, if you have a quarterback that isn’t quite the caliber of a Mahomes that will require a massive deal, it helps to have a big name wide receiver locked up, and you can pay him that big money. However, if rookie receivers are coming in and putting up these numbers at a dime a dozen with a strong quarterback at the helm, we could see teams trade their star and load up on the young skill players more often. AJ Brown, DK Metcalf, and Deebo Samuel are just a few receivers with expiring contracts coming up, and with the money rolling into that position group after this offseason, they are going to expect to get PAID. To cut some cost on the payroll, if the Chiefs draft receivers that have instantaneous production and it looks like a smart move, we could see other teams model their roster moves in a similar fashion for years to come.
This could be one of the new roster trends that lasts for a long time in the NFL if proven successful.