After the L.A. Rams traded Van Jefferson to the Atlanta Falcons on Tuesday for a pick swap in 2025, there was some speculation on Twitter that the fourth-year receiver might have netted the Rams a better deal if the team had simply waited until he becomes a 2024 free agent. If a player’s contract expires and he signs with another team for a certain amount of money, AND if the original team doesn’t sign a comparable free agent that would offset the loss, then the original team receives a “compensatory pick” the following year.
It happens all the time and it happens to the Rams sometimes. Would the Rams have gotten a comp pick for Jefferson and would it have been better than trading a 2025 seventh for a 2025 sixth?
OTC has him valued at 8.3m which would have yielded a 5th rd comp pick. Even if he signed next yr for only 5m it would have yielded a 6th. I understand taking care of the players but take care of the team as well.— Tom in Cali (@RamsBeat) October 10, 2023
It’s fitting that Van Jefferson went to the Falcons because there are some similarities to new teammate Mack Hollins. Atlanta traded for Jefferson in part because Hollins, a 2023 free agent signing, has been a disappointment for the Falcons. Hollins, 30, had a career-high 57 catches for 690 yards with the Las Vegas Raiders in 2022 and finally sort of made a name for himself after five years with the Eagles and Dolphins.
But this year, Hollins has caught only nine of 19 targets and gained 143 yards with no touchdowns. Would you rather have Hollins or Jefferson?
The Atlanta Falcons said:
But what else does Jefferson have in common with Hollins? It’s hard to imagine that teams will value Van Jefferson as being any better than Hollins when he becomes a free agent next year. Throwing out his status as a second round pick in 2020, Jefferson’s going to have more working against him than for him unless he has a fantastic final three months with his new team.
Mack Hollins netted a borderline 7th round comp
As a free agent who signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract this offseason, Hollins would have returned back a 2024 seventh round comp pick to the Las Vegas Raiders. However, the signing was offset by the free agents who the Raiders signed, including receiver Jakobi Meyers.
And Hollins was coming off of a pretty good season with the Raiders. He was targeted 94 times in Las Vegas, the same number of targets that Deebo Samuel had with the 49ers, and more targets than Mike Williams, Brandin Cooks, Gabe Davis, Curtis Samuel, Robert Woods, Marvin Jones, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
Even Jakobi only had a marginally better season, statistically speaking, catching 67 passes on 96 yards.
It’s not that Hollins is as good as Myers—that was evidenced in the fact that Myers signed for $11 million per year and would have netted a fourth round comp for the Patriots but it was offset by their signing of JuJu Smith-Schuster—but that’s even more to the point: Teams knew that Mack Hollins probably wasn’t going to be as productive and all he got was a one-year, $2.5 million “prove it” deal from the Falcons.
He went to Atlanta and so far he hasn’t proven anything. And Hollins had 690 yards the year before.
What exactly does Jefferson have going for him lately?
Van Jefferson’s 2024 free agent value
As one of the oldest prospects in the 2020 NFL Draft, Jefferson will be one of the oldest first-time free agents in the 2024 market. NFL teams aren’t falling over themselves to sign 28-year-old receivers who have caught 32 passes for 477 yards since the start of the 2022 season.
Some fans have wondered already whether or not the Rams should have held onto Jefferson just in case L.A.’s suffers another injury at receiver, but there’s two reasons that the argument makes little sense:
The Rams have 6 other receivers
Aside from Cooper Kupp, Puka Nacua, and Tutu Atwell all but guaranteeing that Jefferson won’t play when those three are healthy (he had two snaps on Sunday), the Rams also have Demarcus Robinson, Ben Skowronek, and Austin Trammell riding the bench. Why shouldn’t Robinson be favored over Jefferson at this point?
By the way, Robinson signed a on-year, $1.1 million contract with the Rams. He’s 29, so only a year older than Jefferson will be as a free agent next year, and he had 45 catches for 458 yards on 75 targets with the Ravens last season. Robinson’s deal is less than half that of Hollins’, meaning he wouldn’t have even been close to returning a compensatory pick.
What would make Jefferson a more attractive free agent receiver than Robinson?
The Rams would have had to use a roster spot on a player who they can’t use and didn’t want just in the small hope that they will net a 2025 seventh round compensatory pick?
Van Jefferson already had that opportunity...TWICE!
The Rams needed receiver help in the 2021 playoffs and Jefferson was one of the most disappointing players on that Super Bowl winning team. Jefferson was regularly getting over 90% of the snaps in the regular season and it took every ounce of mediocre for him to finish with 802 yards.
In the final six regular season games and four playoff games, Jefferson totaled 26 catches for 324 yards—32.4 yards per game—and he was playing almost every snap. In the postseason, following a one-catch, 41-yard game against the Cardinals, Jefferson was targeted 16 times and caught eight passes (50% catch rate) for 61 yards.
Then Jefferson missed the first six games of 2022 and by his fourth week back, the Rams had lost Cooper Kupp, Allen Robinson, and needed to funnel the ball to someone at receiver. He was playing almost every single snap, but was targeted only 36 times in eight games, catching 21 passes for 342 yards.
What game did I not watch in which Van Jefferson played like a valuable starting wide receiver?
He’s almost 28.
What comp pick will Van Jefferson return to the Falcons?
Probably none! What is the argument that Jefferson, a receiver who has had 1,894 career snaps to prove himself, playing with Jared Goff and Matthew Stafford, often opposite of Cooper Kupp, with a head coach like Sean McVay, but seemingly can’t get open or catch passes often enough to average 40 yards per game, will be an attractive 28-year-old free agent?
His ceiling would be Mack Hollins or Demarcus Robinson, and yet those receivers got between $1.1 and $2.5 million for one year and both of them were more productive than Jefferson. He has caught less than 55% of the targets thrown in his direction over the last three years and six of those attempts have been intercepted.
You can like Jefferson, you can appreciate Jefferson, you can wish Jefferson well. And you can also recognize that there are a lot of “Van Jeffersons” in the NFL and that most of them, at this point, are younger and more productive. It is unlikely a team would pay Jefferson more than what they would pay on a rookie contract and even if he’s productive with the Falcons, he wouldn’t have been productive if he had stayed on the Rams.
It’s not disappointing that the Rams swapped day three picks for Van Jefferson. The only reason that the Rams got anything for Jefferson at all is that day three picks hold so little value to most teams—you can move down 10 spots in the fourth round and get a seventh round pick, at least—that the Falcons were willing to take a flier on a player who is going to be competing to still have a job in the NFL next year because they’re just that thin at the position.
Could the Rams have gotten more for Van Jefferson? No. But they could have gotten less.