Article by: Justin Imler
With the NFL season almost upon us, there have been reports circling that two top tier wide receivers are in talks, with their respective franchises, to get massive contract extensions by the time the regular season starts in September. Now people will obviously be asking how much they will be paid, but the real question should be; who is going to be paid first? The receivers in question are Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons and Michael Thomas of the New Orleans Saints. These guys are two of the top receivers in all of football and are both deserving of massive pay days.
Times are changing in the NFL, especially in the realm of record-breaking contracts. These new deals are getting larger and larger every season, especially for skill players such as quarterbacks and wide receivers. Just look at what Russell Wilson and Carson Wentz are bringing home; and one can only imagine what Patrick Mahomes’ haul will look like once his rookie contract is finished.
Now back to the receivers, and the question at hand, who will sign first? I still firmly believe that both deals will get done before the start of the regular season, but this is going to be a textbook waiting game. Both guys are going to demand they be the highest paid receiver in football, and rightfully so. This reminds me a lot of the waiting game we saw in the MLB this past spring when baseball fans were waiting an eternity to see where Manny Machado and Bryce Harper were going to play this season. Both high level guys, wanting to see what the value of the other was before signing their deal.
Let us look at the current state of the WR position, and what I expect to see for Jones and Thomas when they finally put pen to paper. To keep things simple, we'll just look at the current salaries on a per year basis. Right now, Cleveland Browns wideout Odell Beckham Jr. is leading the pack making $18 million a year and following close behind are fellow pro-bowlers Antonio Brown ($16.7 million) and Mike Evans ($16.5 million). I think it is safe to say that both guys are going to get paid at least $20 million a year, creating a whole new milestone for the position. Now looking at both Jones and Thomas individually, I would expect Thomas’ new deal to be worth much more overall just simply because of his age.
Michael Thomas is coming off back-to-back pro-bowl level seasons with the Saints. Now here is one of the most fascinating stats from the entire 2018 NFL season in my opinion. Michael Thomas led the league with 125 receptions last season, the next receiver on the Saints in terms of receptions was Tre’Quan Smith with 28. I'll say again, 28 receptions! That is a 97-catch difference from the team’s #1 and #2 receivers. PAY THAT MAN! Now, I will also throw in the fact that RB Alvin Kamara had 81 receptions and tight end Ben Watson had 35 but still, you get the point. Thomas will earn every single dollar he is going to get this summer. Only being 26 years old, the Saints will have no problem giving the wide out a long-term deal to secure the star with the franchise for the prime of his career.
Julio Jones on the other hand just turned 30 this past offseason, and that is the magic number when it comes to running backs and wide receivers. It's not very common for teams to overpay for position players when they are over that age, but Jones can, and will, be an easy exception. This guy is still dominating on the football field hauling in 113 catches for 1,677 yards and 8 touchdowns on a struggling Falcons offense last season. I don't expect those numbers to fall in 2019, and I'm sure the Falcons don't either. Like I said, I still expect Jones to see a deal north of $20 million a year but look for Jones to be signed on more of a short-term basis, most likely spanning the next 3 or 4 years. Either way, these guys are going to set the stage for all wide receivers going forward for years to come.
But Justin, who would you rather have between these two guys? Well random reader I'm glad you asked, and for me, the answer is simple. I love Michael Thomas. I think he has improved every year of his short NFL tenure and he has really emerged as a star in this league. I think the guy has so many aspects to his game that can beat you week in and week out. Julio has the size advantage, but I think Michael Thomas is slightly better at his route running and finding ways to create separation. Now this is no knock-on Julio, this guy has been dominating since he was the #6 overall pick back in 2011. Just personally, I've loved watching Thomas so far in his young career, and I don't see any signs of him slowing down.
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