The other night during the Dolphins loss once again the thought of Mike Wallace being underutilized/overhyped was afloat on Twitter. I was not a fan of the contract the Dolphins gave Wallace, but the repeated comments made me to consider if the wide receiver market as a whole is going to decline this season much in the way the cornerback and defensive end market did in 2013.
Since 2011 there have been a number of big contracts signed at the wide receiver position and this year in particular featured a number of free agents including Wallace, Dwayne Bowe, Victor Cruz, and Greg Jennings. Here is a look at who we have estimated to be the 15 highest paid players at the position and what their projected production is this season:
|Annual Value||Proj Rec||Proj Yards|
The average production for the group is 69 receptions for 955 yards. Now that number could rise if Percy Harvin comes back strong from injury in the last 7 games, but for the most part 4 of the top 7 salaried players are financial busts at the position. Those seven players represent the top tier of the market. Johnson is justifying the cost while Brandon Marshall is always consistent every year as is Vincent Jackson. The bottom 8 has 4 busts though Roddy White has more than justified his contract over the last three or four years.
Essentially we are looking at paying over $10 million a year for a 50/50 shot at having a player that justifies the big investment. That sounds a lot like the NFL draft except with a far more money being spent. That makes me think that downgrading the entire position is a reality next season.
In terms of per game yardage this season the top 15 includes eight players on rookie contracts (Julio Jones, Justin Blackmon. AJ Green, Josh Gordon, Demaryius Thomas, Torrey Smith, Alshon Jeffery and Eric Decker), one player on a low cost deal (Jordy Nelson), and four lower upper salaries (Andre Johnson, DeSean Jackson, Antonio Brown, and Pierre Garcon). That leaves just two elite salaried players (Marshall and C. Johnson) to make the list. If we remove those who played 5 or less we add one lower upper salary (Cruz) and one rookie (Randall Cobb) to replace two rookie contracts.
This season is not really an aberration. Here are the top 15 players in yards per game sorted by contract. Elite would be a player earning over $10 million a year, high end over $8 million, low is all other veterans while rookies are those on rookie deals.
I tend to think that the performance this season of the big money signings might be a tipping point in the way some teams approach free agents. With a few notable free agents and a handful of players in potential extension scenarios in 2014 I guess we’ll see if teams continue to spend high or bring the top end of the market back down into the $9 million per year or less range.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.