Michael Thomas became the highest-paid receiver in NFL history on Wednesday, locking up a five-year, $100 million deal. Its impact will be felt across the league.
The league-wide landscape shifted for elite wide receivers on Wednesday morning. With news breaking of Michael Thomas’ five-year, $100 million deal — $61 million guaranteed — with the New Orleans Saints, the asking prices from agents have gone up.
Prior to Thomas signing, Odell Beckham Jr. was the benchmark in terms of annual average value (AAV) at $18 million. He remains the standard for guaranteed cash at $65 million. Now, though, with the game increasingly tilted towards passing and a handful of elite playmakers about to be paid, Thomas’ deal with worth examining in connection to how it impacts other upcoming contracts.
Cooper, like Thomas, is entering the final year of his rookie deal. After being traded at midseason by the Oakland Raiders for a first-round pick, Cooper exploded. In nine games with Dallas, the former Crimson Tide star totaled 725 receiving yards and six touchdowns. Now, he’s angling to get paid.
While Cooper doesn’t have the stats of Thomas, he has Dallas in a tough spot. The Cowboys surrendered premium capital for him, and the team has little else at the receiver spot. Additionally, quarterback Dak Prescott and cornerback Byron Jones are free agents after this season, making the franchise tag anything but a guarantee.
Cooper, 25, isn’t going to get Thomas’ money, but the mega deal with raise agent Joel Segal’s asking price. With the ceiling now raised, look for Cooper to take full advantage. A guess? Something around five years and $75 million with $45 million guaranteed. The total value would rank seventh, with the guarantees clocking in eighth among all receivers.
Jones’ situation is different than what Cooper is going through. At 30 years old, Jones is looking for a third contract. He also has two years left on his current pact, paying him $13.46 million this season and $12.892 million the next. In short, the Atlanta Falcons are huge fans of that value.
However, with Jones reporting to camp on time, there’s optimism the two sides will agree on an extension. The two parties have long had good relations, and Jones is on track to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He’s the rare non-quarterback worth two huge contracts.
While he doesn’t have the leverage of Cooper or Thomas due to their expiring deals, he has the statistics and relationship. Atlanta already has Matt Ryan paid for the foreseeable future, and won’t have to bargain with Calvin Ridley for at least two more seasons. The main issue is cap space, of which the Falcons have none. Next year, their projected room? Over the cap by $3.4 million and with no easy, big-savings cuts to be made.
All this leads to an obvious answer. Extend Jones by making him the highest-paid receiver in football. The Falcons give Jones the deal he wants despite having little leverage. In return, Atlanta lowers Jones’ cap hit in ’20 and gets cap relief. It’s a win-win.
Hill’s case is extremely unique. He’s 25 years old and entering a contract year. He’s also a lightning rod after a very headline-grabbing offseason. Still, Kansas City is engaging in extension talks with the All-Pro, hoping to potentially land a deal before the season.
Like Cooper, Hill has some leverage. The Chiefs also need to sign defensive tackle Chris Jones before the offseason or use the franchise tag on him to avoid unrestricted free agency. Multiple sources indicate the two sides aren’t close. With that knowledge, perhaps general manager Brett Veach sees the easiest path to keeping both as signing Hill and tagging Jones.
Even with his past baggage, Hill is an elite talent and perfect fit for the bazooka-armed Patrick Mahomes. Last season, Hill amassed 87 receptions for 1,479 yards and 12 touchdowns. Through his first three seasons, the speedster 532 receiving yards less than Thomas, but two more touchdowns. He also has 1,393 return yards and five touchdowns. Thomas has never returned kicks or punts.
Agent Drew Rosenhaus will be looking for a similar deal to Thomas. Prior to the league’s investigation into Hill’s off-field life this spring, reports were of the two sides talking about five years and $100 million, the deal we just saw the Saints give out.
All told, the numbers may be quite close to what Thomas secured.