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Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill, and the Wide Receiver Salary Revolution

The market for wide receiver salaries wasn’t just reset — it exploded. Let’s explore the implications of this week’s record-setting Tyreek Hill and Davante Adams contract extensions.

As merry chaos ensues across the NFL free agency market, players are cashing in and moving from one team to another at a rapid pace. As record-setting sums are awarded and the ink dries on the page to make things official, we’re witnessing the beginning of a new era for the business of football.

Specifically as it relates to the market for wide receiver talent.

Two of the biggest moves in free agency of the 2022 offseason thus far saw the Green Bay Packers deal superstar receiver Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders and the Chiefs trade Tyreek Hill to Miami. Adams and the Packers could not come to terms on a new contract extension despite the club guaranteeing Aaron Rodgers $150 million. When the dust settled, the Raiders locked Adams into a five-year, $140 million deal that guarantees him just over $65 million. 

All this occurred before the Chiefs could get an extension done with Hill, who was due for free agency a year from now. In a flash, the wide receiver salary market shifted. And the impact this movement will have on future contracts at the position cannot be overstated.

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Over the past three seasons in particular, Hill and Adams have produced stellar stats. Adams led the league over the last two seasons combined in both touchdowns and catches; Hill is No. 2 in touchdowns and ranks among the NFL’s top 10 in receiving yards and catches. They were both on track to earn lucrative extensions one way or another.

But when Hill saw just how paid Adams got after relocating to Vegas, any potential negotiation between himself and the Chiefs was turned on its head.

Or, as Hill agent Drew Rosenhaus put it to Miami’s WQAM Sports Radio Thursday, “[T]he Adams deal really flipped everything upside down.”

Hill just turned 28 on March 1, while Adams will turn 30 at the end of the year on Christmas Eve. The Raiders deal gave Hill room to argue that he has more prime years remaining in his career, and he can point to numbers that aren’t far behind Adams’. And the Dolphins were receptive to the tune of four years and $120 million, setting a new milestone for average annual payout ($30 million) and guaranteed money ($72.2 million) among wideouts.

“The Chiefs… had the foresight to see that Tyreek was in the last year of his contract and we weren’t going to take a deal that wasn’t better than Adams’,” Rosenhaus said.

And as both Adams and Hill get paid in breakthrough fashion, young receivers like Justin Jefferson, AJ Brown, Ja’Marr Chase, DK Metcalf, Ceedee Lamb, Terry McLaurin, and Deebo Samuel are likely somewhere celebrating. They’re among the foremost young receivers that can consider themselves the next guys up. And when their times come, the numbers could easily get even bigger as the NFL salary cap rises.

Let’s take stock of the paradigm shift in receiver pay here and now. We can look at both of these two breakthrough deals through a couple of different lenses — let’s start with the raw numbers back to back:

Davante Adams’ Contract

Years: 5
Total value: $140,000,000 (WR record)
AAV: $28,000,000
Guaranteed money: $65,670,000

Tyreek Hill’s Contract

Years: 4
Total value: $120,000,000
AAV: $30,000,000(WR record)
Guaranteed money: $72,200,000(WR record)

The first three years of Adams’ new contract boast an average annual value of just over $22 million. When those three years are up, Adams will be 32 years old. His contract leaps in the final two years of his deal to $36.25 million. Adams will be 33 and turning 34 when the raise happens. The overall average over the five years is $28 million. 

Similar to Adams, whose biggest money comes in his final two years, Hill makes an AAV of just over $24 million for the next three seasons. Spotrac estimates the final year of his deal to pay a maximum of $45 million, though the Dolphins could cut him and owe just $5.1 million against the cap. His overall AAV is a tidy $30 million, the sort of number typically reserved for elite-level quarterbacks and edge rushers.

In most cases, the two biggest sticking points when negotiating NFL contracts are guaranteed money and the yearly average salary. Whether or not a player is paid the full amount of the contract based on bonuses and incentives doesn’t necessarily matter if the guarantees are high. This is due to the simple fact that even the salary cap rises, players are aging and contracts often need to be renegotiated or restructured for teams to stay competitive.

For example, the Dolphins may decide entering the last year of Hill’s deal that a $45 million salary number is far too rich for their blood and that they’d rather trade him or release him instead. But by that point in time, he will have already secured bragging rights as the wide receiver AAV king and set the market for years to come, to say nothing of his impressive $72.2 million in guarantees

As the rising generation of young receivers watches Adams and Hill get paid, each one likely envisions surpassing Hill’s $30 million AAV record. One of them — perhaps several of them — will exceed that mark. Justin Jefferson, AJ Brown, JaMarr Chase, DK Metcalf, Ceedee Lamb, Deebo Samuel, and Terry McLaurin are all under the age of 26 with either an All-Pro or a Pro-Bowl nod to their names.

Adams and Hill were paid at 28 and 29 years old, respectively.

It’s only a matter of time before the floodgates they opened get split even wider.

Receivers compete against one another every season on the field and on the stat sheet, but when it comes to making history in contract negotiations,there’s a rising tide on the wide receiver market that we haven’t witnessed before. With that in mind, all of them ought to be rooting for one another to get the biggest possible bag and see just how far this revolution can go.

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