Wide receiver is not a need for the Green Bay Packers; it is a must. But at the same time, general manager Brian Gutekunst can’t be pressed to make bad moves to fill the position after trading Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders last month. And that’s why the draft, and not trading for veterans, is the best use of the extra capital acquired.
If Gutekunst believes that he hasn’t fully addressed receiver after the draft, he might be able to find decent pieces in free agency. Players like Julio Jones, Will Fuller, or Sammy Watkins are still out there. But the recent increase in wide receiver contracts makes the draft the better way to build a roster because the financial difference is much bigger, even compared to other positions like cornerback, safety, or tight end.
Three top receivers recently signed multi-year extensions. Tyreek Hill got $30 million, Davante Adams received $28 million, and Stefon Diggs re-signed for $26 million per season. That’s much more than a rookie receiver gets through his entire first contract. The Packers have pick 22. The 22nd player drafted last season was Tennessee Titans cornerback Caleb Farley, and his contract is $13.5 million – for four years. Even considering inflation, the rookie drafted this year will receive a small figure compared to the top guys.
There is always a chance the player is a bust. But the chances of finding at least a decent/good starter on Day 1 is significant.
The trade market for veterans is probably the worst path to building a competitive roster. If the Packers use the extra capital to acquire a player, they will still be worse than they were with Adams, and the financial burden will be bigger than it will be for a rookie. Players mentioned in trade talks demand big figures or will re-sign immediately after a trade.
Before signing an extension on Thursday, Brandin Cooks had a $13 million cap hit for the acquiring team. D.K. Metcalf is in the last year of his rookie contract and will demand a top-of-market extension. The most cost-effective veteran may be Tyler Lockett, who has cap hits of $3 million in 2022, $9.7 million in 2023, $15.3 million in 2024, and $15.3 million in 2025. But his cap hits are still much more than any rookie, with less upside, even though the floor is higher.
The acquiring team spends both high draft capital and financial capital by signing a veteran player. That’s not smart management, or at the very least, it increases the chances of failure and undue pressure on the player.
The rookie path
Justin Jefferson is an outlier. The Minnesota Vikings’ plan to replace Stefon Diggs with him is an exceptional and unsustainable proposition. But it’s possible to find good receivers in the second half of the first round and get high-end production without compromising a big chunk of the salary cap. A good strategy is to draft multiple receivers in the first round – or at least in the first two rounds.
First, a recent Pro Football Focus study says that it’s not the star receiver who indicates playoff success. Rather, it’s receiver depth. Therefore, investing heavily in more than one receiving weapon is wise, especially if the contract is inexpensive.
Second, scouting is an almost impossible task. If a team drafts multiple players of the same position, it increases the chances of success and reduces the weight of an eventual mistake.
The fifth-year option is the final benefit of drafting a wide receiver or two in the first round. Even though it is now fully guaranteed when applied after the third season, the option is still relatively cheap and eases negotiations for a second contract.
Ultimately, the drafting team will have four years for half the price a top receiver will get in one season, and the Packers would still have a fifth-year option for around the transition tag figure, which is the average of the top 10 players at the position. Suppose a team finds two good players in this scenario, as the Cincinnati Bengals did with Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins. In that case, it has a significant market advantage, not only a competitive advantage.
There is a pathway to get better after trading Adams. But the idea of replacing the best wide receiver in football with just one player is delusional. The best approach is to add multiple options and use the extra capital to build a better all-around team.
Wide receiver is the biggest need, but patience is still the better way to find solutions in the NFL.