Agent’s Take: Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb headline another wide receiver market explosion

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The wide receiver market had an unprecedented salary explosion in 2022. There were four wide receivers with contracts averaging $20 million per year or more at the end of the 2021 season. The number of members in the $20 million-per-year wide receiver club grew to 14 in a matter of months even with the Tennessee Titans releasing Julio Jones that offseason.
Either three or four wide receivers hit the $25 million-per-year mark in 2022 depending on interpretation. On paper, Tyreek Hill became the NFL’s first $30 million-per-year non-quarterback. He signed a four-year, $120 million contract extension, averaging $30 million per year, in March 2022 as a part of his trade from the Kansas City Chiefs to the Miami Dolphins.
The extension has $72.2 million in guarantees where a wide receiver-record $52.535 million was fully guaranteed at signing. Realistically, Hill has a three-year extension for $75 million because of $45 million in 2026, the final contract year.
Hill’s extension surpassed Davante Adams’ deal. The ink was barely dry on the five-year, $140 million contract Adams received from the Las Vegas Raiders a couple of days before when he was traded by the Green Bay Packers after being designated as a franchise player. This deal has $65.67 million in guarantees, of which $42.75 million was fully guaranteed at signing. The maximum value of Adams’ contract is $141.25 million because of an annual $250,000 Pro Bowl incentive.
In actuality, Adams has $67.5 million for three years rather than a five-year contract, averaging $28 million per year, because there’s $72.5 million over the last two years. Odds are Adams isn’t going to play 2025 and 2026 for $36.25 million each when he’s 32 and 33 years old.
The Tennessee Titans surprisingly traded A.J. Brown to the Philadelphia Eagles during the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft. Brown was rewarded with a four-year, $100 million extension, averaging $25 million per year that contains slightly more than $57 million of guarantees, in connection with the trade.
The Los Angeles Rams smartly recognized that Cooper Kupp’s contract needed to be addressed. The three-year, $47.25 million extension (worth a maximum of $49.5 million through salary escalators) Kupp signed in 2020 left him vastly underpaid with the wide receiver market going haywire.
Kupp signed a three-year, $80.35 million extension in June 2022. The deal has a wide receiver-record $75 million in guarantees, of which $35 million was fully guaranteed at signing. Kupp can make a legitimate case that he is really the league’s highest-paid wide receiver at $26,783,333 per year because the Hill and Adams contracts are misleading due to artificially inflated salaries at the back of their deals specifically included for cosmetic purposes.
No wide receivers signed $20 million-per-year deals in 2023. Three have already done so in 2024. Mike Evans got the ball rolling with a contract that isn’t as good as originally advertised. His deal to remain with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was originally reported as $52 million for two years, averaging $26 million per year. That’s the maximum value of the contract if all $11 million of the incentives and salary escalators are earned, which is highly unlikely.
Evans actually signed for a base value of $41 million over two years to average $20.5 million per year. There are $35 million of guarantees where $29 million is fully guaranteed at signing. If Evans can continue to be the player he has been during the first 10 years of his NFL career, he should earn $6 million to $7 million of the performance bonuses.
The Indianapolis Colts put a $21.816 million franchise tag on Michael Pittman Jr. to make sure he wasn’t going anywhere in 2024. Before the start of free agency, he received a three-year, $70 million contract, averaging $23,333,333 per year with $46 million in guarantees, where $41 million was fully guaranteed at signing. Incentives make the deal worth as much as $71.5 million.
The Titans gave Calvin Ridley a four-year, $92 million contract, averaging $23 million per year, in free agency. This deal has $50 million in guarantees, of which $46.98 million was fully guaranteed at signing.
There won’t be as many wide receivers getting big paydays this year as in 2022. The growth is going to be at the top of market. The number of wide receivers at or above $25 million per year will surely increase.
Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah revealed to the media at February’s NFL Scouting Combine that a deal was close to getting done with Justin Jefferson as the start of the 2023 regular season approached. Jefferson, who is scheduled to play 2024 on a fully guaranteed $19.473 million fifth-year option, turned down in excess of $30 million per year, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. That’s in line with Jefferson previously stating he expects to “break the bank” with his new contract.
Adofo-Mensah also shot down rumors that Jefferson could be traded. The rumors have persisted with longtime Vikings starting quarterback Kirk Cousins joining the Atlanta Falcons in free agency. Vikings owner Mark Wilf said on Monday at the NFL annual owners meeting that the organization is going to do its best to keep Jefferson in Minnesota.
Justin Jefferson MIN • WR • #18 TAR 100 REC 68 REC YDs 1074 REC TD 5 FL 1 View Profile
It may be necessary for Minnesota to make Jefferson the league’s highest-paid non-quarterback. That distinction belongs to San Francisco 49ers edge rusher Nick Bosa. He signed a five-year, $170 million extension, averaging $34 million per year, last September right before the 2023 regular season started.
There is precedent for a wide receiver being the league’s highest-paid non-quarterback. It has happened on multiple occasions since the 2011 NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement was ratified.
The seven-year, $113 million extension, averaging $16,142,857 per year Larry Fitzgerald received from the Arizona Cardinals shortly after the lockout ended in 2011, put him at the top of the non-quarterback salary hierarchy. Less than a year later, Calvin Johnson surpassed Fitzgerald when he signed a seven-year, $113.45 million extension with the Detroit Lions in 2012, averaging $16,207,143 per year.
More recently, DeAndre Hopkins eclipsed Los Angeles Chargers edge rusher Joey Bosa’s $27 million per year when he signed a two-year, $54.5 million extension, averaging $27.25 million per year, with the Cardinals right before the start of the 2020 regular season, although he had three years left on his existing contract. Hill did so as well, when factoring in the unrealistic salary in his final year inflating the value of his deal.
Extending CeeDee Lamb’s contract is an offseason priority of the Dallas Cowboys. Lamb had the greatest receiving season in Cowboys history with 135 catches for 1,749 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2023. His 135 receptions not only led the league but were the sixth most in an NFL season. Lamb was second and third in the NFL, respectively, in receiving yards and touchdown catches.
CeeDee Lamb DAL • WR • #88 TAR 181 REC 135 REC YDs 1749 REC TD 12 FL 2 View Profile
A real $30 million-per-year contract isn’t out of the question for Lamb, who earned All-Pro honors last season. Lamb’s best deal could come from waiting for Jefferson to reset the wide receiver market before signing.
Amon-Ra St. Brown solidified himself as one of the NFL’s top wide receivers in 2023. He earned All-Pro honors for the first time with 119 catches for 1,515 yards with 10 touchdowns, which were all career highs.
The Lions reportedly met with Brown’s representatives at the NFL Scouting Combine to begin discussions on a new contract. Brown is slated to make $3.366 million in 2024 during the final year of his rookie contract.
Lions head coach Dan Campbell stressed the importance of locking up Brown and quarterback Jared Goff long term before the 2024 season starts at the owners meeting. It’s conceivable that Brown tops Kupp’s $26,783,333 per year with an extension.
A top-heavy 49ers payroll has prompted speculation that Brandon Aiyuk will be traded, but 49ers general manager John Lynch put that notion to rest at the owners meeting. He indicated the 49ers have been “actively” talking to Aiyuk about extending his contract.
Aiyuk, who is scheduled to make a fully guaranteed $14.124 million in 2024 on a fifth-year option, had an interesting response to Lynch’s comments. He posted emojis on Instagram that seemingly translate to “Money talks, bullshit walks.”
Brandon Aiyuk SF • WR • #11 TAR 105 REC 75 REC YDs 1342 REC TD 7 FL 1 View Profile
Aiyuk was named a Second Team All-Pro by the Associated Press in 2023 after a career year of 75 receptions, 1,342 receiving and seven touchdown catches. His 17.9 yards per catch were second in the NFL. The seven games with 100 receiving yards Aiyuk had in 2023 were the most for a 49er in a single season since Jerry Rice in 1995.
The 49ers signed Deebo Samuel to a three-year, $71.55 million extension, averaging $23.85 million per year, with $58.167 million in guarantees, where $41 million was fully guaranteed at signing. It will likely be difficult to get Aiyuk to accept a similar deal since he has emerged as San Francisco’s top receiving option for quarterback Brock Purdy. Aiyuk has led the 49ers in targets in each of the last two seasons. A Brown-type contract is probably Aiyuk’s salary floor.
Nico Collins had a breakout 2023 season for the upstart Houston Texans, who surprisingly made the playoffs as an AFC wild-card team. The 2021 third-round pick had 80 receptions for 1,297 receiving yards with eight touchdowns in 15 games last season.
Collins is reportedly interested in a contract extension. Should he get a new deal, it could be comparable to Pittman’s. Collins also recognizes that duplicating or bettering his 2023 performance, while playing out his rookie contract in 2024 for $3.116 million, would be financially advantageous.
Tee Higgins requested a trade after the Cincinnati Bengals placed a $21.816 million franchise tag on him. He is the No. 2 receiving option with the Bengals behind Ja’Marr Chase but a No. 1 wide receiver on multiple other teams. Bengals head coach Zac Taylor is planning on Higgins being in Cincinnati for the 2024 season.
Tee Higgins CIN • WR • #5 TAR 76 REC 42 REC YDs 656 REC TD 5 FL 0 View Profile
Higgins would have been in high demand on the open market if he hadn’t been designated as a franchise player. He might have ended up with the Titans instead of Ridley since Brian Callahan, who spent the last five seasons as the Bengals’ offensive coordinator, is the new head coach for Tennessee.
Conventional wisdom suggests that 2024 is Higgins’ last season in Cincinnati because teams rarely have two high-priced wide receivers long term. Chase has already made it clear that he intends to wait for Jefferson to reset the wide receiver market before signing a new deal. The Bengals would be creating a headache for themselves by extending Chase, who just completed his third NFL season, while Higgins is still on his franchise tag.

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