Courtland Sutton's Payday is Coming; Here's how it Could Affect Broncos' WRs Corps
The Denver Broncos have a young group of wide receivers, all who are on either draft pick contracts or, in one case, the exclusive rights free agent tender. Three of the receivers were drafted early.
Courtland Sutton, a 2018 second-round pick, has two years left on his rookie deal, while 2020 first-round pick Jerry Jeudy and second-round pick KJ Hamler will enter their first year of their deals. Having the likely top three receivers on cheap deals gives the Broncos a lot of talent at a low cost.
But what happens when it's time to extend those players?
While we still have a couple of years before the Broncos have to start thinking about new contracts for their receivers, let's examine the current market and what it may mean for the Broncos in the future.
The Current Market
During the 2019 season, the Atlanta Falcons extended Julio Jones. He got a three-year extension with two years with $21M remaining on his previous deal. The extension was worth $66M, but of the $64M guaranteed, $43M was new money while the $21M remaining became fully guaranteed.
Still, the $22M APY on the extension made some believe that the wide receiver market was going to explode. But receivers who got extensions, while getting paid well, didn't exceed Jones from the APY standpoint.
Tyreek Hill received $18M APY on a three-year extension with $22.5M fully guaranteed from the Chiefs. Michael Thomas received $19.25M APY with $35.6M fully guaranteed on a five-year deal from the Saints. And Amari Cooper got 20M APY with $40M fully guaranteed on a five-year deal from the Cowboys.
The market for receivers, in other words, didn't quite reach new heights after Jones signed his extension. While it's likely that some receivers could approach or exceed what Jones got in the future, we haven't reached that point yet.
One thing is clear, though: No. 1 wide receivers demand a lot of money.
Where Do the Broncos WRs Stand?
Sutton enters the third year of his rookie deal. In 2021, he will certainly earn escalators based on his performance, though it will still represent a cheap salary for a No. 1 receiver.
In 2022, it will be time for the Broncos to decide whether or not to extend Sutton. If, say, he gets a five-year deal, the Broncos will have to start thinking about decisions about Jeudy and Hamler.
They won't have to make decision in 2022, because Jeudy and Hamler will enter the third year of their rookie deals. But in 2023, when they enter their fourth and final years, the Broncos may find their hand forced on one player or the other.
Let's say that Jeudy shows he has the talent to be a No. 1 wide receiver. The Broncos won't be able to keep both Jeudy and Sutton around, because they won't be able to pay two No. 1 WRs and still keep players at other premium positions. So, with Sutton entering the second year of his deal, there are a couple of scenarios that could come into play.
Keep Sutton and trade Jeudy in 2023: Because Jeudy would have a year left on his rookie deal, plus the fifth-year option, he would be a valuable player for another team that needs a WR.
Exercise Jeudy's fifth-year option, then trade Sutton in 2024: This would allow the Broncos to keep both receivers around for 2023, but then move Sutton and make Jeudy their top receiver. It might be more difficult to move Sutton, given that he would be on a larger contract than Jeudy. But if Sutton is still playing at a high level, it could be an option.
The other player to consider is Hamler, who is more likely to be thought of as the No. 2 wide receiver for the long term. If so, it's possible for the Broncos to extend Hamler while keeping either Sutton or Jeudy. They just need to be sure they pay Hamler like a No. 2 receiver.
I will grant that it's possible the Broncos find a way to keep both Sutton and Jeudy, but it would mean each would have to take below-market deals. While I wouldn't count on that scenario happening, that doesn't mean it won't happen at all.
The Future of the WR Market
What about what could happen in 2021? Looking ahead, it doesn't appear there will be a lot of receivers who will re-set the market.
The top names among potential free agent WRs in 2021 would all be seeking their third contracts: Allen Robinson, T.Y. Hilton, Keenan Allen, Sammy Watkins, Kenny Stills, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Willie Snead. There's also Larry Fitzgerald, but he's nearing the end of his career.
Fitzgerald aside, it's possible that one or two of the veterans will approach what Cooper got, but I doubt all of them will.
Players who will have expiring rookie deals are Corey Davis, Curtis Samuel, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Cooper Kupp. It's possible that Kupp will get a big contract, but I don't think the others will.
In other words, the 2021 WR market may be like the one in 2020, with one player set to get paid well and the rest likely having to take whatever they can get.
Therefore, while the Broncos will have to pay Sutton a considerable sum, there shouldn't be a lot of WRs in 2021 who push the market to new heights.
Broncos fans should certainly enjoy the time they will have a lot of talented receivers on cheap deals, because it won't be long before it comes time to pay Sutton a bigger contract.
I know some will wonder why the Broncos didn't focus on other positions instead, but the bottom line is that you should focus on "best player available" in the first round as much as possible.
I know I've talked about how first-round picks should be players you expect to have for the long term, but if you are get production from that player and are able to trade him, it's not a bad thing.
Again, this isn't something the Broncos need to concern themselves with right away. It's just something to keep in mind for down the road.