Patriots fans holding out hope for a trade involving DK Metcalf, or a receiver of a similar caliber, might not want to hold their breath. And Stefon Diggs’ reported contract extension only reinforces the point.
In case you hadn’t noticed, the wide receiver market has exploded this offseason. Upon being traded to the Las Vegas Raiders, Davante Adams signed a record-breaking five-year, $141.25 million contract. Similarly, Tyreek Hill signed a four-year, $120 million deal as part of his trade to the Miami Dolphins. Then, on Wednesday morning, Diggs, who was set to become a free agent after next season, reportedly signed a four-year, $104 million extension with the Buffalo Bills. Mike Williams got $60 million in free agency; Christian Kirk got a whopping $72 million.
Whether these new contracts were reached during free agency, as part of a trade or to extend current deals, there is an undeniable common thread: Receivers know their worth in the modern NFL and are committed to landing huge paydays. Moreover, if they deem themselves underpaid, the players will ensure their current deals get torn up — one way or another.
Diggs was one of the few remaining examples of a high-end receiver still playing on what now would be considered a team-friendly contract. But, after seeing his peers cash in, Diggs — perhaps after allowing some trade chatter to make the rounds — watched the Bills back up the Brinks truck. Had he forced a trade elsewhere, you can bet a new contract would’ve been part of the deal.
So, ask yourself this: Why would an elite receiver allow himself to be traded to a new team without a lucrative contract accompanying the deal? The precedent has been set, and NFL teams might be powerless to stop it.
Furthermore, trade compensation for a receiver either nearing free agency or demanding a new contract no longer will be reduced. The Dolphins and Raiders both parted with significant draft assets to acquire Hill and Adams, respectively, only to then pay through the nose for both stars. It’s like the old posting fee for Japanese players looking to jump to Major League Baseball, but crazier.
Want the right to sign this wideout to a record-breaking contract? That’ll be a pair of first-rounders and some Day 2 picks, please.
Consequently, it’s hard to imagine the Patriots doing all that would be necessary to bring someone like Metcalf into the fold. The same is true for fellow stars A.J. Brown, Deebo Samuel and Terry McLaurin, all of whom, like Metcalf, are scheduled to hit free agency next offseason.
(Insert daily reminder that all four players were drafted after N’Keal Harry in 2019.)
Of course, the respective situations of those players, who still are on their rookie deals, aren’t perfectly analogous to those of Hill and Adams. It’s possible that someone like McLaurin, for example, gets traded in the coming weeks with his new team immediately exercising the fifth-year option for 2023. After spending a year with McLaurin, that team then could sign him to a new deal, trade him or let him hit free agency the next offseason. For reference, that’s what happened with Brandin Cooks and the Patriots, who traded for the speedy receiver in 2017 before exercising his fifth-year option, letting him play a campaign with Tom Brady and trading him to the Los Angeles Rams the next offseason.
However, the game has changed, and star wideouts, regardless of experience, now have more power than ever before. The Patriots would be hard-pressed to replicate that Cooks move.
Perhaps the Patriots throw in the towel and execute the next receiver megadeal. Given just how good the new-look receiver group would look with a player like Metcalf on the outside, you could make an argument for Bill Belichick making a once-in-his-career exception. Of course, that would require other teams to entertain such trade talks, and current reports indicate Metcalf and Brown for now are off the table. We’ll take the cheese on Brown, but the Metcalf trade rumors are becoming hard to ignore.
Ultimately, New England has a few other options as it looks to add elite receivers to its Mac Jones-led offense.
Door 1: Identify more low-risk/high-reward plays, like the trade that just brought in DeVante Parker.
Door 2: Try like hell to find better success with drafting receivers.
Door 3: Trust the coaching staff can produce more players such as Julian Edelman and Jakobi Meyers.
Door 4: Use trades or free agency to strike hidden gold (Wes Welker) or find worthy reclamation projects (Randy Moss).
The Patriots’ approach already is clear: a combination of all four.
In 2019, New England drafted Harry in the first round and signed Meyers as an undrafted free agent. During the regular season, they took a swing on Antonio Brown and later traded a second-round pick for Mohamed Sanu.
Last offseason, they signed Kendrick Bourne to an affordable contract and, a year later, the 26-year-old might be an emerging star. Over the weekend, New England swung an in-division trade to add Parker, a talented, productive receiver with a long injury history. We’ll see whether he pans out.
Patriots fans must hope Belichick and Co. find creative ways to make the offense more explosive. Because, in all likelihood, a quick, expensive fix won’t be in the cards.