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Wide receivers’ salaries are expected to keep pace with rising NFL salary cap: Analysis

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Justin Jefferson reset the market for wide receivers when he became the NFL’s highest-paid non-quarterback.

That distinction shouldn’t last too long.

CeeDee Lamb is about to get paid. So is Ja’Marr Chase. Tyreek Hill wants a new deal after Jefferson, A.J. Brown and Amon-Ra St. Brown surpassed him in annual average value during an offseason that saw eight receivers sign contracts worth more than $20 million per season.

The skyrocketing salaries will continue increasing as the league’s salary cap escalates. The cap went up $30 million to $255.4 million this season.

NFL agent Henry Organ of Disruptive Sports anticipates the cap will surpass $300 million by 2026.

“Jefferson’s deal is on par with the expectation level,” said Organ, who negotiated a three-year, $19.5 million deal for Patriots wideout Kendrick Bourne early in free agency.

Organ pointed out that top receivers will continue to make a similar percentage of the team’s payroll so their contract numbers will rise commensurate to the cap increases. Jefferson now accounts for 13.3% of Minnesota’s cap number. The five quarterbacks making $50-plus million per season take up about 20% of their team’s cap.

“With the increase in quarterback contracts, it is only natural that receivers would also grow in value,” agent Drew Rosenhaus told The Associated Press.

The Vikings gave Jefferson a four-year, $140 million contract extension that included $110 million in guaranteed money with $88.7 million due at signing.

Brown signed a three-year, $96 million contract with the Eagles that included $84 million guaranteed and a $19.8 million signing bonus.

St. Brown briefly was the highest-paid receiver when the Lions gave him a four-year contract extension worth slightly more than $120 million with $77 million in guarantees.

Hill previously was the top-paid receiver after the Dolphins gave him a $120 million, four-year deal in 2022.

The five-time All-Pro has outperformed high expectations in Miami and he has noticed that he’s dropped to No. 4 on the salary chart.

“I feel like at the end of the day, if you feel like you’re top five at something — that’s like if you worked at Amazon — if you are one of the best Amazon delivery drivers, you’re going to feel some type of way,” said Hill, who is represented by Rosenhaus. “You’re going to go to your boss and say, ‘Hey bro, I’m doing 100 routes, and this person only doing 65 routes. I’m supposed to be the top-paid person.’ You feel me? So if you feel like you deserve something, go get it.”

Hill’s teammate, Jaylen Waddle, recently signed a three-year contract extension worth $84.75 million, including $76 million guaranteed. Brown’s teammate, DeVonta Smith, got a three-year, $75 million deal with $51 million guaranteed in April. Smith doesn’t regret not waiting for the market to burst.

“You can’t be counting the pockets of others. I’m where I want to be,” Smith said. “This is where I wanted to be. At the end of the day, it’s life-changing for me.”

Lamb skipped mandatory minicamp while seeking a new deal from the Cowboys. Dallas, which already has salary cap issues, has QB Dak Prescott entering the final season of a four-year, $160 million contract and star edge rusher Micah Parsons on the verge of a gigantic raise this year or next.

Parsons has a case to become the league’s highest-paid non-QB, an honor held by San Francisco’s Nick Bosa until Jefferson took over.

Chase, like Parsons, is under contract through 2025 but is eligible for a contract extension. Tee Higgins, his teammate on the Bengals, hasn’t yet signed his $21.8 million franchise tag for this season so Cincinnati is going to have two wide receivers making a ton of money if they keep both.

“Quarterback has always been the top paid and that market has exploded. Left tackle, edge rushers, and shutdown defensive backs all had massive bargaining power and exponentially higher compensation,” said agent Leigh Steinberg, who represents the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes. “Wide receiver was not that favored of a position until last year there was an explosion in the wide receiver market. … Once that dam burst, wide receiver became the favored position with big bargaining power. The market for elite wide receivers will continue to expand.”

Players are not only making more money but the guaranteed totals are rising. Jefferson’s new deal set a record for most guaranteed money for a non-QB and agents are going to keep pushing for more. MLB and NBA salaries are mostly fully guaranteed. NFL players, who play the more violent sport, are still catching up.

“I also believe that NFL contracts are on a trajectory to become fully guaranteed for many of the top players in the NFL,” Rosenhaus said. “It’s trending in that direction, which is a great thing. It’s time that NFL contracts are treated the same as the other major sports that have fully guaranteed contracts.”

Steinberg notes that first-round draft picks receive fully or partially guaranteed contracts and “signing bonuses need to be factored into the discussion.”

“It is only in football that large signing bonuses, which are guaranteed, are paid at the inception of contracts,” Steinberg said. “The trend toward guaranteed contracts will continue to grow. But if all the money in an NFL contract is guaranteed, we may see the gradual diminishment of the signing bonus portion.”

However they get it and whenever it’s coming, the best players are going to keep making astronomical amounts of money.

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Follow AP Pro Football Writer Rob Maaddi on X

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl

By ROB MAADDI
AP Pro Football Writer

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