This off-season, three Pro Bowl wide receivers’ rookie contracts expired. None of them however, made it to free agency. Dez Bryant and Demarius Thomas were franchised, and Randall Cobb resigned with the Green Bay Packers prior to free agency. Jeremy Maclin was the best wide receiver to hit the open market, and he signed a 5-year, $55 million contract with the Kansas City Chiefs. In addition to Bryant and Thomas, four more Pro Bowl wide receivers’ contracts will be expiring after this season. A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Alshon Jeffery, and T.Y. Hilton are entering the final year of their rookie contracts.
A.J. Green and Julio Jones are playing out the 5th year option picked up by their clubs last off-season. As former top ten draft picks, Green and Jones’ salaries in 2015 are equivalent to the 2014 transition tag at wide receiver, which is $10.176 million. Alshon Jeffery and T.Y. Hilton on the other hand, were 2nd and 3rd round draft picks in 2012, and are being paid much less this season. Jeffery is making just over $1 million, while Hilton is being paid $1.542 million.
It’s unlikely that Green, Jones, Jeffery, or Hilton hit the open market in free agency next year. They are all Pro Bowl wide receivers, and will each be 27 years old or younger by March 2016. Their teams however, may not be inclined to extend them right now. They control their rights for the next three seasons, as the Collective Bargaining Agreement allows teams to franchise tag a player a maximum three consecutive seasons. Rather them signing them to a lucrative extension, they can evaluate them on a year-to-year basis.
It seems unlikely that Green and Jones each get extended before Dez Bryant and Demarius Thomas. Bryant and Thomas have more leverage considering their clubs control their rights for two seasons compared to three, and are playing at a higher salary this season, which is fully guaranteed. They all deserve to be compensated like a top five receiver, and would most likely use Calvin Johnson’s contract as a benchmark. Johnson is the NFL’s highest paid wide receiver at an average salary of $16.207 million. Mike Wallace, Vincent Jackson, Larry Fitzgerald, and Jeremy Maclin are paid 2nd-5th at the position. Their combined average salaries are roughly $11.27 million, which is considerably less than Megatron.
Calvin Johnson is paid considerably more than any other WR because at the time of his extension, nobody at the position was comparable in talent. Green, Jones, Bryant, and Thomas, have each narrowed the gap, and are all considerably more talented players than the rest of the top five highest paid at WR. They deserve to be compensated more closely to Johnson than Wallace, but their teams have been hesitant to extend them to such a lucrative contract just yet. However, one can make the argument that it would be a financially wise decision for those teams to resign their star wide outs before the salary cap continues to increase.
Jeffery and Hilton may show more eagerness to sign extensions this off-season because they are being paid at such low salaries compared to their value. Their 2015 cap numbers are very low however, with Jeffery’s being $1.447 million, and Hilton at $1.673 million. Over the next three seasons, the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts would be paying their star WRs less money when factoring in their low 2015 salaries and franchise tags in 2016 and 2017, compared to a contract extension. One incentive the Bears and Colts have in signing Jeffery and Hilton to contract extensions would be if they took less salary than the franchise tag estimate at WR in 2016. The same argument can be made for Green and Jones as well, but there is less risk for both of them to play out their contracts since they are each making over $10 million this year.