Late for Work 3/26: Explosion in Wide Receiver Salaries Indicates a Weak Draft Class


Explosion in Wide Receiver Salaries This Offseason Indicates a Weak NFL Draft Class

Why did the wide receiver market go bananas when free agency opened two weeks ago?

You don’t need an economics Ph.D. to know that prices are dictated by supply and demand. So, if receivers were “overpaid,” as many analysts said they were, that probably means there’s a lack of confidence in the new supply that will be injected in April.

“Wide receiver salaries have unexpectedly exploded,” wrote former sports agent and CBSSports.com salary-cap guru Joel Corry. “The salary explosion can be attributed to a relatively weak group of receivers available in the upcoming NFL draft and the 2017 draft class struggling.”

Injury-prone Sammy Watkins was given $48 million over three years. Allen Robinson got $42 million coming off a torn ACL. Guys such as Marquise Lee and Paul Richardson, who had mediocre production last year, were also given close to $40 million.

Teams seemed more willing to take risks than ever before.

While the Ravens haven’t been able to spend as much as other teams, they’ve been active every step of the way. Baltimore was connected to some of the most sought-after pass catchers (Robinson and Jarvis Landry), some of the lesser-known names (Donte Moncrief and Allen Hurns) and even two restricted free agents.

It’s no wonder teams have been aggressively pursuing veterans that came into the league in 2014. It can be argued it was one of the best wide receiver classes of all-time. Meanwhile, the three receiver classes since have been underwhelming. Here are all the receivers taken in the first round since 2014:

2015: Amari Cooper, Kevin White, DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor, Breshad Perriman, Phillip Dorsett.
2016: Corey Coleman, Will Fuller IV, Josh Doctson, Laquon Treadwell.
2017: Corey Davis, Mike Williams, John Ross.

Wow. Is that awful,” wrote Sports Illustrated’s Peter King. “One of 13 has played like a first-rounder. Amari Cooper. One!”

The fact that there have been so many first-round letdowns at wide receiver, a position that usually requires a couple years for players to develop, may mean the league trends towards waiting until the second day to start plucking receivers. A bona fide No. 1 could certainly change that trend, but it doesn’t look like one exists in 2018.

Ravens Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta said the strength of this year’s wide receiver class will be in the second and third rounds. In other words, there’s a lot of depth at the position but not many top-end options.

“This class has a few specialists, from slot receivers to big red zone threats, so it’s a draft to find No. 2 receivers or role players more than it is a draft to find a game-changing No. 1 option,” wrote Pro Football Focus’ Steve Palazzolo.

Would Ravens Really Take QB at No. 16, or Do They Just Want People to Think They Would?

Oh, I love the poker game leading up to the NFL Draft each year.

It’s a time where we try to discern between bluff and truth, and ESPN is trying to do just that with DeCosta’s comment when he was asked on our “The Lounge” podcast last week whether he’d draft a quarterback at No. 16:

“If we really like the guy and he’s there, it’s not soon enough,” DeCosta replied.

“The Baltimore Ravens could draft a quarterback in the first round if the right one is there,” the website wrote. “Or the Ravens could just want other teams to think they could select Joe Flacco's successor at the No. 16 overall pick. Why would Baltimore want to do that? Let's call it draft poker.

“If the Ravens don't plan to take a quarterback with their first pick, it would be advantageous for them to make other teams believe they might do so. Baltimore would want as many quarterback-needy teams to jump in the top half of the first round because that will push other top prospects down.”

Baltimore stands to benefit if Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson are all taken before the Ravens are on the clock. Five of the first 15 picks are quarterbacks? Heck yes, then bring on an elite player at another position.

Then again, franchise quarterbacks don’t come around every day, especially in the middle of the firt round. If somebody like Baker Mayfield slides? Heck yes, get a franchise player for a bargain.

“So, is Baltimore bluffing about taking a quarterback in the first round?” ESPN asked. “No one really knows at this point because Ravens officials are among the best at not tipping their hand.”

Mel Kiper’s 2017 NFL Draft Re-Grades

It usually takes three years to really evaluate draft classes, but grades are still given out within hours of teams’ picks and we get re-grades after one year.

ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper handed out his re-grades last week, and he downgraded the Ravens’ 2017 draft selections from a B to a C-plus.

“Baltimore went defense-heavy in this class and then didn't play the rookies, outside of first-round pick Marlon Humphrey,” Kiper wrote. “He had two interceptions and six pass breakups while starting five games and is going to be a really good player. The Ravens' next three picks? Pass-rusher Tyus Bowser, who flashed with three sacks and an interception in only 159 snaps, defensive tackle Chris Wormley, who played only 117 snaps, and Tim Williams, one of the best pure pass-rushers in this class, who played only 122 snaps. That's disappointing. On offense, fourth-round pick Nico Siragusa tore up his knee in camp and missed the season. Jermaine Eluemunor was forced to start two games at guard. That's it.

“The reason this grade isn't lower is that they hit their top needs. Now those guys need to pan out in Year 2. I also noted last year that tight end O.J. Howard "was there for the taking at No. 16." And that position is still a big-time need in 2018.”

Cowboys’ Addition of Allen Hurns Does Not Mean They’ll Cut Dez Bryant

Last week, the Ravens were “vying” for wide receiver Allen Hurns, who had been cut by the Jacksonville Jaguars, but he chose to sign with the Dallas Cowboys.

Some Ravens fans were disappointed Hurns wasn’t lured to Baltimore, while others wanted to know if Hurns’ presence in Dallas meant the Cowboys might cut Dez Bryant.

Bryant has been long-rumored to be a potential cap casualty because of his $16.5 million cap hit next season, coupled with his dipping production over the last three years.

Sorry folks. According to the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Hurns is considered a complementary piece to Bryant. He’s not a replacement.

Football Outsiders’ ‘Adjusted Games Lost’ Shows Ravens Among Teams Most Affected by Injuries

We know the Ravens have been affected by injuries over the last few seasons, including last year’s 9-7 bid that left them one game out of the playoff mix.

But every team is affected by injuries. So, how much did they hurt the Ravens in comparison to the 31 other teams?

According to Football Outsiders’ fancy number crunching, Baltimore was the sixth-most affected team.

The analytical website uses a metric called “adjusted games lost” to quantify not just the number of injured players but the quality of injured players. It’s essentially saying that placing Marshal Yanda on injured reserve has a greater effect than Stephane Nembot.   

The five teams more affected by injuries than the Ravens were the Arizona Cardinals, Houston Texans, Miami Dolphins, Chicago Bears and Washington Redskins.

“Philadelphia winning the Super Bowl after losing several key players reminds us that it’s not impossible to overcome injuries with a deep roster and great coaching, but there is a breaking point, a reality reflected by the adjusted games lost totals and how they related to teams qualifying for the playoffs in 2017,” wrote WNST’s Luke Jones.

“’Next man up’ sounds great as a rallying cry or as a slogan on a t-shirt, but there are only so many injuries most teams can take. And when you acknowledge the number of early season-ending injuries sustained on an offense that didn’t look particularly impressive on paper to begin with and then consider the difficult-to-quantify impact from Joe Flacco’s preseason absence, Baltimore couldn’t persevere. That’s not an excuse as the Ravens certainly have other deficiencies to address, but poor health was very much a part of their reality in 2017.”

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