The free-agent market at wide receiver this year has been a total bust for players hoping to get paid in light of a brilliant draft class at the position.
Some years, the market can be unkind. For wide receivers waiting for their chance at a payday in free agency this year, the market has been brutal.
Last year at this time, there were four wide receivers locked into deals as long as the span between Presidential elections. On four consecutive days, wide receivers by the names of Adam Humphries (Tennessee), Cole Beasley (Buffalo), Tyrell Williams (Oakland), and Golden Tate (New York Giants) each landed four-year contracts just as free agency opened.
Between the four of them, only Tate had a single Pro Bowl season to his name (way back in 2014). Only one of them was even coming off of an 800-plus yard season. These were all complementary players to any offense, with skill sets set to come alongside already expensive players to elevate an offense even further. In case you’re curious, Beasley had the best season with his new team—the Bills—but he didn’t reach 800 yards and had only six touchdowns.
None of this even mentions the three-year contracts hauled in by Jamison Crowder or John Brown, each of which averaged over $9 million per year. Even last season’s one year deals were elevated. After all, the Indianapolis Colts made Devin Funchess a $10 million man.
All of this is important, because it’s not as if this year’s wide receiver class is any different than last year’s. So far, Robby Anderson has earned a two-year deal. So has Emmanuel Sanders. From there, it’s a wasteland of low-priced, one-year deals given to wide receivers hoping to play a kinder market next offseason. The idea of a four-year deal feels like the ultimate luxury, despite average receivers getting just one year ago.
[Note: We’re purposely excluding the insanity handed out by Bill O’Brien from the Houston Texans this offseason, because anyone paying attention to the whole will realize how out-of-bounds he is on every move made. He gave over $20 million to safety Eric Murray and, in this category, $27 million over three years to Randall Cobb.]
The reason you’re seeing Breshad Perriman take $10 million for one year and Demarcus Robinson just over $2 million for the same is the amount of exclamation points observed over the looming wide receiver draft class. Last year, several teams were able to plug and play talented receivers and enjoy the results and this year looks many times better.
It’s not as if teams don’t need help at wideout. The opposite is actually true. It’s just that the majority of those teams want to see where names like Jerry Jeudy, Tee Higgins, Henry Ruggs III, Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb, Laviska Shenault and a dozen more will end up. Even well into Day 2 and beyond, wide receivers could easily come in and contribute the sort of complementary role that so many of these options are seeking.
In short, it’s silly to pay $27 million for Randall Cobb as a 30-year-old veteran when you can likely rely on someone like K.J. Hamler (Penn State) to do the same.
Basically, the free agent wide receiver class of 2020 is going to hate the draft class of the same year for creating a financial ceiling that limited their long-awaited payday. It’s the reason why so many—Phil Dorsett, Travis Benjamin, Perriman and Robinson—are jumping at one-year deals. They’ve surveyed the landscape and realize another spring might yield much greater numbers if they’re willing to put in the requisite work between now and then.