Wide receivers. They’re divas. They beg for calls out on the field. Those who are known superstars are some of the highest-paid non-quarterbacks in the NFL.
No knowledgeable football person is going to begrudge teams for giving the likes of Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and DeSean Jackson big contracts. Those guys are among the best overall players in the game. They have earned their paychecks.
That said, plenty of teams got more bang for their buck from wide receivers who had manageable and, in some cases, shockingly low cap numbers. Those sides who are able to make that claim year in and year out are usually still playing football in January.
Yes, I am talking about the New England Patriots. Here are the NFL’s 10 biggest WR bargains fro 2013.
10. Jordy Nelson – Green Bay Packers: $3.975 million in 2013
The Packers are dealing with some serious cap problems at the start of the offseason. Restructuring Nelson’s contract could be part of a fix. Still, that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t great value with a cap hit of slightly under $4 million.
Nelson finished the season with three more receptions, 85, than Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald had a cap number of $10.25 million. Fitzgerald was banged up in 2013, and there’s no doubt he is the better receiver of the two. Still, those salary numbers don’t lie.
9. Brian Hartline – Miami Dolphins: $2.115 million in 2013
I’m going to keep it short and to the point here. Hartline caught 76 of 133 targets, and he had four touchdowns. Miami teammate Mike Wallace caught 73 of 141 passes, and he had five touchdowns. Wallace had a cap number of $3.250 million.
A million here, and a million there.
8. Harry Douglas – Atlanta Falcons: $2,645,833 in 2013
The knock on Douglas is that he is, at times, somewhere between “inconsistent” and “downright frustrating.” His six drops and three fumbles are inexcusable, as is his literally tripping over himself.
All of that aside, getting 85 catches, 1,067 receiving yards and a couple of touchdowns out of a WR with a cap hit of under $2.7 million isn’t bad.
It’s his cap number that could lead to his exit from the team this offseason. That value goes up by $1 million in 2014. The difference between $2.7 million and $3.7 million is a lot for a player who is, at times, his own worst enemy.
7. Eric Decker – Denver Broncos: $1,506,039 in 2013
Decker has rather enjoyed playing with future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning. He followed up a 2012 season during which he had 85 receptions and 13 touchdowns by reeling in 87 passes in 2013. He also had 1,288 and 11 touchdowns during what turned out to be a Super Bowl (losing) season for the Broncos.
Decker is set to enter free agency, and there are reports that the Denver front office believes they can’t keep him. Decker has been linked with several clubs, including the Cleveland Browns. Spoiler alert: The Browns, as you’ll see later on, have the best WR bargain in all of the NFL.
6. Kendall Wright – Tennessee Titans: $1,867,830 in 2013
Wright has received quite the praise, all of it deserved, following his second NFL season. He introduced himself to fantasy football owners everywhere by finishing the campaign with 94 receptions and 1,079 yards. He has only had six touchdowns in his two pro seasons, but that hasn’t prevented him from being a fantasy breakout star.
The news remains good for Tennessee as it pertains to Wright’s cap number. That value only goes up to a little over $2.2 million in 2014.
5. T.Y. Hilton – Indianapolis Colts: $616,850 in 2013
So it turns out that the Colts could have one of the best passing attacks in the NFL for a total of three decades; at least. In his second season in the NFL, Hilton had 82 receptions, and he nearly went for 1,100 receiving yards. He also added five touchdowns catches to his CV.
Hilton’s cap number doesn’t even go up $100k next season. The Colts will also again have Andrew Luck starting at quarterback in the fall. Indy will be a playoff contender, and maybe even more.
4. Alshon Jeffery – Chicago Bears: $1,033,598 in 2013
Teammate Brandon Marshall stated after the season that Jeffery was the better wide receiver of the two. That’s high praise. Jeffery finished the season with 11 fewer grabs than did Marshall, but 89 receptions, 1,421 receiving yards and seven touchdowns are numbers that can’t be brushed off by anybody.
The Pro Football Writers of America agreed. They named Jeffery the NFL’s Most Improved Player for 2013.
Assume for a moment that Jeffery will continue to improve as he did from 2012 to 2013. The Bears could, in such a scenario, have one of the top WRs in the game at a discount for at least one more year.
3. Demaryius Thomas – Denver Broncos: $2,592,750 in 2013
Just how good is the 26-year-old wide receiver? He caught 13 passes against the Seattle Seahawks on Super Bowl Sunday…after suffering a separated shoulder in the first quarter of that game.
Excuse me as I stand from my chair and applaud.
Thomas has, like the previously mentioned Decker, been fortunate to play with such a living legend like Manning. At 6’3″ and 229 lbs, Thomas has the physical gifts needed to be a star at the position regardless of who is throwing him the football. He’d be fine next season even if Manning does decide to call time on his playing career between now and the summer.
2. Julian Edelman – New England Patriots: $765,000 in 2013
It’s almost as if Tom Brady and the Patriots don’t have to try. Edelman, the 232nd pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, had 105 catches and 1,056 receiving yards in 2013. He also had six touchdowns.
A different rumor regarding Edelman’s future seems to pop up every day. He may not be willing to give his team a hometown discount. He may be New England’s top priority in free agency. Whatever you choose to believe, it’s not totally certain Edelman would love life with a different team as much as he has with the Patriots.
1. Josh Gordon – Cleveland Browns: $1,139,564 in 2013
All things considered, you could easily refer to Gordon as the steal of the season. Gordon shocked many by leading the NFL in total receiving yards, receiving yards per game and longest reception of the season (95) yards. Add in 87 catches and nine touchdowns, and you’ve got yourself one heckuva breakout season.
Oh yeah. Gordon also missed the first two contests of the campaign due to suspension. He also played alongside stellar (har har har) quarterbacks such as Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer and Jason Campbell.
Gordon was, for a stretch of play, the best wide receiver in all of the NFL, and he set records in the process. He will get paid and in a big way down the road, but Gordon’s stats matched with his cap number make him the biggest bargain of 2013.
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