Would anyone have been upset if the Los Angeles Rams chose the “wait and see” approach with Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods rather than extending them to new contracts in September as they did? Coming off of having to trade Brandin Cooks at a monetary loss and releasing Todd Gurley before his new contract had even kicked in, the Rams had earned some amount of slack in hesitation on future extensions.
Given the crop of incoming wide receiver talent into the NFL from the 2019-2021 draft classes (all of which have been hailed as dynamic and deep with little evidence to the contrary at this point), it further emphasizes how little pressure there might have been on LA to secure their top two wideouts; especially given that Woods was not going to be a free agent until 2022.
Kupp on the other hand was entering the final year of his rookie contract and there was more urgency expected to keep him on the roster long-term. The Rams extended Kupp to a three-year, $48 million deal with $35.1 million guaranteed. We don’t know the exact specifics of the 2021 salary cap, and I do expect the NFL to make some concessions for the fact that almost half the league is set to be over the estimated cap, but we do know that Los Angeles is one of the most strained teams in the league in that regard.
Kupp will be taking up $14.5 million on his cap hit, while Woods is getting $13.875 million. The combined $28 million for those two players alone is more than all but five other NFL teams have committed to their entire receiving corps in 2021.
By comparison, the 9-0 Pittsburgh Steelers have only committed $4 million to their 2021 receivers and while that doesn’t include free agent JuJu Smith-Schuster, the Steelers opted to re-load in the draft with Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson and James Washington just in case they can’t bring back Smith-Schuster.
Extending Kupp was a risky move, but not unexpected given his obvious talent. Kupp caught 94 passes for 1,161 yards and 10 touchdowns last season and he was on pace for similar numbers in 2018 when he missed half of the year. Kupp is also considerably older than most upcoming first-time free agents (24 as a rookie, 28 next year) and unfortunately has been having his least productive season to date.
Kupp has caught 53 of 78 targets for 577 yards and two touchdowns. His 7.4 yards per target is a career-low, his six drops are more than 2018 and 2019 combined, his two touchdown catches on 78 attempts is well below expectations.
It is reasonable to expect Kupp to regress back in the direction of being a star receiver but feasible to suggest that he is not providing the type of value that Sean McVay even needs at the position today. This is further proven by McVay’s comments on why Kupp played a season-low 53% of the snaps in Sunday’s win over the Seahawks, which he noted was not due to injury:
“No, not really. I mean, he was banged up going into it, but we had a lot of guys that we wanted to get involved in that game,” McVay said. “It wasn’t like he missed any snaps. He did a good job of being able to push through his wrist. He’s been banged up, but he’s a tough player. I thought he did a nice job with the opportunities he had yesterday.”
The guy who McVay most wanted to get involved in the game more was Josh Reynolds, who posted career-highs in catches and yards against Seattle. Reynolds, 25, played in 80% of the snaps and he’s been above 72% in each of the last five contests. Over the last three weeks, Reynolds has been targeted 27 times, which is eight more targets than Woods. It would be hard for Reynolds to have out-targeted Kupp given that Jared Goff went his way 20 times(!) against the Miami Dolphins, but those targets accounted for only 11 catches and 110 yards with no scores.
The Rams have undeniably had more success this season when targeting Reynolds than they have when targeting Kupp.
On that note, Woods is on pace for his lowest receiving yards per game average since 2016, his lowest yards per catch average since 2014 and his lowest yards per target average since 2015. Not wanting him to be left out, the Rams extended Woods for four years and $65 million a week after Kupp got his own scratch.
Had the LA Rams opted instead to extend Reynolds, it is probable that he would have only cost a third of what Kupp demanded. Reynolds may not have the same upside and talent as Kupp — though this is becoming more debatable, as referenced in the above debate points — but he would have given the Rams a receiver to keep with Woods next season who would have also been cheap enough to allow them as much as $10 million more to spend.
Even if Les Snead didn’t want to get heavily involved in the aforementioned receiver classes beyond his pick for Van Jefferson, the influx of talent will mean that there’s a lot more veteran talent to become available in the coming years.
In the worst case scenario, Los Angeles is only on the hook for $3 million of dead money to Kupp and $300,000 to Woods in 2022. But they also probably won’t have Reynolds around now.
Was that a mistake?
With hindsight, should the Rams have extended Josh Reynolds instead of Cooper Kupp?
This poll is closed
Yes, should have been Reynolds
No, Kupp was the right move
They should not have extended either Kupp or Reynolds
They should not have extended Kupp, Reynolds or Woods