The New Orleans Saints are willing to make Michael Thomas the highest-paid receiver in the entire league. Thomas is worth that, but it’s not always the case that the highest-paid player at the position is the best one; Julio Jones is widely considered one of, if not the, best receiver in the game when healthy, and his average salary isn’t even in the top ten at his position.
In the NFL, the highest-paid player at a position is usually just the one who got paid most recently. Given the numbers in the list below and assuming the report regarding New Orleans’ willingness to spend money is correct, a new Thomas contract might finally break the $100 million mark, and a five-year, $100 million contract with $50 million guaranteed isn’t out of the question. To that end, here are the five highest-paid receivers in the league in anticipation of Thomas leapfrogging them all.
5. Brandin Cooks, 5yrs/$81 million, $20 million fully guaranteed
Cooks signed himself a hefty extension after getting traded from the New England Patriots to the Los Angeles Rams before draft day in 2018. While no amount of money can make up for being one of the few players to lose a Super Bowl with two different teams in consecutive years, it helps. Cooks is a speed demon who plays an important role, and notched 80 catches for 1,200 yards and five touchdowns last year. His TD total is a bit lower than his career average, but this is about what to expect from Cooks, and there’s a lot to be said for consistency and what his speed does to stretch a defense. Still, it’s a lot of money for a guy who won’t reach the heights of some of his peers.
4. DeAndre Hopkins, 5yrs/$81 million, $36.5 million fully guaranteed
Hopkins is without a doubt a top-five receiver in this league, and it’d be tough to find someone who believes otherwise. He combines excellent hands and consistent numbers with at least one astounding catch every week, and usually makes repeat appearances on end-of-year highlight reels. He caught 115 balls last season for 1,572 yards and 11 touchdowns- all while battling injury throughout the year, and even playing in Houston’s wild card game with ligaments torn off the bone in his shoulder. There just isn’t a ball this guy can’t catch, even with the entire defense focused on him thanks to the Texans’ lack of other options. He’s a perennial All-Pro, and as good as they come at the receiver position.
3. Mike Evans, 5yrs/$82.5 million, $38.3 million fully guaranteed
Evans is one of the best jump-ball specialist in the league, with vice-like hands and a huge frame that allows him to go up and come down with just about anything. He only had 86 receptions last season, which is on the lower end for elite receivers, but he ended up with 1,524 yards with an average of 17.7 yards per catch. That ranked third-best in the league, behind speed demon DeSean Jackson and Josh Gordon, who only played 12 games. Jameis Winston knows all he has to do is toss it in Evans’ general area and he has a chance for a big play. Several years after he was drafted, it looks like Evans is the only franchise player in Tamp Bay, and they’ll pay him accordingly.
2. Antonio Brown, 3yrs/$50.1 million, $30.1 million fully guaranteed
Brown’s overall value of his contract isn’t worth nearly as much as anyone else in the top five, but he’s second in the league in annual salary, clocking in at $16.7 million a year. We’re all aware of the tradeoffs that come with Brown at this point. His eccentric personality can get to the point where it’s detrimental to the entire franchise, but he can be relied upon for 1,200 yards receiving, over 100 catches, and around 10 touchdowns at a minimum each season. He’s one of the two best receivers in the league with Julio Jones, and no one will argue about that. We can argue all day about whether or not his antics plus his money is worth his production, but when it comes to the game of football, there are few better than Mr. Big Chest, today or in the last 20 years.
1. Odell Beckham Jr., 5yrs/$90 million, $40.9 million fully guaranteed
Speaking of extraordinarily talented receivers whose actions tend to cause problems, Beckham Jr. takes the prize of the highest-paid receiver in the league, mostly because he signed his extension last offseason. When healthy, OBJ is indeed worthy of the top prize; he’s a threat to take any catch to the house, and we all know about his legendary hands. He deserves his money, but his injury history is definitely cause for concern in Cleveland. His first season outside of New York gives Beckham Jr. the opportunity to prove to everyone (especially the Giants) that he’s more than than worthy of a contract of this size.