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Analysis | Star wide receivers could be on the move ahead of NFL draft

Analysis | Star wide receivers could be on the move ahead of NFL draft

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

The Stefon Diggs trade — and subsequent contract reshaping — that shook up the NFL last week did not come as any particular surprise to those within the industry. It was the continuation of a longer trend that shows no signs of curbing anytime soon.

Yet another disgruntled wide receiver, deep into a massive contract, is granted his exodus for relatively-scant trade compensation (in this case a selection more than a year away). Furthermore, his contract is reworked to eliminate future team-friendly years by his new employer (Houston) in attempts to keep the veteran focused and determined to excel in hopes of landing another payday. Diggs himself is part of this movement for the second time, and he joins cohorts like Tyreek Hill, Davante Adams, A.J. Brown, De’Andre Hopkins, D.J. Moore, Jerry Jeudy (just a few weeks ago), Diontae Johnson (also just a few weeks back), Calvin Ridley, Hollywood Brown and Chase Claypool to name just a few of the better-known receivers to be swapped out in recent years.

Multiple general managers and personnel executives anticipate several more receivers will be moved between now and when the draft concludes. Leaguewide sticker shock at the value of receiver contracts in free agency — from stars like Mike Evans to journeymen like Curtis Samuel — has smart front offices refocused on trying to rent more established receivers who already have cost certainty. And, stop me if you’ve heard this before, but there remains no shortage of wide receivers (dub them divas if you like) who want out of their current spot eyeing greener pastures elsewhere.

“More of them will go,” said one GM, who was granted anonymity as he pursues receivers himself. “We aren’t the only ones looking. Would you rather do what [Texans GM] Nick [Caserio] just did, or try to outbid bad teams with more cap space then they know how to burn to try to get a UFA [unrestricted free agent]? That’s kind of Econ 101, isn’t it?”

A high-ranking exec from another team scanning the wide receiver trade market said: “It’s increasingly a throw-first league, so there’s inherently a premium on receivers and corners. Supply never meets demand — even in this draft, where both position groups are strong — and those positions tend to burn bridges and became a problem faster than others, for whatever the reasons. That’s just a fact.

“Those same factors lead to them getting overpaid in free agency, because of the need. So, yeah, ideally, we’d prefer to get them a little older, knowing we’re only going to have them for a few years, at a fixed price with another team already paying the signing bonus and with the guaranteed money essentially paid out. And the value is there because the team that already paid them all that money is viewing it as addition by subtraction because they don’t think they can coexist with them anymore.”

Some of the same names kept popping up the last few weeks as I broached this topic with contacts. And with a heavy expectation leaguewide that this could be a trade-heavy draft, expect more receivers to be changing addresses:

“One of them won’t be back there,” the GM said. The exec said: “Personally, I’d be shocked if they don’t move one. When you study the model of how they roster build, and structure their contracts, and with the quarterback being up in a year, I don’t think they will pay them both … and if Deebo was the guy to go I think he’d already be gone.” Another GM opined that he believes Aiyuk would have already secured his new contract if it was going to come in San Francisco. “I think Aiyuk is the one to watch,” that GM, also sniffing around on wide receivers, said. Another exec said: “I don’t think they’re going to get everything they’ll want for him [Aiyuk], because of what you’re going to have to pay him. But they have to listen.”

Courtland Sutton/Patrick Surtain II (Broncos)

Denver is short on draft capital and digging out of the Russell Wilson trade/contract extension hole. There is a heavy expectation they draft a quarterback somewhere in the first round, and both of these names have been fixtures in trade winds. “They were going to trade [cornerback] Surtain at the deadline and then pulled them back when they won a few games,” the first GM said. “I think [coach] Sean [Payton] probably regrets that. That’s someone they [get] could a haul for.” The second GM said: “Sutton at $13 million, after the silly s— that went on last month [in free agency], doesn’t look so bad if you like the player.” The first exec thought Payton might prefer to ship out another receiver (like he did with Juedy) and keep his shutdown corner. “I don’t think Sean believes this is a long rebuild — he is supremely confident and [with] good reason — and he can still win with Surtain in his prime.” Regardless, the Broncos will be at the center of plenty of trade overtures and Payton is not shy about making bold moves.

The first GM said: “Look at where the new coach came from [Mike Macdonald, Baltimore] — do they ever pay two guys at the same position? I’m just guessing here, but I could see [Tyler] Lockett staying, and Metcalf going if somebody really wants him.” The first exec said: “That’s another good spot to look. Defensive head coach, first year, they didn’t do much on that side of the ball to get better. Not a great draft for pass rush. [GM] John [Schneider] is always willing to talk and explore things. I know they want more draft capital.” Seattle selects 16th and then not again until 78th, lacking second- and-fifth-round picks.

Las Vegas seems intent on getting their quarterback of the future in this draft. Do they need more draft stock to make a power move into the top three or four picks for Jayden Daniels? The execs I spoke with believe owner Mark Davis would strongly prefer to have Adams around for that next QB. But it’s at least worth monitoring after many never thought Adams would get out of Green Bay in the first place.

Owner Mike Brown is known to dig his heels in, and he is sending messages that he won’t move the star receiver who is on a franchise tag (despite top receiver Ja’Marr Chase now ready to be paid as well). “Mike Brown is stubborn as a mule,” the first GM said. “I don’t think Higgins is available.” The others I spoke to agreed, but that won’t stop people from asking. The second GM said: “He was never trading Joe Burrow [when the QB was the first-overall pick], and he’s not trading this guy, either. That one would surprise me.”

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