Under the Cap: Top Ten Wide Receivers
by J.I. Halsell
With the 49ers' Michael Crabtree finally agreeing to terms and Braylon Edwards being traded to the Jets, it is fitting that this week's installment of the position-by-position starter contract series will analyze the NFL's "diva" position, wide receiver.
Looking at the table below, it should be noted that the top five ranked contracts all have some sort of unique circumstance that surrounds them. The contracts of the Bengals' Chad Ochocinco and Panthers' Steve Smith were both contract extensions that were technically six years in duration. These extensions, however, netted Ochocinco and Smith only two and three new years, respectively. As a result of these early extensions, where there were three and four years remaining on their previous contracts, the average per year metric for these two players only evaluates the total new money earned in these contracts relative to the new years the players are committing to. The vast majority of contract extensions net four to six new years and typically occur with two years or less remaining on the previous contract; Ochocinco's and Smith's extensions are perhaps not accurate reflections of the market for a more traditional extension.
Larry Fitzgerald's current contract includes $32 million in guaranteed money. One may remember that over the first four years of his career, Fitzgerald had performed at such a high level on the field that he had escalated the non-guaranteed money due to him over the final two years of his rookie contract to $32 million. Moreover, Fitzgerald's cap numbers in the final two years of his rookie contract -- 2008 and 2009 -- were going to be $16.5 million and $19.2 million, respectively. To provide relief from these high cap numbers, the Cardinals and Fitzgerald agreed to rework his contract. Fitzgerald would receive the $32 million in guaranteed form; the resulting effect on Fitzgerald's cap numbers in 2008 and 2009 by virtue of cap accounting rules were cap relief (savings) of $9.5 million in 2008 and $8.5 million in 2009. In exchange for helping the club, not only did Fitzgerald get the $32 million truly guaranteed to him, but the Cardinals also agreed to forfeit their right to franchise or trade Fitzgerald, thereby guaranteeing that Fitzgerald will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2011 season. At that point, he'll be 28 years old and negotiating his third lucrative contract.
The Bucs' Antonio Bryant ranks fourth on the list, but keep in the mind that this represents his one-year contract under the franchise tag. Given that Bryant played at a high level in 2008 and has yet to achieve that same level of productivity in 2009 -- primarily due to a knee injury -- it was probably wise for the Bucs to not make an extended commitment to Bryant after 2008. It will be interesting to see what Bryant's market value is after 2009.
Calvin Johnson's contract is another example of a high first-round draft pick contract immediately making that player one of the highest paid players at his position.
The remaining contracts in the top ten are better indicators of where the wide receiver market is presently, as all five of these deals represent traditional contract extensions where the player had one year or less left on their previous contract. That said, it would appear that the next top-flight wide receiver to receive a lucrative contract renegotiation or extension (ie, Denver's Brandon Marshall) can expect a deal easily in excess of $9 million per year in new money. In terms of total guaranteed money, Dallas' Roy Williams received a player-friendly amount of $27 million; putting that into perspective, it's nearly what Detroit's Johnson got as the number two overall pick in the draft. Moreover, Williams' $5.4 million guarantee per year exceeds Johnson's $4.7 million per year. The Williams deal was also favorable for the player in that 60 percent of the total value was guaranteed. On the downside, Williams will be 31 years old when this contract expires. It is questionable whether Williams will still be playing at a high enough level at that point to secure yet another lucrative deal. One could make the argument that Williams has yet to play at a level that justifies this lucrative contract.
Greg Jennings' contract, from the player's perspective, is probably the best structured contract of this bunch, even more so than Williams' deal. First consider that Jennings' deal is only for three new years, so Jennings -- like Fitzgerald -- will be 28 years old when he'll have the opportunity to secure yet another lucrative deal. At age 28, there is a greater chance that one will be playing at a high level compared to age 31. Despite a $10.7 million difference in total guarantee, as a result of two fewer years of commitment, the Jennings deal equals Williams' $5.4 million guarantee per year. The Jennings deal guarantees 62 percent of the total new money, which also surpasses the Williams contract. Again, the biggest difference between the Jennings and Williams deals is the more favorable contract duration for Jennings; it appears that Jennings sacrificed some average per year and short-term total guarantee in exchange for a more favorable term and guarantee per year.
In case you're wondering, the Bills' Terrell Owens ranks 15th in average per year with his one-year contact for $6.5 million. Oakland's Darrius Heyward-Bey ranks 12th at $7.65 million per year, while Crabtree's reported average per year of $5.33 million ranks him 22nd, if you were to assume that he's a starter by year-end.
Here are the top ten starting wide receiver contracts in the league:
|Top Ten Starting Wide Receiver Contracts (in millions of dollars)|
Next week, we'll analyze the top ten starter contracts at tight end.
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