The Jacksonville Jaguars inked former Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Christian Kirk to a four-year, $72 million contract ($18 million per season) with a total guarantee of $37 million on Mar. 14. The contract value can rise to $84 million if the 25-year-old performs as necessary.
With four seasons under his belt, Kirk has logged 236 catches, 2,902 yards, and 17 touchdowns in 56 career games. The veteran wide receiver is averaging 59 receptions for 725 yards and four touchdowns per season. As far as second-round picks, who mostly lined up at WR2 are concerned, those are solid numbers.
However, if you think that an $84 million contract and an $18 million AAV for that type of production are exorbitant figures, then you would be correct.
Kirk will make more than Tyler Lockett, Adam Thielen, and Robert Woods in 2022. All three wide receivers have averaged more receptions, yards, and touchdowns than Kirk over the past four seasons.
Crazy, huh? Jags general manager Trent Baalke did not think so. It could be that he foresaw the public’s unified eyebrow raise at the signing. However, I am not sure he could’ve predicted how the deal would impact the receiver market this offseason.
The significant moves that followed Kirk’s signing included:
- Amari Cooper traded to Cleveland
- Davante Adams signed a five-year $140 million contract with the Raiders after leaving Green Bay
- Tyreek Hill shipped off to Miami from Kansas City and signed a four-year, $120 million contract
- A.J. Brown inked a four-year, $100 million contract with the Eagles after being acquired on draft night from the Titans
- Marquise Brown traded to the Cardinals
Early fantasy rankings saw Adams, [A.J.] Brown, and Hill as top-eight receivers heading into next season. Meanwhile, Cooper was headed for another solid year in Dallas, and Hollywood Brown was going to be catching passes from a healthy Lamar Jackson.
When Kirk became a top-paid receiver, the courses of the many franchises who looked to re-sign or trade for a wideout shifted. We saw multiple teams not willing to pay the price Kirk’s deal established for their receivers. And it ultimately led to the Raiders, Browns, Eagles, and Dolphins adding bonafide No. 1 wide receivers.
On the opposite side of the coin are the teams with glaring voids at wide receiver. The Cowboys drafted Jalen Tolbert in the third round to join Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb, while Kansas City signed JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and drafted Skyy Moore. The Titans replaced Julio Jones and Brown with Woods and Treylon Burks. The Packers drafted three receivers, and the Ravens will lean heavily on 2021 draftee Rashod Bateman in the absence of Brown.
These teams are making serious attempts at mending their wounds through all-out replacement, letting already rostered players take on greater roles or the infamous practice of throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks.
These attempts also lead to a table where everyone eats — the fantasy football smörgåsbord. Late-round picks vying to surprise, free agents out to prove themselves, and young guys looking to accelerate their names into stardom can now do so at a greater rate.
They’re the ones tasked with filling the voids. Maybe it’s becoming commonplace that the league views the receiver position as expendable as running backs are and therefore are unwilling to meet what the market demands. Sure, teams recognize the luxury of possessing a superstar pass catcher. But the harsh reality is that retaining key players at positions where top-tier talent is more scarce takes priority.
Teams in need of replacements for departed stars are browsing the abundance of wideouts like it’s Amazon. And the teams that want to are pouncing on those stars by capitalizing on befitting cap situations and roster construction.
This receiver grouping includes up-and-coming young wideouts who are taking on plenty. Ja’Marr Chase, Bateman, Burks, Drake London, Devonta Smith, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and Jaylen Waddle have all seen or will see a heavy target share during their rookie seasons. If teams aren’t shying away from dubbing receivers on their rookie deals WR1, then fantasy players shouldn’t shy away from drafting them.
In terms of fantasy drafts, there are an extraordinary number of receivers of significant value in every round – disproportionately so in later rounds. Yes, there are late-round league-winners at QB, RB, and TE, but finding them proves more difficult than finding a gem of a WR.
For example, Darnell Mooney, Michael Pittman Jr., St. Brown, and Mike Williams held average draft positions around the 10th round last season. However, all four receivers finished higher than the WR23. Some running backs that went off the board in similar spots include Tevin Coleman, David Johnson, Tony Pollard, and James White. Pollard was the only one of the bunch to finish higher than RB30. That’s not great, as selecting running backs early, in most instances, is a wise course of action.
Nevertheless, Kirk’s new contract has merely spread out the riches of receivers to an even greater degree. It’s assisted in Adams’, Hill’s, and A.J. Brown’s transition to new situations that aren’t as ideal (from a fantasy perspective) as their former ones. With that, their replacements should see a tremendous boost in fantasy relevance.
The contract undoubtedly carries an impact that will extend past 2022. There’s no telling how the receiver market will continue to evolve, which is an exciting and terrifying thought.
The bottom line is that despite the contract craziness, the cycle of replacing good wideouts with similarly good wideouts is becoming more persistent and prevalent. The position is as deep as ever, and fantasy drafts will reflect that – no matter how many audacious contract signings and league-breaking trades go down.
[Photo courtesy: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports]