Friday arrived with the daunting news that Packers receiver Davante Adams had broken off extension talks with the team’s front office. I’m sure panic instantly set in among a good percentage of the team’s faithful fans. I expect more calls for Brian Gutekunst (and maybe Russ Ball too) to be fired. But what if Adams’ departure from the team in 2022 turns out to be a blessing?
Davante is currently viewed by most analysts and pundits as one of the top two wide receivers in the league. Many view Davante as the top man, while others think he’s just behind DeAndre Hopkins. There’s also been a lot of speculation that Adams wants to become the league’s highest paid receiver, which is a pretty common demand when the contract of one of the league’s top players – at any position – comes up for renewal. It has been speculated that Adams current demands are based on the extension Hopkins received when he was traded last year from the Texans to the Cardinals.
As for Hopkins, he just turned 29. His first seven years were spent with the Houston Texans. The Texans traded him and a fourth-round pick in 2020 to the Cards for RB David Johnson, a 2020 second-round pick, and a 2021 fourth-round pick
In six of his eight pro years, Hopkins has topped the 1,000 yard mark in receiving yardage, and in the other two he went for 802 and 954. Over these eight years Hopkins has averaged 1,251 receiving yards per season, while Davante has averaged only 938. Hopkins, chosen 27th overall in 2013, has been a 4-time Pro Bowler, and he was named first-team All Pro for the first time in 2020. Adams, chosen 53rd overall in 2014, has also been a 4-time Pro Bowler, and he too was also named a first-team Al Pro for the first time last season.
Hopkins has been healthier than Adams – in eight years DeAndre has played in, and started, all but two games. In seven years, Davante has missed three games in 2015, two games in 2017, one game in 2018, 4 games in 2019, and two games in 2020.
Based solely on Hopkins receiving yardage, he’s certainly had the better career to date. Hopkins has also averaged over 93 catches per season versus Adams’ 78. After his monstrous 18 touchdown receptions in 2020, however, Davante is averaging 8.86 TD’s per year, while DeAndre’s average is only 7.5 TDs.
Let’s look at some of the financial numbers concerning these two great receivers – and let’s assume Davante is intent on becoming the league’s highest paid receiver.
The Cardinals lured Hopkins to Arizona by giving him a two-year deal at $54.5 million – for an average of $27.25M per year, and with $42.75M guaranteed. I assume that is the highest average annual amount ever paid to an NFL wide receiver. Prior to that, the Texans had a 5-year deal with him, in which he was being paid an average salary of $16.2M.
The two-year extension deal the Cards gave to Hopkins is considered an “outlier.” In other words, it is vastly and atypically more generous than other top receivers are being paid.
I have no hesitancy in saying that, even without their salary cap woes, the Packers would be foolish to offer Adams a contract in the vicinity of what Hopkins was given. Why? Because unlike teams like the Cardinals, the Packers have a boatload of talented players, so they must parcel out their funds out with great caution.
Using NFL.com’s list of Top 100 players of 2020 (as voted on by NFL players – the 2021 list has yet to be published), the Packers had six players in the top 63: A-Rod (16), Aaron Jones (33), Za’Darius Smith (48) Adams (57), David Bakhtiari (62) and Preston Smith (63). By comparison, the Cardinals have only Hopkins (8) and Chandler Jones (15) among the Top 63.
Following his four-year rookie contract, the Packers extended Adams’ contract in December 2017 for $58 million for four more years, at an average annual salary of $14.5M. For the 2021 season, Davante will carry a cap hit of $16,8M and with a dead cap value of $3.6M. Davante will turn 29 in December.
Here’s the essential reality to Davante’s apparent quest to become one of the NFL’s highest paid WRs, if not the highest-paid WR ever: the Packers cannot compete for his services on this basis, as they are in no financial position to do so. There are a bunch of teams that have tens of millions of excess and unspent dollars, and salary cap space available, to handily outbid the Packers. It’s no contest!
A number of teams come to mind that, similar to the 2020 Cardinals, have few star players on their rosters. Generally speaking, teams with consistently weak rosters include the league’s customary bottom dwellers, such as the Jets, Browns, Bengals, and those pathetic Jaguars.
By the way, Hopkins represented himself at his negotiations, while Adams is being represented by agent Frank Bauer. Bauer was a college star at Western Colorado from 1966-70, then went into college coaching, and later formed Sun West Sports & Associates, which has become one of the NFL’s top agencies. At one time, SWS represented 47 pro football players, three NFL head coaches, and seven assistant coaches. He’s been ranked as high as fifth among the NFL’s Top 10 agents by the NFL Players Association and Sports Illustrated.
Here’s another reality. ESPN reports that, with an average salary of $14.5 million per year, Adams has slipped to No. 18 on the receiver pay scale. This is not a sign of disrespect on Green Bay’s part – though Davante might well view it as such. When Davante signed his current four-year deal in the waning weeks of the 2017 season, he did not have superstar status. He had yet to be named to a single Pro Bowl or All Pro team. Since that signing, he’s been named to the four most recent Pro Bowls, and he only achieved All Pro status after the 2020 season.
How Much Does Adams Deserve?
We tend to forget that NFL contracts should be based on a player’s prospective ability and performance, not as a reward of sorts for past performance. Hopkins and Adams are practically clones. They are within seven months of being the same age, and Hopkins has one year more NFL experience than Adams. They are almost identical in size: Hopkins is 6’1” and 212#; and Adams is 6’1” and 215#.
Neither was drafted high in comparison to what they’ve accomplished in the pros. Neither is stunningly athletic. In fact, each have well below speed: Adams’ 40 yard dash time was 4.56 seconds, while Hopkins crossed the line at 4.57.
But never mind. Trying to determine Davante’s worth is pointless to any discussion of whether he’ll remain with the Packers in coming years. Davante’s reportedly abrupt closing off of negotiations with the team tells me all I need to know about what his priorities are. He’s going after the most lucrative deal he can get, which all but assures that his next contract won’t be with the Packers.
If this is indeed the case, I don’t begrudge Adams. He has well earned the right to an enormous payday. It’s the route most top NFL players take after they’ve established themselves as superstars. In a similar vein, the Packers fully appreciated and “respected” RB Aaron Jones and center Corey Linsley, though they were financially unable to re-sign them both heading into 2021. The Jones signing was little short of miraculous – Jones differs from Adams, in that he could have made more money by going elsewhere.
Concerning salary cap realities, I said this back on March 23:
“Let’s get back to reality. For the team to return to financial health, I can almost guarantee that over the next two seasons, the front office will have to let go or trade at least two more of their current or emerging stars. I doubt that will happen to Rodgers, Adams, Bakhtiari, or Alexander, but it might well happen to any of the four who created the problem: the Smiths, Adrian Amos, and Billy Turner.”
Given Davante’s recent stance, I must amend that prediction: it now appears that Adams will not be extending his current contract or staying the Packers after the 2021 season: he’s opted to follow the money. Good for him!
Adams’ likely departure from the team after the 2021 season will be unfortunate, but looking at the big picture, it might ultimately be beneficial to the team. Losing Davante might well enable the Packers to retain two, or even three, of their other stars who were otherwise destined to be let go by Green Bay at the conclusion of the upcoming season.
Yes, fans, the reality is that the Packers have more star players than they can afford – which we ought to view as a good problem to be faced with. The fact remains that Green Bay will be without a number of their star players by this time next year.
But, as Brett Favre proved in 2008, no one is irreplaceable.