When the LA Rams signed Robert Woods to a five-year, $34 million contract in 2017, they were taking a considerable risk. I mean no disrespect to Woods, who had obviously been underrated during his years with the Bills, but at the time it was a lot of money for a player who had never had 700 yards in a season, had missed games in three of four years and who had only caught one touchdown the campaign prior.
The Rams paid Woods $7 million in 2017 based on a belief that Buffalo had squandered his talents and weren’t getting the best of his abilities and that first year head coach Sean McVay knew something that the rest of the league didn’t. ESPN’s Bill Barnwell gave the signing a grade of D+, tied for his lowest of the year with Kyle Juszczyk and Andre Branch.
Washington’s signing of Terrell Pryor got a B+.
After Marquise Goodwin picked up two years and $8 million from the 49ers Wednesday, the league’s primal urge to sign non-Sammy Watkins receivers away from the Bills hit a fever pitch on Thursday with the Woods signing. Los Angeles committed five years and $39 million for Woods to replace Kenny Britt in their lineup, including $15 million guaranteed. This comes one year after the Rams gave Tavon Austin a four-year, $42-million extension with an unreal $28.5 million in guarantees, a deal that might be the worst contract in football this year. Unless the Rams stretch his roster bonus (which would be an even worse idea), Austin is going to get $15 million in 2017, which will be the third-highest cap hit for a wideout in football.
It is true that Austin was paid $15 million in 2017, but the Rams were able to weather that storm specifically because of the enormous bargains that McVay and Les Snead had extracted from free agency and the draft in the form of Woods and Cooper Kupp.
Woods tied with Allen Hurns for the 21st highest salary among receivers in 2017 and he finished with 781 yards and nine touchdowns in only 12 games. With a 108-yard performance in a two-point win over the 49ers, 171 yards and two touchdowns against the Texans and nine catches for 142 yards in the playoff loss to the Falcons, Woods proved to be a number one receiver under McVay.
Despite this, because of the way NFL contracts work, Woods was paid less for his services in 2018.
His base salary dropped to $800,000 and he made $3.5 million more in bonuses, plus the prorated portion of his signing bonus. Woods’ cap hit of $5.45 million ranked 30th among receivers and was a hair more than new teammate Brandin Cooks. He made less than players such as rookie contract Corey Davis, Jermaine Kearse, Taylor Gabriel and the Dolphins version of Danny Amendola, which nobody remembers.
With a full season as the number one, Woods caught 86 passes for 1,219 yards and six touchdowns, playing a pivotal role in numerous close wins for LA and helping them reach the Super Bowl for the first time since 2001. He’d proven to be one of the NFL’s top weapons but made less than a third of Mike Evans and almost less than a third of Jarvis Landry. Woods may have qualified as a top-10 receiver to some but he made half that of a top-10 receiver.
One could argue that because the Rams had paid for a receiver expected to be a role player and were getting a player who they demanded much more than that from and he kept delivering that they could have re-worked his contract after 2018 while they were paying everybody else. But Woods didn’t argue and he returned for more in 2019, finishing with a career-high in receptions while also continuing to serve as one of the NFL’s premier rushing threats at the WR position.
90 catches, 1,134 yards, two touchdowns, 17 carries for 115 yards and a touchdown.
At $7.675 million, Woods’ cap hit ranked 24th among receivers last season. The third-highest paid WR in the NFL was Cooks, who made almost exactly double that at $15.26 million. Cooks finished with 583 yards and was traded to Houston in the offseason.
With upcoming cap hits of $8.175 million in 2020 and $10.175 million in 2021, the Rams could no longer avoid the dramatic difference in how much Woods is being paid with how much Woods is doing for the team. In Week 1’s win over the Cowboys, Woods propelled the offense to a touchdown on their first drive and soon later chipped in another 14-yard run, finishing another game with over 100 receiving yards.
Then on Friday they paid him like a top-10 receiver.
Robert Woods helped the Rams make a Super Bowl in part because of how affordable he was. Now both sides are counting him to help them get back to the Super Bowl in large part because of how valuable he is.