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Rams at least getting fantastic cost value out of their receivers group

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It’s less than half of what the Bengals are paying for their receivers

Los Angeles Rams v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Over the last four seasons, including 2019 when he didn’t play, Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green has caught 187 of 320 targets for 2,736 yards and 18 touchdowns, averaging 14.6 yards per catch and 8.6 yards per target with a 58.6% catch rate. He has also fumbled four times in 35 games and has missed at least six games in three of those four campaigns, sitting out a total of 29 contests — nearly 50% of Cincinnati’s total games in that span.

Green, a probable Hall of Fame player prior to 2018 just based on the fact that he was named to seven of a possible seven Pro Bowl rosters, stands on much shakier ground when being compared to his elite peers. From 2016-2018, there were 26 players who had at least 300 targets. Among those 26, Green ranks 22nd in catch rate and 11th in yards per target and he missed 13 games.

Green turns 32 in three weeks and I imagine few of you reading this would expect to see that perennial Pro Bowl receiver again because we haven’t really see him healthy and playing well since 2015. Are you appalled that I would suggest 32 is old for a receiver? after all, Larry Fitzgerald is 37, right?

In the previous decade, there have only been 37 total seasons by a receiver or tight end who was 32 or older and who received at least 100 targets. That’s total seasons though. How many actual wide receivers are on the list?

12.

That’s the total number of wide receivers in the last decade who were 32 or older and who received at least 100 targets:

  • Anquan Boldin, 4x
  • Julian Edelman, 2x
  • Larry Fitzgerald, 5x
  • Andre Johnson, 2x
  • Chad Johnson
  • Brandon Marshall
  • Derrick Mason (in 2010 Mason was 36)
  • Terrell Owens (in 2010 Owens was 37)
  • Steve Smith 5x
  • Reggie Wayne 4x
  • Wes Welker
  • Roddy White

Most receivers don’t play well past 31. This is true of greats like Green too. Chad Johnson may have pushed himself out of the league with his actions but he wasn’t playing well at age 32, his second-to-last in the league. Welker’s last season with the Patriots was at age 31 and when he went to the Broncos, even playing with Peyton Manning during that historic 2013 season, he was a shell of his former productivity.

Andre Johnson’s last 1,000-yard campaign: 32.

Brandon Marshall’s last productive season: 31.

Jordy Nelson: 31.

Vincent Jackson: 31.

Santana Moss: 31.

Marques Colston: 31.

Pierre Garcon: 30.

Currently 31: Julio Jones.

Turning 32 today coincidentally: Antonio Brown.

I wonder if this was a feeling that Calvin Johnson had when he retired at 31. Johnson retires as a player with fewer Pro Bowl nods than Green at six and yet he gets to retire with each of his last six seasons being his “best” six seasons. If we reversed his career would he have less of a shot at the Hall of Fame? Perception is interesting.

But I can’t imagine that the sentiment around Green’s upcoming 2020 return to the field after missing last season — assuming that can even be accomplished — is overwhelmingly positive even if the Bengals did draft Joe Burrow. While Burrow represents a likely upgrade to 2019’s Ryan Finley, Green was declining with Andy Dalton who, in spite of justifiable criticisms as to his ceiling, was a pretty good quarterback for most of his regular seasons. Burrow’s ceiling should be significantly higher than Dalton’s but we probably can’t expect to see Burrow’s ceiling and Green’s elite talents on the field at the same time. Ever.

And that was 600 words of lead-up to tell you that the Bengals are as of now planning to pay Green an $18.1 million salary on the franchise tag in 2020. He is their highest paid player and with $24 million in cap room and few names on the roster who would attract the attention of Cris Collinsworth and Al Michaels for Sunday Night Football commentary, I don’t foresee him being released.

Meanwhile the LA Rams are paying their entire receiving group, which features two players who were better in the 2017-2019 seasons than Green was from the 2016-2018 seasons that I highlighted earlier, $17.8 million.

For a team struggling to keep the roster and the cap in harmony, at least there’s that sliver of hope that value can be found in some areas in order to offset the money that’s essentially been wasted on others. Including, unfortunately, $21.8 million in dead money to wide receiver Brandin Cooks. The Rams are paying more for Cooks, who is not on the team, than they are for Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, and every other receiver on the roster.

But the ability to trade Cooks was also only possible because the team made one of the best contract deals of the last three years and found a gem on day two of the draft.

In his three seasons with LA, Woods has caught 232 of 354 targets (61.6%) for 3,134 yards, 13 touchdowns, and 8.85 yards per target. He’s averaging the same yards per target as Stefon Diggs and Travis Kelce and posting a higher catch rate than DeAndre Hopkins, Julio Jones, and Amari Cooper.

In 2020, Woods has a cap hit of $8.175 million, which ranks 29th among receivers. I wouldn’t pick many of the other 28 over Woods — WHO STILL DOESN’T TURN 32 FOR ANOTHER FOUR YEARS.

Among those making more unless they get released: DeSean Jackson, Sterling Shepard, Marvin Jones, Julian Edelman, John Brown, Adam Humphries, Jamison Crowder, Golden Tate, Tyrell Williams, Allen Robinson, and Alshon Jeffery. Julio Jones, the highest-paid receiver next season, is set to make $20.4 million.

In 2021, when he’s 32, $23 million. No savings, if released.

In 2021, when Woods is 29, he’ll make $10.1 million.

The better value should be obvious. Would swapping out Woods for Jones, at no savings, be a substantial net positive for the Rams? How substantial? To offset the additional $25 million that Jones is making in the next two years, what LA players would have to be cut? I know that searching for “wins” in the recent contract history of Les Snead can be frustrating at times but the five-year, $34 million deal signed by Woods in 2017 has been insanely good for the team.

And great recognition by Snead or Sean McVay to recognize that a player who averaged 50 catches, 612 yards, and three touchdowns with the Buffalo Bills could be a real star for the Rams. The fact that he’s making $10 million next year may also be what helps Snead and McVay re-sign Kupp in 2021 and to atone for those contract extension losses.

I moved the minimum of targets from 300 down to 280 because that’s what I needed to do to get Kupp involved for what’s happened during the last three seasons:

196 of 283 targets (69.3%), 2,596 yards, 9.17 yards per target, 21 touchdowns.

Cooper Kupp ranks ninth in yards per target since 2017 (one ahead of Michael Thomas) and seventh in catch rate, right ahead of Zach Ertz, Adam Thielen, and Keenan Allen. His 21 touchdowns is tied with Mike Evans and is 10 fewer than leader Hopkins, but Kupp has also missed some time: nine possible games. His rate would suggest that with no injuries, Kupp may have ranked fourth or fifth in touchdowns, though like Green that has also been a concern at times.

Unlike Green, Kupp isn’t 32. He’s 27, one year younger than Woods. Kupp is set to make $2.37 million in the final year of his rookie contract and then his compensation should be expected to shoot way up. How high?

Potentially more than A.J. Green depending on how the season goes.

The most recent big contract for a receiver was the five-year, $100 million deal to Amari Cooper from the Dallas Cowboys. The deal is very simple: $12 million in year one, then $22 million in the next four years. If Kupp signed a contract like that with the Rams, they could potentially pair him with Woods for one more time in 2021. Past that, not sure if they could afford both making post-Mahomes type money.

(I’m not sure if “Post-Mahomes” will ever become a thing but given how nice of a ring it has to it ...)

Tyreek Hill signed for $18 million per year in 2019, Michael Thomas signed for $19.25 million per year in 2019, Adam Thielen signed for $16.2 million per year in 2019. Kupp may fall between Thielen and Hill. It’s hard to predict anything right now.

The rest of LA’s receiving corps is of course made up of players on rookie deals and undrafted free agents. They’ll hope that second round pick Van Jefferson, $610,000 next season, pays immediate dividends. Josh Reynolds, at $2.3 million, could certainly be motivated to be worth at least much as his salary as he approaches his own free agent market in 2021.

Per OvertheCap.com, only six teams are set to pay their receivers less in 2020 than what the Rams are going to do with their current group: the Steelers, Broncos, Ravens, 49ers, Jaguars, and Washington.

The teams paying the most: the Chiefs, Bengals, Texans, Browns, and .... Philadelphia Eagles. (For now.)

How many of those teams in the top five have a better top-two receivers than the Rams? How many in the league do? Not many. And technically speaking they are paying more than double to this group in 2020 than what they’re paying to the receivers on the roster because of dead money.

But because Woods and Kupp have proven to play way better than their contracts or draft position would have suggested, it’s not something that the Rams can’t overcome.

Maybe A.J. Green can overcome considerable odds to return from an ankle injury at age 32 to be productive again. That’s something I’m sure most of us would welcome as a healthy A.J. Green is great for football. It’s the $18 million gamble that it’s going to happen that would give me pause.

Less pause than $18 million for Woods and Kupp.