The Jacksonville Jaguars needed to revamp their wide receiver corps this offseason, so it wasn’t particularly shocking to see them sign Christian Kirk and Zay Jones in free agency. What was a head-scratcher was the amount the Jags paid for their services. In particular, the four-year $72 million contract they gave to Kirk has gotten negative reviews. Not because he’s a bad player but rather because his past production might not have warranted such a massive contract.
Now, that the dust has settled, Reese’s Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy wonders if this kind of contract will force clubs to turn to the draft for “cheap labor” and force them to look for players with a certain kind of skillset.
"Has there ever been a deal upset the market like Jaguars’ Christian Kirk contract? Will it really force a first round run at WR so teams can find cheaper labor? Will smart teams adjust by designing more creative RB pass concepts? Do teams react by drafting more pass-catching TEs?"
Those are fair questions and teams that don’t want to pay retail for a wide receiver could instead bolster other positional groups. After all, running backs no longer carry the ball 30 times per game and are expected to be versatile and become a viable target in the passing game. Similarly, blocking tight ends are currently niche players that may need often need to leave the field. Simply if you can catch the ball, you will get more playing time because offenses are nowadays built to throw, not run the ball.
The Jaguars overpaid Christian Kirk because they were in need of help.
Kirk wasn’t the only wide receiver that got paid this offseason. Both Tyreek Hill and Davante Adams also got market deals. The difference is that Kirk isn’t in the same tier as Hill and Adams and the Jaguars paid a premium for him because they were in dire need of help and weren’t an attractive destination for free agents.
Allen Robinson is a more accomplished receiver than Kirk but accepted a $46.5 million deal from the Los Angeles Rams because they just won a Super Bowl and are equipped to make a run for another one in 2022. Players who want to get a ring are going to leave some money on the table to join a contender. Meanwhile, clubs that have struggled to win games will need to throw bags of money at players to incentivize them to sign with them.
Now, receivers in the same echelon as Hill and Adams are always going to get paid and nobody batted an eye at the amount the Miami Dolphins and the Las Vegas Raiders paid for them — four years and $120 million for Hill and a five-year deal worth $141 million for Adams. Kirk happened to get a market contract because the Jaguars were willing to pay as much as necessary to bolster their wide receiver corps.
NFL clubs and agents know that Kirk’s contract was the exception, not the rule and while there’s a realistic chance that fares for wide receivers might go up in 2023, Kirks’ deal won’t probably be used as the baseline for future negotiations.