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Two Minute Warning: How much is a NFL wide receiver worth?

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Photo Credit - Derick E. Hingle - USA TODAY Sports

It never seemed to be a matter of “if” but rather just when. The New Orleans Saints finally came through. The Saints and wide receiver Michael Thomas agreed to a five-year, $100 million extension with $61 million in guaranteed money. The 26-year-old wideout has rapidly grown into one of football top players since being drafted out of Ohio State.

Thomas was the sixth wide receiver to be taken during the 2016 NFL Draft. He’s the only receiver from the class to finish each season with over 1,000 yards. In two of his three years, Thomas has collected over 100 receptions, leading the NFL in catches last season.

Now the highest-paid receiver in football, Thomas will end his holdout and head to camp. But with a deal in place, there’s now a baseline for other teams to follow when looking to extend receivers. With players such as A.J. Green, Amari Cooper and Julio Jones all set for extensions, how much is each player worth?

Value over production

When looking at contracts of current NFL receivers, it’s worth noting who is at the top. The top five contracts could very well be considered the top receivers heading into the 2019 season. Following Thomas, Odell Beckham Jr. has been one of football’s prime targets since being drafted out of LSU by the New York Giants. Even with a declining Eli Manning, the acrobatic wideout has collected four 1,000 plus receiving seasons, according to Pro Football Reference. 

Despite all the drama, he’s caused in recent years, Antonio Brown has made a case for being the game’s most consistent targets. Since 2011, the long-time Steeler has only had one season where he didn’t finish with over 1,200 yards. Mike Evans might not get the same respect as others, but the 25-year-old has finished with 1,000 yards in all five seasons.

And DeAndre Hopkins spent years without a reliable quarterback down at NRG Stadium. Now with Deshaun Watson, expect to see Hopkins be a permanent member of the 99 club moving forward for the remainder of his career.

Jones currently sits with the 13th highest contract for a wide receiver according to Over the Cap. Green currently ranks 11th entering the final year of his four-year $60 million extension. Cooper will make $5.6 million this season as the Raiders opted into his fifth-year before trading him to the Cowboys last fall.

All three players had strong years last season. Jones led the NFL in receiving yards with 1,677 while Cooper finished with 1,000 combined yards out in Dallas. Green only played in nine games but managed to collect 694 yards and six touchdowns during that span.

The bottom line is the production needs have been met thus far by all three players. The question now is what is their actual worth.

Does age matter in the wide receiver position?

Both Jones and Green entered the league in 2011 and were top 10 picks. While Green’s Cincinnati Bengals have seen better days, he’s been one of the more consistent receivers and go-to weapons for Andy Dalton. In eight seasons, Green has missed the 1,000-yard mark twice.

Jones, who was drafted two picks later, has been considered by some as the league’s top target. A franchise cornerstone for the Falcons and Matt Ryan, the Alabama standout collected six 1,000 plus yards seasons, leading the league in total receiving yards twice.

But where Cooper might have the upper hand on the latter is age. Entering this season, Cooper, 25, will have a chance to see a significant increase thanks to his longevity. Jones, 30, and Green, 31, might be playing for one final contract before they call it careers.

Consistently age has been a factor in paying the player. Tom Brady, the league’s top quarterback for almost two decades, is only the sixth highest-paid quarterback following his two-year, $70 million extension. Despite wanting to play for several seasons, Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson likely have stronger chances to become the highest-paid player due to their youth.

It’s all about guarantees

What really matters when all is said and done is the guaranteed money players receive. Thomas set the market at $61 million, but the Falcons have stated that they would like to make Jones the highest paid at the position. While he may not hit the $100 million mark, Jones likely would become the highest-paid in guaranteed money.

Depending on the Cowboys and how they handle their five impending free agents, Cooper could be looking for a new deal elsewhere. With another strong season as Dallas’ top target, he could be out of the price range Jerry Jones is willing to pay. Dallas has the second-highest cap space next season with $74.5 million ready to be spent. If Cooper does struggle, however, a deal similar to Stefon Diggs‘ four-year $72 million probably is where he’ll land.

Green is the enigma here. While his stat line is strong, the All-Pro suffered an injury during the team’s first day of training camp. He’ll be out 6-8 weeks following surgery on his ankle. He’ll be 32 next offseason and likely could begin to decline. If that’s the case, perhaps Green leaves Cincinnati, takes a smaller contract on a playoff contender team and earns a long-term deal following the 2020 season.

With more receivers becoming focal points of their offense, it’s safe to say they’ll be wanting massive extensions. Despite his age, Jones should be the next big-time target to be paid. Expect that contract to be the most in guarantees as well.

It’s another Two Minute Warning, and we have more stuff to talk about. With the NFL preseason about to kick in their first sets of games, let’s go back to camp and see what is happening around the league.

Cmon, it’ll be fun gang.

Welcome back Yannick

The Jacksonville Jaguars defense should now be fun to watch. While still looking to get paid, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue ended his holdout and reported to camp Sunday morning following a tweet on Thursday afternoon.

Ngakoue has been looking for a new deal since the start of the offseason. In his first three seasons, the Maryland product has collected 29.5 sacks and has yet to miss a game. According to one report, part of the reason for Ngakoue’s return is due to the NFL restrictions. Had he held out until Tuesday, the Jaguars could match any deal offered next season as he would become a restricted free agent.

“I know what I’m worth,” Ngakoue said in May, per Jacksonville.com’s John Reid. “It’s self-explanatory what I’ve done in three years, what I’ve amassed in three years. That (contract situation) is more a front-office question. They control those things; the only thing I control is getting better, so that’s why I left—to try and get better.”

While tensions are high between the two parties, at least the Jaguars were able to bring back one of the key defenders for the start of the season. Two holdouts down, four to go.

Reed’s busting in Hall of Fame

The 2019 NFL Hall of Fame class is one to remember. Highlighted with the likes of Ed Reed, Ty Law, Champ Bailey, and Tony Gonzalez, the class was enshrined into Canton on Saturday night. And while each player received their bust, only Reed’s has his crazy hairstyle in full effect.

Can we talk about the quality of Reed’s bust? There’s a bust, and then there’s this beauty that fans will be able to see every time they enter the building.

“There’s no place like BALTIMORE,” Reed said to start his speech. “I’d like to thank that organization: Steve Bisciotti, Ozzie Newsome, Coach Belichick, his staff, Coach Harbs, his staff. It’s too many people to mention. I know I’m going to miss some people, but I love all y’all guys.”

Really? Belichick? Whatever floats your boat, Reed. I’m the last person to argue with you. Enjoy retirement and that cigar G.O.A.T. safety!

Brown in trouble?

Starters usually miss the first preseason game. Either they’ll play a drive to open the series or just be found giving advice on the sidelines to younger players. So while Antonio Brown might not be out there, it’s not because the Oakland Raiders are resting him.

According to Vic Tafur of The Athletic, Brown is dealing with a lingering foot injury that will require him to see a specialist. Tafur reported that Brown would meet with the specialist on Saturday and wait for further instructions. Oakland has limited Brown’s participation, who hasn’t been full gear at practice since the team’s reported on July 26.

“I think we’re all disappointed,” head coach Jon Gruden said on Brown’s status according to The Athletic’s Lindsay Jones.

With the loss of Brown, this could become a chance for younger players, such as Clemson star Hunter Renfrow to earn reps. According to reports, he’s been the Raiders’ top young talent.

Parting Shots

10) Some people like getting tattoos, others prefer jerseys. Well, here’s Odell Beckham Jr. signing a lady’s license plate because it featured his name in it. Hopefully, she’ll register a new plate in the coming days because that’s going to wash off in the rain. Good job by Odell though.

9) Want to feel old? Tom Brady finally got to hold his draft card from 2000.

Who thought that one day, the 199th selection would become the No.1 player of all-time? Also, to make you feel old, players born in 2000, the year Brady was drafted, are eligible for the draft next season.

Yeah…

8) Tragic news comes from out west as the Oakland Raiders announced the passing of former wide receiver Cliff Branch. He was 71.

Branch spent all 14 of his NFL seasons (1972-85) in a Raiders’ uniform. A four-time Pro Bowl selection and three-time all-pro recipient, Branch lead the league in receiving touchdowns twice (1974, ’76). May he rest in peace.

7) This kid is going places. It seems like everyone, and their mother wants a piece of Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen. But hey, if the kid doesn’t get a chance to meet his hero, maybe he’ll slide into Allen’s girlfriend’s DM’s and make a word on his promise.

In all honesty, it’s great to see the support from the fan base for the young quarterback.

6) Hard Knocks is right around the corner people. The best characters come out, and fans couldn’t be more excited to see the talent as the Raiders prepare for the 2019 season. Here’s a video of every type of player you can prepare to see on HBO this week.

5) Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield is already one of the league’s top names thanks to his shenanigans along with outgoing demeanor. Well, here he is over the weekend, showing everyone that he’s better than you at shotgunning beers.

Add that along with his glorious mustache, and it won’t be long before we start seeing that look trending around the country soon.

4) It is with a heavy heart that we say goodbye to one of our own. Long-time NFL writer Don Banks passed away Sunday morning. He was just 56 years old. One of the league’s most respected and liked writers, Banks was known for his attention to detail and aggressive beat reporting for over 25 years.

A Sports Illustrated alum, Banks most recently was hired to become the NFL columnist at the Las Vegas Review-Journal earlier last month. He was last seen in Canton, prepping for a story on the Hall of Fame ceremony. Banks touched many writers and journalist lives, including my own. Rest in Peace, Don, and thank you for the lessons you taught us on how to become a great writer.

3) Pay Keenan Allen whatever he wants. Seriously, I don’t care this is preseason. What did I just watch? My goodness. Pay the man and continue to pay the man.

2) Usually, I put this last, but the parting shot order is different this week. Make sure you check out the PFN’s Podcast network. This week, Kai’Chen and Eric talk about the Browns and actually agree with several of my Madden article snubs. Meanwhile, join Zach and Eric as they break down Josh Rosen‘s inconsistencies and more on the Ezekiel Elliott holdout

1) I’m not one for political takes. I will never be one for political takes. If that’s your preference, so be it but don’t ask me about mine ever. That being said, our country suffered two horrendous massacres over the weekend, one in Dayton, Ohio, and the other at a Wal-Mart in my home state of Texas.

My heart breaks for the families who will bury a child due to one person’s action. I choke up at the thought of a little boy or girl who will now grow up without a parent because of a horrific event like this. The harsh reality of this though is it’s so normalized now; we aren’t affected like we once used to be.

I don’t know when this will be resolved. Hopefully soon so we don’t need to live in fear of walking into our place of worship with a chance of getting killed. Where we can go to an event and not have to think we could be shot and never come home. The nightmare of that reality is inching closer and closer to become just a real thing.

I tweeted this earlier today. They’re just five simple rules I chose to live by in case my time here is cut too short. I hope these rules can brighten a smile on your day and bring you nothing but happiness.

I love writing for you all, and I appreciate the support you have given me. Thank you for making me want to become a better writer and know I am grateful for what lies ahead. You all are amazing people.

Cole Thompson is the Lead NFL writer for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter at @MrColeThompson

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