Under the Cap: Top Ten Wide Receivers

Under the Cap: Top Ten Wide Receivers
Under the Cap: Top Ten Wide Receivers
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

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)
Rank Player Club Age at
Guarantee Guar./
New Money
Prev. Year
1 Ochocinco, Chad CIN 28 4/20/2006 2 $8.5m $4.3m 39.5% $21.5m $10.8m $19.3m 2
2 Smith, Steve CAR 27 5/8/2007 3 $9.3m $3.1m 29.5% $31.5m $10.5m $23.5m 15
3 Fitzgerald, Larry ARI 24 3/25/2008 4 $32.1m $8.0m 80.3% $40.0m $10.0m $33.0m 8
4 Bryant, Antonio TB 27 2/26/2009 1 $9.9m $9.9m 100.0% $9.9m $9.9m -- 8
5 Johnson, Calvin DET 21 8/3/2007 6 $28.3m $4.7m 51.1% $55.5m $9.3m $25.6m --
6 Williams, Roy DAL 26 10/18/2008 5 $27.0m $5.4m 60.0% $45.0m $9.0m $27.0m 43
7 Moss, Randy NE 31 3/3/2008 3 $15.0m $5.0m 55.6% $27.0m $9.0m $27.0m 1
8 Jennings, Greg GB 25 6/24/2009 3 $16.3m $5.4m 61.9% $26.3m $8.8m $26.3m 12
9 White, Roddy ATL 27 8/10/2009 5 $18.6m $3.7m 43.5% $42.7m $8.5m $31.1m 3
10 Evans, Lee BUF 27 10/3/2008 4 $18.3m $4.6m 55.3% $33.0m $8.3m $27.0m 68

Next week, we'll analyze the top ten starter contracts at tight end.

Follow J.I. Halsell on Twitter: @SalaryCap101


18 comments, Last at 03 Feb 2010, 1:26pm

2 Re: Under the Cap: Top Ten Wide Receivers

I submit that in the light of this list the 8 year, $60m contract, with guarantees of only $1.875m/year representing 25% of the total value, signed by Andre Johnson in 2007, looks preposterously team-friendly. Good job Rick Smith. Bad job Johnson's agent. He'll be 34 when the team expires, and will be cuttable without unacceptable bonus amortization by the time there's any serious risk of age-related decline. In other words, the team can keep him at an affordable price throughout his peak, however long that may be, and cut him without serious consequence whenever it ends.

5 Re: Under the Cap: Top Ten Wide Receivers

Assuming of course, that Johnson doesn't catch 'WR Disease' and throw his toys out of the pram in an effort to get a contract more in line with his peers. I know nothing about Johnson, and may be doing him a huge disservice, but that contract has the potential to turn ugly.

Phil Simms is a Cretin.

11 Re: Under the Cap: Top Ten Wide Receivers

I don't think it's even an issue of doing him a "disservice." There's a big difference between enthusiastic cooperation and merely fulfilling the terms of the contract. If Johnson eventually expresses dissatisfaction with his contract, the team would be much better served by either giving him a fair concession or releasing him than forcing him to plod through to the end, regardless of their legal rights.

17 Re: Under the Cap: Top Ten Wide Receivers

Hahahaha I am a lions fan and im glad we got rid of that bum Roy williams them cowboys be acting slow but it worked out for us they gave us their picks 1st 3rd and etc. nd the real diamond was calvin johnson. This list is crazy first off ochocinco is overpaid he arguably is a top 10 reciever likewise with Steve smith even though his quarterback is terrible...I know Roddy White jumped this list he is now the 2nd highest paid reciever but he can play for real I expect to see other great recievers on this list...Desean Jackson he is amazing great reciever, explosive kick returner prbly the most explosive player in the nfl...Next Brandon Marshall he has great hands setting a NFL record 21 catches in one game and had another for like 16 catches he is leaving the Broncos so expect for him to be high on this list...and finally Dwayne Bowe I dont know what it is but I like this guy he has great hands can make big plays and all this on the CHIEFS expect for him to get big money

12 Re: Under the Cap: Top Ten Wide Receivers

Actually, Johnson's deal was for 6 new years with total new money of $42.6 million for an average per year of $7.1 million, ranking him 13th amongst starting WRs. His guarantee of $15 million over 6 new years, represents $2.5 million guaranteed per year. All of that said, your point is well taken, Houston does have a value in Johnson given his productivity.

J.I. Halsell
Salary Cap Analyst | "Under the Cap"
Twitter | @SalaryCap101

3 Re: Under the Cap: Top Ten Wide Receivers

Yeah, it's not that the money to Williams, by itself, is so large that it is going to greatly impede cap flexibility for the Cowboys. What hurts is that the guy just isn't very good, and gets hurt a lot, but is receiving enough on a guaranteed basis, and so much was traded for him, that The Face will likely be very reluctant to admit to error.

Think about how the Cowboys could have looked if they had not invested so much in wide receivers with glaring faults.

7 Re: Under the Cap: Top Ten Wide Receivers

Maybe I'm alone on this, but I actually think that Lee Evans' value could nearly equal his contract if he had a decent quarterback. He put up some pretty good numbers with, and let this digest a bit, J.P. Losman as his qb. The same J.P. Losman that is currently tearing up the USFL.
His other QB, Trent Edwards, just doesn't have the arm or ability to take advantage of Evans' talents. If you can't go vertical in the passing game, it doesn't make much sense to have Lee Evans as your biggest offensive threat.

13 Re: Under the Cap: Top Ten Wide Receivers

Consider that JP Losman and Lee Evans have hooked up for four touchdowns of over eighty yards. That's the most of any duo in history.

If he can do that with JP Losman, what do you think he could do with Peyton Manning? It's perfectly reasonable to suggest that Evans might be somewhere in the same ballpark as Reggie Wayne in terms of ability.

9 Re: Under the Cap: Top Ten Wide Receivers

It's interesting to take this article, and open up current received leaders next to it. Not much of a similarity. Having a high priced diva doesn't always mean having a productive player, or a good team.

14 Re: Under the Cap: Top Ten Wide Receivers

DVOA tends to underrate #1 receivers, particularly those who aren't on great teams because they get targeted a lot when they are not open. So catch percentage goes down. Individual DVOA also does not reflect the contribution of #1 receivers in terms of dictating double teams, rolled coverage, etc., that make it easier for other parts of the offense to succeed.

10 Re: Under the Cap: Top Ten Wide Receivers

Unbelievable that Andre isn't on that list. It would be interesting to run real value of contracts (guaranteed money?, likely to be paid money?) versus DVOA to find the best deals position by position. Hopefully, Rick Smith will use some of the extra cash to sign Owen Daniels, Kevin Walter and most importantly De Meco Ryans when it comes time. Dunta Robinson can take a walk as far as I'm concerned.

18 Re: Under the Cap: Top Ten Wide Receivers

I agree with Legendkiller Roy Williams is by far the biggest flop on this list...as i am looking at this list what the hell is Antonio Bryant doing here this guy is not even a top 20 WR he is defintly overrated/overpaid...What yall want me to say Lee Evans does NOT deserve that money I dont care if his quarterback is terrible he should be playing up to expectations look at the Lions reciever Calvin Johnson he got 1,000 yds. with that horrible qb Jon Kitna...To me expect to see Andre Johnson the guy is a monster and deserves to be the highest paid reciever a mix of fitzgerald with moss hahahhaaha.........After watching this season I like Desean Jackson, Brandon Marshall, Dwayne Bowe, and Pierre Garcon from the Colts guy has talent to be the NEXT big thing plus he doesnt hurt to have arguably the greatest QB all-time.