The specter of paying wide receivers top-dollar contracts has teams bailing on receivers before they want to. We can thank the Jacksonville Jaguars giving Christian Kirk $21 million per year for the madness that has ensued.
With top receivers now eyeing contracts far beyond Kirk's $21 million per year, the Green Bay Packers shipped off Davante Adams, the Kansas City Chiefs traded Tyreek Hill, and on Thursday during the first round of the NFL draft, the Tennessee Titans traded A.J. Brown for a surprisingly low return.
The Titans sent Brown, a big, explosive No. 1 receiver who is set to be a free agent in a year, to the Philadelphia Eagles for the Nos. 18 and 101 picks in the draft. The Titans used the 18th pick on Arkansas WR Treylon Burks, a talented player who probably won't be as good as Brown in the NFL. Not many are.
Coming off a season in which they earned the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs, the Titans weakened their team when they shipped off Brown due to his impending second contract. In the end, the Titans felt they couldn't pay Brown what he wanted.
Mike Vrabel: 'This wasn't easy'
Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said after the trade that the team couldn't justify meeting Brown's contract demands.
“I am confident we went to the extreme to try and keep A.J. here," Vrabel told the media. "I was involved with the process the entire time. We’re going to continue to coach our guys, develop them, make it about the team and this is just another example of making tough decisions that hopefully, in the long run, make our team better. I know it probably doesn’t get received like that publicly, but this was a difficult process to get through. I know what the gap we had to bridge was. This wasn’t easy."
The Eagles had to feel pretty good. They didn't have to give up too many picks to land a receiver who, if he stays healthy, could be one of the NFL's 10 best. They paid him right away, giving him a $100 million deal over four years with $57 million guaranteed, according to multiple reports. That's not ideal in a sport that has a salary cap, but Brown is a difference-maker.
The Titans won't spend as much on Burks, but he probably won't have the same impact either.
Other WRs traded
The trade of receiver Marquise Brown from the Baltimore Ravens to the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night was also likely influenced by Brown's ability to become a free agent after the 2023 season, after his fifth-year option on his rookie deal. Brown might not command $25 million per season, but he's a former first-round pick coming off a 1,000-yard season. He'll get paid. The market for receivers won't slow down.
Still, the Marquise Brown trade wasn't as shocking as the A.J. Brown deal. The Titans took Brown in the second round of the 2019 draft. He is just 24 years old. You dream about making a pick like that. And he's gone after three years, with a lot of prime years remaining.
Other outstanding young receivers like Deebo Samuel of the San Francisco 49ers and DK Metcalf of the Seattle Seahawks will also put their teams to a test: Either pay out a shocking second contract or explore a trade. Just wait until Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings and Ja'Marr Chase of the Cincinnati Bengals start asking about their extensions.
The receiver market has dramatically changed in the past couple months. Some teams are deciding they don't want a part of it. It has set up an unprecedented trade market receivers, and that won't end with the Titans trading Brown on Thursday night.