Browns draft: Keeping up with NFL’s changing WR market

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The NFL is ever-evolving and front offices around the league are always working to keep up with and stay ahead of league-wide trends. This off-season we have seen an intriguing trend develop involving the wide receiver position.

With big paydays coming up for some of the best wide receivers in the league, we saw the market explode to $30 million for the best pass-catchers in the game. With the league as pass happy as ever, it makes sense that the players who make that aspect of your offense better, become more valuable.

However, with some teams shelling out big money for the best wide receivers in the league, other teams have approached the handling of that position much differently. The Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers elected to trade their superstar-level wide receivers as opposed to paying them the high-dollar contract they command. The San Francisco 49ers could possibly join them.

It’s an interesting approach to team building at the position. With draft classes recently loaded with talented wide receiver prospects, teams are taking their shot on rookie receivers.

The case study for this strategy is what the Minnesota Vikings did when they traded away Stefon Diggs and then hit on first-round draft pick Justin Jefferson in the subsequent draft. Jefferson was able to step in immediately and recreate the same production that Diggs had before him.

How often a team hits on a draft pick to the extent that the Vikings hit on Jefferson is hard to bank on. Still, we are seeing highly competitive teams risking major drop-offs in production in an attempt to save money on replacement costs.

Will it work for the likes of the Chiefs and Packers? We will find out over the next few seasons. The major takeaway here though is that acquiring a talented wide receiver on a rookie contract greatly improves a front office’s position when it comes to team building.

(Editor’s Note: Seems like teams now need to build while either their quarterback or star receiver is on their rookie contracts not just QB like it has been.)

With football players getting high-level coaching and training from a younger age than ever before, we can only expect the level and quantity of talent at the wide receiver position to continue to be present in future NFL drafts. How does this change a team’s decision to pay veteran receivers? The Buffalo Bills elected to pay Diggs, will they look like the smart ones two years from now? It’s tough to say. There are legitimate merits to both sides of the argument.

How does all this affect the Cleveland Browns?

First, it makes the trade for Amari Cooper and his $20M contract look awfully good now. Secondly, it should make getting the best wide receiver possible in the NFL draft a high priority for GM Andrew Berry. If the Browns can hit on a wide receiver that will provide WR2 or WR3 production for the next four years, it makes allocating resources to other areas of the team easier and provides future financial flexibility.

Production from guys on rookie deals will always help but it becomes critical when the going rate for similar production on the open market can cost you upwards of $25M.

Wide receivers on rookie contracts will be the preferred alternative to paying for players on the open market, which raises the value of the position and should lead to a run on wide receivers early and often in this weekend’s NFL Draft.