During one of the most turbulent offseasons in NFL history, the wide receiver landscape across the league has seen a dramatic shift. Just last month, Tyreek Hill, Davante Adams, Amari Cooper, and Robert Woods – who have accrued a combined 15 Pro Bowls, six first-team All-Pro selections, and two Super Bowls – were traded for a mix of contractual, financial, and roster construction reasons.
The wide receiver market exploded thanks to free agency and the trades above as teams committed record-setting amounts of money to the position. One of the major inflection points was Jacksonville’s signing of Christian Kirk to a four-year, $72 million contract with over half of that guaranteed. While a solid player, Kirk is not a well-established wideout and his enormous deal places him at 10th among receivers in terms of AAV. This deal set a very elevated floor and impacted numerous other receiver deals and decisions this offseason.
The two biggest wide receiver contracts – both in terms of AAV and total value – belong to the two best receivers traded this offseason in Adams and Hill. Adams signed a five-year, $140 million contract with the Las Vegas Raiders that features over $65 million guaranteed while Hill’s extension sees him broach $30 million per season.
“Number one receivers are getting paid really significant dollars,” says Mike Tannenbaum. “The front-line guys used to be at $20-21 million per year for a while, then Deandre Hopkins took it to $27M. Now with guys like Adams and Hill, we are upwards of $30M and that’s the new normal for guys that are difference-making, point-scoring receivers.”
The whirling carousel of wideouts doesn’t appear likely to stop anytime soon as three wide receivers selected in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft in DK Metcalf, Deebo Samuel, and A.J. Brown are all nearing the end of their rookie contracts. Their teams will have to decide whether to extend them, trade them, or let them become free agents.
“All three are great players, and it’s completely reasonable to think that all three could sign an extension with their own team,” says Tannenbaum. “For a team to make a trade for one of these three, it would have to be a Tyreek Hill type of trade package to even be considered.”
For reference, the Miami Dolphins gave up a 2022 first-round pick, second-round pick, fourth-round pick, and 2023 fourth and sixth-round picks for Hill.
DK Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks
2021 Stats: 75 receptions, 967 receiving yards, 12 touchdowns
The Seattle Seahawks have changed the trajectory of their franchise more than any other team this offseason thanks to the exodus of Russell Wilson and the beginning of the Drew Lock era. Though head coach Pete Carroll has insisted the team is not rebuilding, Wilson’s departure coupled with the release of franchise stalwart Bobby Wagner are clear indicators of a team in transition. The wide receiver room in Seattle features Tyler Lockett, who will turn 30 during the 2022 season, and 2021 second-round pick D’Wayne Eskridge, who had just 10 receptions as a rookie. With Metcalf entering the last season of his rookie contract, Seattle could potentially look to move him and further augment their growing stash of draft picks.
“Of the three, if one were traded, I would think Metcalf would make the most sense,” Tannenbaum added. “While Metcalf is a great player, if Seattle is in a significant rebuild and they could get two or three first-round picks, between that and what they got in the Russell Wilson trade, it really sets them up dramatically for the future.”
A.J. Brown, Tennessee Titans
2021 Stats: 63 catches, 869 yards, 5 touchdowns
After registering 19 total touchdowns and over 1,000 yards in his first two seasons, Brown took a step back in 2021 as he missed four games with injuries. He had an inconsistent season when healthy with three games of at least eight receptions for 130 yards and a touchdown along with seven full games in which he failed to register 50 receiving yards. The Titans saw the departure of Julio Jones but did trade for Woods to bolster their wideout depth.
The cutthroat state of the AFC may be a significant factor for the Titans if they choose to trade Brown. The conference has seen a major influx in talent, particularly at the quarterback position, as Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson join incumbents Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, and Lamar Jackson. If Tennessee feels they cannot realistically compete on the back of Derrick Henry and the arm of Ryan Tannehill, it may be pragmatic to trade Brown.
The New York Jets have been rumored to be keeping an eye on any potential moves regarding Metcalf or Brown. Tannenbaum believes that the Jets “clearly need a frontline number-one receiver,” and that “with two picks in the top-10, that’s a possibility.”
Deebo Samuel, San Francisco 49ers
2021 Stats: 77 receptions, 1,405 receiving yards, 6 touchdowns, 59 rushes, 365 rushing yards, 8 rushing touchdowns
Samuel is one of the most unique players in the league and his value is truly maximized within head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense (check out this piece on Samuel’s true value). As evidenced by his 2021 statistics, Samuel’s elite versatility was on display last season – particularly to close the season as he had at least five rushing attempts in every game from Week 9 onwards and scored seven of his eight rushing touchdowns in that span.
The 49ers do have Brandon Aiyuk behind Samuel in their receiver room and minimal depth behind them, though tight end George Kittle mitigates that issue. San Francisco also retains Elijah Mitchell, Trey Sermon, and Jeff Wilson Jr. in their backfield. Of the three receivers, Samuel is the most integral to his team’s offense and thus feels the least likely to be traded.