Best & Worst 2015: The Best Wide Receiver Contracts

For the last two seasons I have done a summer “Best and Worst” contracts for each team in the NFL, but I decided this year to put that on hold since it recycles so many players and instead take a positional approach to the concept. So during the course of the summer I’ll do my choices for the top three and bottom three contracts at each position from a team perspective. As usual the rules are no rookie contracts allowed in the selection. Here are my selections for the best wide reciever contracts.

Julian Edelman, New England Patriots (4 years, $17 million, $6 million fully guaranteed)

There may be better deals than this, including Jordy Nelsons recent contract that even at $9.7 million is a bargain, but I thought this was a good one to focus on because it represented a team not getting carried away with one big season. Edelman came out of nowhere to go from looking like the odd man out in New England to a 1,000 yard receiver in 2013. It would have been easy for a team to immediately go upward in salary for a player like that, but the Patriots wisely didn’t do that.

The Patriots essentially treated Edelman as a low level two or high level three, which is what his history dictated. They didn’t overvalue what they considered a possible outlier and worked out a contract that gave them an easy escape after one season if it was indeed a fluke. This essentially piggybacked off the contract the Eagles gave Riley Cooper except with lower guarantees.

Edelman should have had some additional leverage especially when considering the Patriots signed Danny Amendola, who ended up far less productive, to a better contract, but it seemed as if things never got into that salary range. Edelman even ended up with over 15% of his total contract value tied to injury due to his past problems. Edelman continues to perform and at a cap charge of just $4.6 million he should still be a very good value this season for the Patriots.

Emmanuel SandersEmmanuel Sanders, Denver Broncos (3 Years, $15.85 million, $6 million fully guaranteed)

This has turned into one of the great steals in the NFL by the Broncos. This is the type of contract and player target that other teams should study. The Broncos allowed a high priced player, Eric Decker, to leave, and projected the ability to replace the output for $3 million a year less.  This is self scouting at it’s best by identifying the real drivers of performance to be the quarterback and number 1 wide receiver and finding competent players to overachieve based on contract status.

The base value of Sanders deal was $15 million and it could have been nothing more than a one year deal had he underperformed. The cost to cut or trade is minimal in the final two years of the contract which fit in perfectly with the uncertain nature of the teams QB situation.

Sanders went on to have a tremendous season in 2014, gaining 1,400 yards and scoring 9 times, easily replacing Decker’s production. Decker, without the benefit of the Broncos offensive personnel, failed to gain 1,000 yards. This is a steal for the Broncos.

Antonio BrownAntonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers (5 years, $41.96 million, $8.5 million guaranteed)

Was this contract somewhat risky when it was signed?  Sure. Brown had all of two seasons under his belt, one of which was essentially a washout season, when the Steeler effectively made him one of the top, if not the top, compensated “number 2” receivers on the market. But sometimes such risks pay off and they paid off big for Brown.

Seeing what was shaping in the market around wide receivers, the Steelers knew they were going to be in a difficult position. The receiver market had just been turned upside down by the ludicrous contract extensions handed out to Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson. A trickle down effect was expected and the Steelers were feeling that pinch with Mike Wallace who was their “number 1” at the time and looking for a mega deal.  There were many stories about what the Steelers truly offered Wallace, some saying they low balled him and other saying they were being wise with their money. Either way it set a cap of sorts for the team, such that when they instead approached Brown about an extension, it made the contract look incredible. An offer that almost nobody could refuse.

They were right about the market as Wallace hit it big in Miami as did many other players that next year. Percy Harvin’s near $13 million per year contract extension would have set a bar for any player that looked to be a top tier player with unique talents, like Brown. Though the Steelers have reworked the contract multiple times for cap purposes, Brown’s first $10M cap hit won’t occur until 2016. The contract is essentially discounted by at least 30% over what would now be market value.  He’s still tied up for three years and the costs are reasonable because they began the process of prorating the money sooner rather than later. The Steelers will likely extend him again at some point, but as long as its done with multiple years remaining, they should continue to get great value from Brown.

Questions about this article? Reach Jason Fitzgerald on Twitter at @jason_otc