One of the main questions that surrounded the signing of then free agent Kirk Cousins a few weeks back was which player the proponents of signing Cousins would be most comfortable with the Vikings losing, between the upcoming crop of free agents. That list included mostly defensive players like Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, and Danielle Hunter but also included one of the most important players on the offense and in general in Stefon Diggs. The general idea was that because Cousins’ assumed contract was going to be so massive, the Vikings wouldn’t be able to resign an important player after the 2018 season (or before it, depending). While that question was relatively broad and didn’t take a lot of variables into account and the Vikings also quickly signed another big name free agent in Sheldon Richardson, thus showing that they had more than enough cap space to make moves beyond Cousins this off-season, the reality is that unless he chooses to take less money to stay here in some sort of Patriots-esque way, Stefon Diggs will be playing elsewhere after his rookie deal expires in 2019. The variables mentioned above that Vikings fans weren’t taking into account weren’t done out of lack of trying, but rather because no one really knows what the market for certain positions will be each free agency period until someone sets that market and while it’s not 2019 right now we are starting to get a feeling as to what the market for wide receivers might look like and spoiler alert, it’s looking prohibitively expensive. That’s thanks to the most recent big contract at the wide receiver position a la Jarvis Landry, who just signed a huge deal in Cleveland.
I’ll let Ian Rapoport explain:
The #Browns and WR Jarvis Landry are going to agree to terms on a 5-year, $75.5M extension, sources say. He gets $47M guaranteed… crazy for those who considered him a slot receiver.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) April 12, 2018
And I’ll let Will Ferrell react:
Yikes, indeed. That was rough, indubitably.
Now, “luckily”, for fans and the team, Diggs has been known to miss a game or three every season of his career and so it’ll be interesting to see how things pan out this season as this is basically Diggs’ contract year and he could therefore end up playing in games that he otherwise wouldn’t have in previous seasons simply to show either the Vikings or the rest of the league that he is more “durable” than his first three seasons showed (as he’s played in 13 and 14 games once and twice, respectively over those seasons)(*Also, to be fair, he only played in 13 games his rookie year because he was inactive for the first three games). Perhaps because of those injuries, Adam Thielen has developed a better rapport with the quarterbacks that the Vikings have had playing especially the past two seasons (the two seasons in which Thielen has emerged as one of the better receivers in the league).
That could help lower Diggs’ value, as could the signing of Tavarres King, a player who physically is about as close to Diggs as is possible outside of cloning him (something we here at purplePTSD.com have been attempting to do every since we found a strand of his hair inside a game-worn autographed helmet we were asked to stop touching at a silent auction) and who was perhaps brought in to fill in for Diggs during those two or three games he misses a season. Or there’s the other side of that coin that could mean that King, who has had an underwhelming start to his career, could’ve been brought in as the future replacement for Diggs since they’re so similar in terms of what they, again, bring to the table physically (check out our article on King for that info/realization). One thing we know for sure is that if the Vikings have to draft a replacement for Diggs they’ll end up spending that first, second or third round pick on a receiver from the SEC. That’s something that has marred an otherwise pretty amazing record in terms of the draft for Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, but I digress (also check out my article about my Big Ten bias for that info, as well).
Landry’s deal is for a guaranteed $47 million dollars over five-years, however, with incentives he’d end up with just over $75 million dollars. As NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport says, that’s a crazy deal for a guy who has been labeled a “slot” receiver in the past. Now, I am a HUGE Stefon Diggs fan and have been even before the Minneapolis Miracle made him worthy of $50 million dollars all by itself. However, the comparison of Landry to Diggs isn’t really apples to apples as Landry has been called the best technical wide receiver in the entire league by people in the know (as well as the top commenter on Rapoport’s Twitter feed). While Diggs has also been called the best technical route runner in the entire NFL (By coach Zimmer), that hasn’t exactly translated to dominance on the field, at least when compared to the output that Landry has had. One could argue that Diggs has had too many different quarterbacks throwing the ball his way, but considering the fact that Landry had his best season last year with Jay Cutler throwing him the ball, you don’t get a lot of sympathy in that regard either. The best way to break it down is to just check out some of these stats courtesy of NFL.com.
Landry has played in the league for four seasons and has exactly 400 receptions in that time and just over 4,000 yards receiving as well (4,038 to be exact). In addition, he has 22 touchdowns over that time but he had nine touchdowns last season, which means that he could be a much bigger end zone threat in the future, as well. He is the only wide receiver in NFL history with 400 receptions in his first four seasons and also the only wide receiver in the NFL receiver last season that had five or more receptions in every game (not just an average). That means he’s consistent and good at what he does. His nine touchdowns last season was more than all of the receivers on the Browns had combined, which would’ve changed in 2018 with the return of Josh Gordon, but still, adding someone like Landry alongside Gordon could cause all sorts of problems for opposing teams’ defenses.
Landry has his fair share of detractors, as well, that point out his relatively paltry yards per catch numbers and the fact that he’s the only receiver ever to have over 100 receptions and less than 1,000 yards receiving. So, to really understand whether or not Landry is worth the money he received (and what it all means for Diggs), you really have to compare him to the other receivers who are making an average of $15 million dollars or more, a season. Amongst that group, Landry is second in terms of receptions, fifth in receiving yards and last in receiving touchdowns, so to look at that deal you’d have to consider what the Browns would be using him for and if he’s worth the amount of money you’re giving him for that role.
You’d have to think that they’d be using him to move the chains, as a consistently open guy who picks up under 10 yards per catch but is making those catches early and often and basically keeping the offense on the field long enough for them to toss a couple shots down the field to Josh Gordon (Who, at least when we last saw him (four score and seven years ago) is/was a beast). He’s basically like a running back in that he can pick up small chunks of yards over and over and over again. That’s not really what the Vikings are asking of Diggs, as Diggs is averaging 13.3 yards per catch compared to the 8.8 yards per catch of Landry (to be fair Diggs was also balls that have an average targeted air yardage of 11.4 yards per, against the 6.4 yards per of Landry, which means that both were schemed in completely different ways), which is what makes this comparison sort of a waste of time and also sort of not because they play the same position. People do question giving someone who is used that way, that much money though but that assumes that the Browns will use Landry that way.
Regardless, the stats show Diggs and Landry are two completely different players, so instead of continuing to compare Diggs to Landry perhaps we should look at that list of receivers who are receiving $15 million or more dollars per season (especially as it would cost about $18 million dollars to franchise Diggs in 2019) and compare their output to that of Stefon Diggs, who is clearly talented and has been compared to people like Antonio Brown but has had those injuries and also a lot of turn over at the quarterback position so it’s also hard to really peg just how good he is (which means that 2018 will be a huge year for him, in terms of everything we’re talking about). Those five other receivers are, Antonio Brown of Pittsburgh, Mike Evans of Tampa Bay, DeAndre Hopkins of Houston, Sammy Watkins of Kansas City and A.J. Green of Cincinnati (with Green Bay’s Davante Adams, Atlanta’s Julio Jones, Denver’s Demaryius Thomas, Dallas’ Dez Bryant and Chicago’s Allen Robinson all getting at or above $14 million dollars a season). Actually, let’s just peep the whole list so you get a general idea of which receiver makes what, as it’ll help generally show what Diggs (and eventually Thielen) will receive.
|Antonio Brown||Steelers||$68,000,000||$17,000,000||$19,000,000||$4,750,000||27.9%||2022 UFA|
|Mike Evans||Buccaneers||$82,500,000||$16,500,000||$38,258,000||$7,651,600||46.4%||2024 UFA|
|DeAndre Hopkins||Texans||$81,000,000||$16,200,000||$36,500,000||$7,300,000||45.1%||2023 UFA|
|Sammy Watkins||Chiefs||$48,000,000||$16,000,000||$30,000,000||$10,000,000||62.5%||2021 UFA|
|Jarvis Landry||Browns||$15,982,000||$15,982,000||$15,982,000||$15,982,000||100.0%||2019 UFA|
|A.J. Green||Bengals||$60,000,000||$15,000,000||$26,750,000||$6,687,500||44.6%||2020 UFA|
|Davante Adams||Packers||$58,000,000||$14,500,000||$18,000,000||$4,500,000||31.0%||2022 UFA|
|Julio Jones||Falcons||$71,250,000||$14,250,000||$35,500,000||$7,100,000||49.8%||2021 UFA|
|Demaryius Thomas||Broncos||$70,000,000||$14,000,000||$35,000,000||$7,000,000||50.0%||2020 UFA|
|Dez Bryant||Cowboys||$70,000,000||$14,000,000||$32,000,000||$6,400,000||45.7%||2020 UFA|
|Allen Robinson||Bears||$42,000,000||$14,000,000||$18,000,000||$6,000,000||42.9%||2021 UFA|
|TY Hilton||Colts||$65,000,000||$13,000,000||$11,000,000||$2,200,000||16.9%||2021 UFA|
|Alshon Jeffery||Eagles||$52,000,000||$13,000,000||$14,250,000||$3,562,500||27.4%||2022 UFA|
|Doug Baldwin||Seahawks||$46,000,000||$11,500,000||$12,000,000||$3,000,000||26.1%||2021 UFA|
|Keenan Allen||Chargers||$45,000,000||$11,250,000||$20,656,000||$5,164,000||45.9%||2021 UFA|
|DeSean Jackson||Buccaneers||$33,500,000||$11,166,667||$20,000,000||$6,666,667||59.7%||2020 UFA|
|Emmanuel Sanders||Broncos||$33,000,000||$11,000,000||$20,000,000||$6,666,667||60.6%||2020 UFA|
|Larry Fitzgerald||Cardinals||$11,000,000||$11,000,000||$0||$0||0.0%||2019 UFA|
|Randall Cobb||Packers||$40,000,000||$10,000,000||$13,000,000||$3,250,000||32.5%||2019 UFA|
|Donte Moncrief||Jaguars||$9,600,000||$9,600,000||$9,600,000||$9,600,000||100.0%||2019 UFA|
|Pierre Garcon||49ers||$47,500,000||$9,500,000||$17,000,000||$3,400,000||35.8%||2022 UFA|
|Marqise Lee||Jaguars||$34,000,000||$8,500,000||$16,500,000||$4,125,000||48.5%||2022 UFA|
|Kenny Stills||Dolphins||$32,000,000||$8,000,000||$16,950,000||$4,237,500||53.0%||2021 UFA|
|Albert Wilson||Dolphins||$24,000,000||$8,000,000||$14,450,000||$4,816,667||60.2%||2021 UFA|
|Paul Richardson||Redskins||$40,000,000||$8,000,000||$12,500,000||$2,500,000||31.3%||2023 UFA|
|Marvin Jones||Lions||$40,000,000||$8,000,000||$13,000,000||$2,600,000||32.5%||2021 UFA|
|Jordy Nelson||Raiders||$14,200,000||$7,100,000||$0||$0||0.0%||2020 UFA|
|Tavon Austin||Rams||$7,000,000||$7,000,000||$5,000,000||$5,000,000||71.4%||2019 UFA|
|Michael Crabtree||Ravens||$21,000,000||$7,000,000||$8,000,000||$2,666,667||38.1%||2021 UFA|
Now, Let’s look at the last three seasons for these guys to see where Diggs’ output stacks up. Up first? Diggs, of course. Who over the past three seasons has had the following output:
One can draw a few things from this, the first of which is that Antonio Brown is by far the best wide receiver in the league and deserves basically double the money of anyone else on this list. Beyond Brown it looks like Landry is one of the best (if not the best), however, he’s clearly a product of quantity more so than quality, whereas someone like Brown is good at both. Diggs? Well, his average yards per catch is pretty good however that could be said about any number of receivers and that number is really only impressive once a receiver reaches a certain amount of receptions. We should really remove Sammy Watkins from this list because he’s basically the wide receiver version of Sam Bradford, a highly talented guy who keeps getting paid a lot of money based on that potential but typically ends up getting injured after showing some flashes of that potential. In a list without Watkins, Diggs is the only guy that hasn’t averaged 1,000 yards per season and it’s not even close (with 824 yards). He is also last in terms of average touchdowns per season and is only ahead of Landry in terms of yards per catch.
Let’s take a look at where he lands among the next batch of receivers, with AJ Green making $15 million a season and Dez Bryant making $14 million (and the rest being somewhere between those two):
|*Past Two Seasons|
So, after looking at this list it’s safe to assume that Diggs will end up making near top ten money if he tests the market, but he could also end up making more than that depending on who else is available and what teams needs are. Obviously, we’ve been getting a lot of “insane” contracts lately and that’s based on a few factors that are definitely worth delving into further in another piece but the main one that we’re concerned with here is the fact that the salary cap has been increased each of the past few seasons. For example, the Vikings have over $22 million more to spend on the 2018 than they had in 2016, which is more than what Diggs’ contract could be, which should basically at least pour a bit of water on the fire that is your panic about the Vikings cap situation especially in terms of what Kirk Cousins’ contract means for the future of this Vikings team (by the end of his contract, assuming the cap keeps increasing like it has been, it’d be like the Vikings are getting him for free! (Don’t quote me on that)).
That number will probably increase again next season, unless television revenue is slashed because of the plateauing/loss of viewers thanks to things like games being broadcast online and people being angry that football players can think for themselves, so expect teams to perhaps blow the lid off the current ceiling for receivers which is clearly $15 million a season. Whether or not Diggs is the receiver to do just that depends on his output this season and considering the fact that he has an established quarterback tossing him the ball for really the first time in his career (Sure, Bradford was sort of established), things are aligning for that to happen.
While Landry’s contract has seemingly set the market for receivers next season (or those seeking early extensions perhaps like Diggs and his agent have been), there’s still just far too much to be determined for us to really know what the number will be and/or who will get that money. The Vikings and Diggs could both be taking a risk by waiting until the end of the season for a deal, as things could end up going badly for either (in terms of the price of the deal), especially if Diggs has an… Especially great season or an especially terrible season. However, considering the fact that the Vikings locked Thielen into a retrospectively laughable deal (considering his output) in 2016 for $19 million total, you’d think that Diggs would rather play out his deal to show both the Vikings and the NFL what he can do and what he is worth rather than lock into something that’d end up well under market value especially as that market appears to be increasing every season.
We can now at least give thanks to Landry for giving us a general sense of what that market is going to look like.