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Fair deals aren’t always the norm in the NFL. Teams regularly try to squeeze players when possible, and in return, players’ agents do the same when they can. It’s all a matter of leverage, and who has it at a given moment.
Sometimes both sides win, with the team getting a premium talent locked in through his prime, and the player earning the money and security he craves in order to lay it all on the line for 60 dangerous minutes every Sunday.
And in the wake of the massive five-year, $95 million extension deal that star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. reportedly agreed to with New York Giants on Monday, early indications are this is one of the latter situations.
“It’s a fair deal, a deal where neither side can say, ‘We got over,’ ” said Joel Corry, a former agent and salary-cap expert.
Another former agent and salary cap expert, J.I. Halsell, agreed.
“OBJ didn’t get $20 million a year, so the Giants can hang their hats on that,” Halsell said. “Meanwhile for Odell, a guy who has had some hangups that the team could have controlled for the next three years, had they just franchised him twice, for him to get this level of deal, particularly from [a] guarantee standpoint, is a huge win for him.”
Beckham, 25, stands to earn a maximum of $95 million over the five years, just shy of the $20 million per year he sought for nearly two seasons, which have been far from drama free. Though Beckham, who was entering the fifth and final year of his rookie deal, opened his career with three consecutive seasons of 1,300 receiving yards or more, he has been suspended or fined multiple times for his sometimes-volatile on-field behavior.
Still, the Giants believed in his ability enough to lock him up through his prime with a deal that resets the wide receiver market. Not only will Beckham average $2 million more per year than the previous highest-paid receiver, Steelers star Antonio Brown, the deal also includes $65 million guaranteed, topping the total guarantees Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans got last March by $10 million.
What’s more, if you look at the $20-million-per-year cash flow through the first three years of the deal — which are all he’ll likely see since teams often eject on five-year deals before Year 4 — he actually reached the benchmark he sought.
“For him, that’s a home run,” Halsell said.
It’s also a deal that many prominent receivers in the NFL will likely use as a benchmark as they seek new contracts over the next 12 months.
Take the Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill, for instance. With a deep ball-loving gunslinger in Patrick Mahomes installed at quarterback, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound dynamo with 4.24 speed seems primed to build on a sophomore season in which he caught 75 balls for 1,183 yards and seven touchdowns. With another big year, the 24-year-old Hill — a fifth-round pick in 2016 who has already made the Pro Bowl twice — could set up a scenario where he angles for a new deal based off Beckham’s prior to his final season under contract in 2018, where he’s set to make around $720,000.
“He’s going to have to have a monster year to get more than Beckham,” Corry said of Hill, “but from what we’ve seen so far in Kansas City, he’s the go-to guy there, not Sammy Watkins.”
Which could make things interesting, especially since the Chiefs just signed the 25-year-old Watkins to a three-year deal worth $48 million in March.
“If Watkins is at $16 [million], so how are you going to pay Hill less than Watkins if he’s the guy?” Corry said. “I don’t see any scenario where he signs less for Sammy Watkins if he outperforms him.”
However, one rival executive pointed out, a benefit to the Chiefs extending Hill after the season will be the cost certainty that comes with it, as the price tag will only go higher the longer they wait.
“They better [extend him],” the executive told Yahoo Sports on Monday. “It only gets more expensive.”
The Chiefs, of course, could also play hardball with Hill next year and force him to play on the last year of his rookie deal, especially since it’s extremely unlikely a holdout could last beyond August. Hill has to report to the team a minimum of 30 days before the Chiefs’ first regular-season game to earn the accrued year toward free agency he needs to either hit the open market in 19 months or earn upward of $18 million or so via the franchise tag.
While it’s fair to say the Chiefs own Hill’s rights for at least the next two seasons — and four, if they were to tag him twice — there is pressure to get something done next offseason with either Hill or fellow third-year pro Chris Jones, an athletic defensive lineman with lots of pass-rush upside, as the Chiefs can franchise only one of them in 2020.
Of the two, Hill could be the smarter play, since he’s earned substantially less during his career than Jones, a former second-round pick, and thus, would conceivably be more open to a deal.
“He’s a Day 3 draft pick who hasn’t made a lot of money,” Halsell said of Hill. “If they offered him $30 million fully guaranteed at signing — and Odell just got $41 million, to put that in perspective — to tell a kid to pass that up to get more when he hasn’t made a lot of money in his career, that’s tough. How do I pass up on that, even if it’s below the market?”
That will be up for Hill to decide, if things progress to that point.
Here’s a rundown of some other receivers who could soon use Beckham’s new deal as a jumping-off point for their own negotiations in the near future.
Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones: The 29-year-old star agreed to a revised contract in July that got him a little extra money this year, avoiding a training camp holdout. Jones is under contract through 2020, but the two sides will re-evaluate the situation in 2019, though Halsell doesn’t see Jones matching Beckham’s overall money with any new deal.
“The tough thing about Julio is he’s gonna be 30-31 soon, so he won’t get to Odell’s $65 million guaranteed just because his next deal won’t be as long as his,” Halsell said.
New Orleans Saints receiver Michael Thomas: The sensational 6-foot-3, 212-pounder is coming off a Pro Bowl season in which he caught 104 passes for 1,245 yards and five touchdowns after a stellar rookie campaign. A former second-round pick, the 25-year-old is in good position to earn an extension with another strong season.
He’ll be entering the final year of his contract in 2019, and while the Saints could franchise him for two years afterward, it typically makes better business sense to pay productive young players with a lot of good years in front of them, rather than let things get contentious with the tag.
“I’m not sure he necessarily gets to Odell’s numbers, but he’s the other guy who stands to benefit,” Halsell said. “He’s the one that’s been consistent [on the outside] his first two years.”
Oakland Raiders receiver Amari Cooper: The former No. 4 overall pick is still young, only 24, which bodes well for his chances to get paid. But will it be in Oakland? The fourth-year pro will earn $13.9 million on the fifth-year team option in 2019, and while the Raiders could franchise him twice after that, his agent, Joel Segal, won’t forget it down the road if the Raiders make him sing for his supper, just like he stuck it to the Chiefs when he shook them down for a six-year, $100 million deal after Justin Houston had a 22-sack season on the franchise tag in 2014.
Adding another wrinkle to the mix is that Segal also represents the Raiders’ star edge rusher, Khalil Mack, who is also angling for a new contract.
“This [is] one where, with an Amari Cooper bounce-back year, whew, it could get interesting,” Corry said. “But he’s an offensive guy, and [Jon] Gruden loves offensive guys.”
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