Hard Knock Life: NFL Wide Receivers Have Been Catching Fades

Diva receivers haven't been creating noise in the offseason. Instead, kryptonite cornerbacks who are being valued more than ever, have been bumping their gums about the Benjamins they're rolling in. That money certainly isn't being allocated to pass catchers. The only thing NFL wide outs have caught during the 2014 offseason has been a case of bad luck.

The summer following breakout seasons is usually where fortunes are made and real playas get paid. Instead, Desean Jackson, Josh Gordon, Jimmy Graham and Andre Johnson have found misfortune at every corner. Since March, wide receivers have been flattened like they were going across the middle against the Seahawks secondary and hemorrhaging millions while watching the Colin Kaepernick or Jay Cutler’s of the world get rewarded with nine figure covenants.

According to NFL arbitrator, Stephen Burbank we cannot discuss Graham in this space because he does not qualify as a receiver despite taking the majority of his snaps from the slot.

We’ll let the incomparable receiverrrr… tight end Tony Gonzalez handle that.

Okay, a percentage of this column will focus on Graham's receiver half.

After losing his case to be designated as a receiver under the franchise tag, Graham finally agreed to a long-term deal on Tuesday morning

Graham’s four-year, $40 million contract is analagous to the three-year, $30 million dollar extension signed by Bears perennial receiver Brandon Marshall in May and guarantees $21 million, but it was short of the $13-$16 million annual range he sought to negotiate as a slot receiver. 

Marshall’s extension will be trumpeted as the lone shining beacon amidst a bleak offseason for the WR fraternity, however, it was a blip on the radar.

Following the best statistical season of his career, Desean Jackson was embroiled in a brouhaha over his connections to Crips back home in Los Angeles. The concerns weren’t related to an arrest or an impending legal issue, but the indicting report was conspicuously released minutes before he was unexpectedly cut by the Eagles.

The Shadow League spoke to former NFL agent and NFL salary cap guru Joel Corry for his expert opinion on Jackson, the standoff between Johnson and the Texans, Josh Gordon allowing future earnings to go up in smoke.

In Corry’s opinion, Jackson’s release had less to do with his potential gang connections and more to do with the Eagle receiver’s cantankerous nature and extravagant contract demands. New coach Chip Kelly was also worried with his subversive lock room behavior influencing young players on the team and poisoning the team continuity.

Unfortunately, for Jackson, the market for wide receivers hadn’t changed since he inked a five-year $50 million deal in 2012. Once Jackson refused to get in line, Kelly cut the rope.

Fortunately for Jackson, the Redskins bailed him out with a modest three-year, $24 million contract that will enable him to go bird-hunting twice a season.

Gordon’s off-field exploits are the most disappointing revelation of the offseason though. In a flash, Gordon’s bright future was dimmed by failed drug tests and a DWI arrest over the Fourth of July weekend has his career face down on the mat Pacquiao-style. Despite leading the league in receiving yardage, Gordon was also suspended for the season’s first two games and had issues with weed and codeine syrup in college.

If Gordon does rehabilitate himself and get back on the field in 2015, it’s doubtful he’ll make the kind of money many believed would come his way in a few years.

Corry explained that if Gordon is suspended throughout the 2014 season, his contract will hold and the third year wouldn’t begin until 2015.

Given his recidivism rate and the fact that his entry into Stage 3 of the Substance Abuse Program is a lifetime membership( that could result in him getting drug tested 10 times a year until he retires), Gordon’s future earnings beyond his five-year $5.3 rookie contract will be dramatically diminished.

According to Corry, the best case scenario for Future Gordon is that he receives an incentive-laden deal like the one awarded to Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s—but without the prodigious guaranteed money.

“Kaepernick starting in 2015 has $2 million in per game roster bonuses each year. That’s $125,000 per game. So if he’s not on the 46-man active roster for a game, he loses $125,000,” Corry said. “If he gets hurt and misses eight games, he’s out $1 million. You’ll see something like that in Josh Gordon’s contract.”

“[Gordon] has to earn his money as he goes. Nobody’s gonna give him $50 million in guarantees like Calvin Johnson.” Corry added. “The average may be high, but he’ll be able to be cut at any time without the team having to suffer any adverse cap ramifications.”

There’s not much of difference between the embattled Gordon and fellow Class of 2013 receiver Justin Blackmon, who was suspended indefinitely last November because of alcohol and drug problems.

Ultimately, Gordon’s suspension may do him more harm than good if he’s not prudent and committed to cleaning up his act.

“Part of the problem is that once you have an indefinite suspension, you’re barred from being around the team.” Corry sternly warned. “So you don’t have a support system. Josh Gordon already has a problem because of the people he hangs out with and the decision he makes when he’s not in a structured environment. Good luck him surviving the year unscathed if he’s out the entire year.”

After being booked on the DWI charge, Gordon’s bond was paid for by convicted felon “Fats” Thomas, who was a key figure in the P.J. Hairston saga which ended with the NCAA stripping the UNC swingman of his eligibility.

The only NFL team Blackmon and Gordon will be a part of in 2014 is Stage 3 of the Substance Abuse Program, but Corry cautions those who want to dismiss the pair as irresponsible, entitled recidivists.

“If you don’t look at him as someone who’s making bad decisions and has bad judgment and has some sort of actual addiction problem and it’s a disease. Then you’ll cut him more slack,” Corry apprised before speaking from personal experience. “There’s one thing I know from dating a girl who had a drug issue, you’ll drive yourself crazy trying to rationalize it.”

The Texans’ Andre Johnson is on the other side of his prosperous 11-year NFL career, but has become unhappy with the franchise’s direction. There were glimpses of agitation last season when he had a heated exchange with Matt Schaub on the sidelines. That was downplayed afterwards, but now that the Texans are messing with his money, he’s publicly inveighing against the only franchise he’s ever played for while actively seeking a trade.

In order to earn a $1 million bonus, Johnson’s contract stipulated that he would have to attend 90 percent of offseason workouts including OTAs, minicamp, training camp and be on the roster for the first game of the regular season. Johnson incurred a $69,455 fine for skipping minicamp, but forfeiting his million dollar bonus following missed OTAs, leaving Johnson furious.

After skipping OTAs, Johnson attempted to recoup his bonus with “extra credit” workouts, but the Texans weren’t having it and are now in a standoff with the face of their franchise.

“I don’t know how it got to that point?” Corry wondered aloud during our conversation. “They could have just accepted or extended an olive branch to him and gone ‘alright, we’re gonna cut you some slack here, even though technically you’re not earning it’.”

Further exacerbating the frosty relations between franchise and player is that Johnson sought a new contract in 2013, before the rebuilding process began – and was rejected.

Unlike Jackson, the Texans don’t appear likely to trade Johnson. There are a few wrinkles that would prevent the Texans from just unloading Johnson into his first free agency frontier.

Trading Johnson would result in a dead money cap hit of $4.6 million in the upcoming season and $7.1 million in 2015 related to signing bonus prorations.

On the surface it would seem that cutting Johnson would be the simplest fix for both parties. However, Johnson and Jackson are in different predicaments. Jackson's release from Philly saved the Eagles $6 million in cap space while Johnson's would leave $11 million in dead money on the Texans cap.

The similarities between Jackson and Johnson extend to their fledgling head coaches as well.

“They’re already sending a bad signal to the other players about being a player-friendly club with the way they’re treating him, but Bill O’Brien has to worry about the team accommodating a trade for a player when he’s first coming in,” Corry explained. “That’s one thing I learned as an agent. Teams hate establishing precedents where players try to stick a gun to their heads, because they’re afraid that if they show some weakness so to speak, that it could open the floodgates for other players trying the same type of thing or similar thing down the line.”

It’s especially demoralizing because Johnson has restructured $18.5 million of his base salary into a bonus to create salary cap room, but did not remove the signing bonus language which is often protocol in these negotiations.

Furthermore at the age of 33, Corry cites Johnson’s advanced age as an impediment to his trade request.  

“If he were a running back he would have retired three years ago. What type of compensation are you giving up?” Corry said quizzically.

The market for 33-year-old receiver with declining breakaway speed as well as three years and $34.5 million left on his contract is limited.

As Corry pointed out, then-33-year-old Tony Gonzalez went for a second to Atlanta. Anquan Boldin, who is nine months older than Johnson, went for a sixth round pick from Baltimore to San Francisco at the age of.”

More likely than not, Johnson’s potential value is sandwiched somewhere between Boldin and Gonzalez’s.

If Johnson does attempt to play chicken near the cliff with the organization, they can fine him $30,000 per day, up to $900,000, but Corry believes there is an amicable solution available for the two sides.

“Give him a way to earn back the million dollars. For every game he’s active, he gets $62,500 per game.”

Yet, it shouldn’t be overlooked that despite his age, Johnson caught 109 passes for 1,407 yards from a smorgasbord of pedestrian starting quarterbacks. Johnson is tired of losing and a change of scenery would do him some good.

Playoff teams such as Carolina and New England don’t have enough real estate to absorb Johnson’s $10 million 2014 base salary, however, there are ways to manipulate cap space.

It should never get that far though. The Texans should channel Aretha Franklin and give Johnson some R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

One of these wide outs has to catch a break and notch a win in their belt. It might as well be Johnson. After over a decade of being a consummate professional, he’s certainly earned it.

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