To Pay, Or Not to Pay?

Veterans rightfully earn their paydays. But how beneficial is it to give it to them?

Imagine an NFL where teams could re-sign every player they wished without worrying about an astronomical or unnecessary price tag hurting their salary cap. If they want to keep the player, they can afford to as long as the player agrees to their price. There is no such thing as one team having more cap space than the other essentially making it impossible to be competitive in re-signing that player. Or where teams can afford to pay their valued, but possibly declining veterans a competitive salary without hurting the rest of the team. What could this have meant for the Packers in the past? Maybe players like Jordy Nelson or Clay Matthews would've completed their careers in Green and Gold. Maybe this season, Aaron Jones would be suiting up again for the Packers instead of donning the vomit-inducing purple. But that's just not reality.

Instead, the team has to make those difficult decisions to let players go simply because the high price tag they may command just isn't worth it anymore. That $15M per season may have been worth it when the ink first dried, but several years later, it maybe could be better spent on 3-4 young players that could make a difference as well. Essentially these are what we call "cap casualties." They may be wanted still by their team, but their price tag just isn't worth keeping them when that money needs to be spent elsewhere. 

Every off-season it seems like everyone predicts Preston Smith will become a cap casualty. Either he'll be cut or traded. But Smith always seems to make it to the next year, sometimes by way of restructuring his cap hit. He's still competitive averaging 8.5 sacks and 20 QB hits the last three seasons, but alongside that cap hit, age gets looked at as well. He may still be effective at the position, but for how much longer? What if we took that $14.1M cap hit in 2024 and instead gave it to a first and second-round pick, plus signed a 25-year-old top-20 free agent to a four-year, $9-10M per season deal? Suddenly you're looking at this from a different lens. You could pay Preston Smith $14M per year and hope he continues his trend of disrupting QBs for at least another two seasons. Or you could use that money to pay three players who may be on your team for another four seasons and still in the prime of their careers. You have good production, but you could still have more for the same price or even less.  

Again, to pay, or not to pay?

Sometimes, it's not always worth it

Let us dive into a bit of perspective. On Monday, the Minnesota Vikings signed WR Justin Jefferson to a 4-year $140M contract. Despite him being a Viking, I'll acknowledge that yes, Justin Jefferson is one of the best receivers in the league and undoubtedly commands a high price tag. But let's break it down a bit here. With that contract, the Vikings will be paying their elite receiver about $35M per year. If Jefferson continues to play at a high level, and we take his career stats and average them out to see what the Vikings will be paying him for each year, we get 98 catches for 1,474 yards and around 8 touchdowns. Sure he could've gotten more if not for missing 7 games in 2023, but injuries need to be factored in too. 

Now, let's compare those average stats to say, Jayden Reed and Dontayvion Wicks in their 2023 rookie seasons. They both combined for 103 catches for 1,374 yards and 12 touchdowns. that's two rookies, a 2nd and a 5th-round pick combining to essentially match that $35M production. Want to know what Reed and Wicks cost against the Packers cap in that 2023 season? $2.1M. That's right, that same production, cost the Packers $32.9M less. Yes, the argument could be made that that's two players over just one, blah blah, but let's go even further, shall we?

In 2023, the Packers Wide Receivers combined for 229 catches for 2,891 yards and 24 touchdowns. The Vikings Wide Receivers combined for 220 catches for 2,887 yards and 19 touchdowns. So, the Packers had 9 more catches, 4 more yards, and 5 more touchdowns from their receiving corp. Again, yes, Jefferson missed time but put him in for those 7 missed games you take targets away from other receivers and the total numbers may only go up by a few catches, maybe a hundred yards, or a little more. 

Now look back at that $35M price tag that Jefferson now commands each season. And realize that next year, the entire Packers receiving corp if they keep Watson, Doubs, Reed, Wicks, Heath, Melton, and DuBose, that entire position group with those seven receivers, is only going to cost the Packers $7M in 2024. That's $28M less than just Justin Jefferson's contract. Is that extra 10-15 catches for 150 yards that Jefferson may bring worth $28M? I'm not so sure. 

This is when it just doesn't seem worth it to pay some of these players these top-dollar contracts. The additional production that it brings a team just doesn't make sense. Justin Jefferson can be a game-changer, there's no doubt about it but overall return sometimes doesn't add up, and you have to ask if that spark he may provide is truly worth the extra $28M a year in some cases. 

Any good player is worth a second contract. But it all depends on what the price tag may be. If you can get the same overall production for $28M less, it almost seems like a no-brainer to not throw out that big-time money. Big astronomical contracts should only be paid out to those whose production completely sets your group on a higher level than the rest. 

 

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Greg Meinholz is a lifelong devoted Packer fan. A contributor to CheeseheadTV as well as PackersTalk. Follow him on Twitter @gmeinholz for Packers commentary, random humor, beer endorsements, and occasional Star Wars and Marvel ramblings.

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Comments (39)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
mnbadger's picture

June 05, 2024 at 12:18 pm

I love your logic and am fully prepared for a bloodbath of downvotes, but I'd like you to apply the same logic to the quarterback position.
These guys are treated like royalty and there are many that are far more talented and experienced than others.
But, with the logic above, you can build a far better TEAM around a better than average QB that makes $15M than you can around a top 15 QB making $45M.
I'm concerned about overpaying our talented, young, inexperienced qb a top 5 contract.
We just got our breath back after being suffocated by 12's $ burden.
This team vs 12's final years, is evidence that so many eggs in one or two baskets are not healthy for a contending team nor a strong locker room.
GPG!

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Cheezehead72's picture

June 05, 2024 at 01:38 pm

I agree with your thought and yes it is important to not over pay one player but if you look at the QBs that made less than 15 milion last year there were 20 that played. Three of those are worth more and were able to help their teams. Those were Love, Tia, and Mayfield. All them should be getting new contracts this year. The price of success has gone up.

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LambeauPlain's picture

June 05, 2024 at 02:57 pm

The Packers have been very good mitigating the QB risk of signing the guy to replace the legend.

Rodgers honed his craft for 3 years backing up Favre, Love for 3 years backing up Rodgers. Nothing is a sure thing, but many decisions are a very good investment with a good idea of expected ROI.

I have always been impressed with Jordan Love. Even more so now. He's going to be in the conversation with Mahomes, Burrows, Allen and Herbert as the best young gun leaders in the NFL.

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DoubleJ's picture

June 06, 2024 at 10:38 am

I see what you are saying in that you have an average QB with top talent around him and you can save money. This is what Purdy is with the 49ers. However, the problem is the talent will make that average QB look a lot better and then the QB contract comes up and you still have to pay him top dollar. The other thing to consider is that a QB touches the ball every play. Michael Thomas in 2019 has the NFL single season record for receptions with 149 on 185 targets. Now consider how many plays there are in an entire season. In 2019 the Saints averaged 62.6 offensive plays/game for a total of 1002 plays in the season. That means the ball went Thomas' way only 18% of the time. In 2022 Jefferson set career highs for targets and receptions. He was still only the target of a play 16.5% of the time. Someone on offense that is only a target that infrequently but getting $35M/year seems like that money could be spent better elsewhere.

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mnbadger's picture

June 07, 2024 at 12:52 pm

Understood, but the center also touches the ball every play, nothing starts without him starting it.
Trent Dilfer, Joe Flacco, Brad Johnson, eli manning and other good/not great qb's have won super bowls. Why?
Extremely talented and healthy teammates all around them.
GPG!

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13TimeChamps's picture

June 05, 2024 at 01:30 pm

Minnesota's record during Jefferson's 4 years with the team:

2020...7-9
2021...8-9
2022...13-4
2023...7-10
Playoffs...0-1

How many playoff wins do Tyreek Hill and Davante Adams teams have since they signed their monster contracts?

Paying WR's, who probably touch the ball 7-8 times a game, 30+ million a year is insane. I understand market value and all, but this is one position that doesn't seem to bear it out. Minnesota will be lucky to win 8 games this year while ONE of their WR's has an AAV of $35,000,000. That's crazy.

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DoubleJ's picture

June 06, 2024 at 10:40 am

I said this in a different post but still relevant here.

Michael Thomas in 2019 has the NFL single season record for receptions with 149 on 185 targets. Now consider how many plays there are in an entire season. In 2019 the Saints averaged 62.6 offensive plays/game for a total of 1002 plays in the season. That means the ball went Thomas' way only 18% of the time. In 2022 Jefferson set career highs for targets and receptions. He was still only the target of a play 16.5% of the time. Someone on offense that is only a target that infrequently but getting $35M/year seems like that money could be spent better elsewhere.

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jont's picture

June 05, 2024 at 01:32 pm

Everything here makes sense as far as it goes, but there is an important word missing: market.

It really doesn't matter who has more sacks or catches; what matters is that one team or two are willing to open the vault for a player.

At that point, the analysis is limited to "team A offer $X and team B offers $X+1,000,000", and the lucky young fellow makes a decision.

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Coldworld's picture

June 05, 2024 at 01:38 pm

Successful teams pay for what they think the player will be during the next contract, not for what they have been In the past. Do we really think they will be healthy and playing at a level that justifies the premium? How much better are they than what is behind them or otherwise available?

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GB@Germany's picture

June 05, 2024 at 01:41 pm

Every GM tries to build the best possible team with the available cap.
After the cap disaster after the Rodgers trade there was very limited resources to spend big on receiving help. Gute even tried to get free agent help, but failed. luckily.
It worked out (so far), but it was not without risk.
Same for the Vikings. With Cousins gone and McC on a rookie contract they believe paying JJ is their best chance, to become successful.
Sounds like an ok bet to me.
As Packers fan I would have prefered them keeping Cousins and let JJ walk.

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Cheezehead72's picture

June 05, 2024 at 02:50 pm

What might make this work is they have Addison who has shown to be a good WR and Hockinson as the TE. If all of them and Jones stays healthy they might be above average on offense.

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jannes bjornson's picture

June 05, 2024 at 05:17 pm

Kevin O'Connell will be all Air Raid and he still has Ham @ Fullback to be a lead dog for A. Jones. They will put up points, but by letting Osborn go in free agency are a bit thin at wideouts. Jones will be a slot guy in his schemes.
Chandler is very fast. Too bad the Pack didn't make a play for Van Ginkel as a veteran edge guy with speed. Flores brought in 3 starters with free agency.

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NFLfan's picture

June 05, 2024 at 02:30 pm

Why don't some of these 'stars' think more about how 'securing their bag' affects the rest of the team?

I find some of these bloated contracts align with the general narcissism of our current time

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Cheezehead72's picture

June 05, 2024 at 02:45 pm

The key is guaranteed money. Yes they could take less to allow the team to build a better team around him but that does not mean a championship. That means he makes less money. Yes players are greedy but then our population generally is a me first population. These players have worked hard all their lives for this big payday.

The question you should ask is why do owners/GMs pay these salaries. GMs because they are trying to protect their position. Owners because they want to win a championship. The funny thing is a team can make more money by paying less to their players.

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crayzpackfan's picture

June 05, 2024 at 02:50 pm

NFLFan
While I agree with your idealistic approach to this (I mean wouldn't it nice if that's how it could be), but if I walked up to you with a one, five and ten dollar bill and said here, pick one and it's yours. You would grab the ten without hesitation. Are you to blame for taking the ten or was I stupid to offer it? 99% of players always have, always will, and justifiably so will try to get paid as much as the market will allow. Whether they think or we think they are actually worth it, they too will take that ten dollar bill if it's the most anyone else will offer.

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Turophile's picture

June 05, 2024 at 02:59 pm

@NFLfan.

From most fans perspective, they WANT the team to pay as little as possible, as that allows them to pay more difference makers. So they call the player selfish when they go for market value.

No-one calls the team selfish when they give out a below market value contract, heck no.

Players are entitled to get their value and the market decides that. We don't need to imply players are greedy by calling them stars in inverted commas. Try and be a little more even-handed.

I'm with @crazypackfan here.

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LambeauPlain's picture

June 05, 2024 at 03:18 pm

I understand. But in a free enterprise system, the "right contract" is where the buyer and seller agree.

If there is going to be a more "team friendly" contract in Green Bay, it will be more likely with Love than with Rodgers. But Jordan will still ring the bell.

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nagawicka's picture

June 06, 2024 at 12:23 am

Oh, so if Jordan Love and the Green Bay Packers agreed to a $750 million contract, the 'free enterprise system' makes it okay. It's the 'right contract' no matter who's damaged along the way. What about a hard-nosed deal at $5 million per year?? So long as the contract was signed, the 'free enterprise system' says that's the 'right contract'. But would either deal be fair, right, accurate-to-reality, good for either party or the team, or in any way market-driven?

'

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Turophile's picture

June 06, 2024 at 02:43 am

Do you not understand that the market finds its own value. Additionally, naming a stupid amount of money and not bothering to tie it to how many years the contract runs for is inane. Expanding the contract to an absurd level and calling it stupid proves nothing. It's a straw-dog argument.

However, a $255m contract OVER 5 YEARS, is a number you can calculate with. Basically $51.1m pa is near enough 20% of the current cap and it won't be far away from what I expect Love to earn.

That is a big chunk of cap for one person, sure, but that is around the market value these days for a top QB - several QBs have already got more than this. Burrow, Goff, Herbert and Jackson are all earning over $50m in 2024. Looking at what the top paid QBs earn is the main way market value is determined - and both agents and team negotiators know this.

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Guam's picture

June 06, 2024 at 07:17 am

You seem to miss the fact that the team does not have to agree to the contract demands of the player. A contract is valid only if both parties agree to it.

The Packers are famous (or infamous) for not signing starting offensive linemen to a third and usually expensive contract. They have let go notables such as Bulaga, Linsley, Sitton, Lang, Wahle and others rather than sign them to large third contracts. They have mostly been proven right in this practice as all but one of the above mentioned players have failed to complete their third contract with the signing team (usually due to injury or declining performance).

A contract is a negotiated agreement between two parties. A free market allows opposing sides to find the point where they both can agree. How else would you propose multiple parties find common ground? By edict or fiat? Who makes that decision and based on what criteria?

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Johnblood27's picture

June 06, 2024 at 09:16 am

Marco Rivera to Dallas as well...

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Cheezehead72's picture

June 05, 2024 at 02:41 pm

I remember in 2001 a guy named Brett Favre signed a 10 year 100 million dollar contract and many people I knew gave me a hard time about that. He was the first 100 million dollar player.

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LambeauPlain's picture

June 05, 2024 at 03:06 pm

Some day we may know the actual details behind the missed Denver Gold opportunity and instead shoveling the $millions to Rodgers to "make him happy".

I remember when Gute was asked about all the K extensions, void years & Cap Hades the Packer were wallowing in and he replied "it's what we have been doing around here lately." It wasn't a ringing endorsement of the strategy.

Gute has what ML seems to lack...he's not afraid to make difficult personnel decisions. A leader has to make them. They are not fun. They are incredibly necessary.

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Oppy's picture

June 05, 2024 at 03:55 pm

Gutekunst has more than once over the last few years taken thinly-veiled glancing shots on the recent cap management. At one point when asked about how they were managing to keep all these old vets around without going over the cap, he made a similar comment along the lines that 'the cap isn't a real thing, apparently and you can just void everything and it's okay.' Note, not by any means a direct quote, but it was to that effect and was clearly a subtle indicator that how the team (ahem, Ball under direction from Murphy) was handling contracts (cough, cough, to appease Rodgers) was not the route he (as the GM) would be taking if he had true autonomy (which, sadly, he had not.)

I think after the massive kow-tow to Rodgers in 2021/2022 and the way that Rodgers responded by publicly blasting the front office in his spare time, maybe Murphy finally had enough and finally told Gutekunst he was right and he has authority to just do what needs to be done.

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LambeauPlain's picture

June 05, 2024 at 04:27 pm

Gute learned from both Wolf and Ted...both actual GMs of the Packers Football Team. All football team related decisions came from, or went to them.

If Gute ever becomes the GM, how would he manage the team? More like his two mentors, is my guess.

Both mentors were not afraid to make big decisions. Both were good stewards the football team's operational expenses. And both men could let go of a player a year too early than a year too late.

Ted usually had his player costs under the cap too.

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Bitternotsour's picture

June 05, 2024 at 04:55 pm

Yes, but Ball does awesome spreadsheet, and Mark has an MBA and man those excel columns give Mark a thrill that runs all the way up his leg.

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Oppy's picture

June 05, 2024 at 05:13 pm

Absolutely agree LP.

I truly think Murphy's re-organization of power after Ted's deterioration advanced really hurt this team for a number of years.

It sure seems that Murphy has got himself out of Gutekunst'sway and he's now truly running football operations, based on decisions being made and cap management shift. Feels much more like a Ted disciple is running the show now.

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jvole's picture

June 06, 2024 at 08:10 am

How does Bakh's contract look through this same lens? All that guaranteed money just doesn't seem like Gute unless Rodgers was throwing around ultimatums.

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GregC's picture

June 05, 2024 at 05:10 pm

"Now, let's compare those average stats to say, Jayden Reed and Dontayvion Wicks in their 2023 rookie seasons. They both combined for 103 catches for 1,374 yards and 12 touchdowns. that's two rookies, a 2nd and a 5th-round pick combining to essentially match that $35M production."

Sure the numbers are comparable to Jefferson's average stats per season, but you are comparing two players to one player. To gauge Jefferson's true impact, you at least need to add the stats of another Vikings wide receiver. Then you would be comparing the production of two players to the production of two players. But there's more. A star player opens up possibilities for all of his teammates. We've seen the same thing with Christian Watson when he's healthy. The stats don't capture that effect, but it's very real, and it's the reason why star players earn so much money.

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Oppy's picture

June 05, 2024 at 05:22 pm

Let's simplify this.

All you really need to do is look at the total passing yards and total receiving TDs for the season.

Now look at the total payroll for the WRs.

Break down how much each yard and each touchdown costs based on those factors.

Now you've got something to compare to that's a bit more concrete. That takes into account all your star-power helping others get receptions and everything else.

Who's getting more production per dollar spent from their receiving corps?

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GregC's picture

June 05, 2024 at 06:02 pm

You've simplified it, that's for sure. Your formula is so simple that you've ignored the quality of the quarterback, the running backs, the tight ends, and the offensive lines.

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Johnblood27's picture

June 06, 2024 at 09:20 am

and YOU just proved the point that it is STOOPID to overpay ONE part at the expense of another important part of the TEAM.

Game
Set
Match

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Oppy's picture

June 06, 2024 at 04:56 pm

Sorry, Greg, but no, you're just moving the goal posts because you apparently don't like the fact I've answered your argument succinctly and you don't like the results.

This is what you stated in reference to Justin Jefferson comparisons to (2) Packers WRs:

"Sure the numbers are comparable to Jefferson's average stats per season, but you are comparing two players to one player. To gauge Jefferson's true impact, you at least need to add the stats of another Vikings wide receiver. Then you would be comparing the production of two players to the production of two players. But there's more. A star player opens up possibilities for all of his teammates."

My response covers the entirety of your complaint. It's straight forward, simple, and comprehensive in regards to your statement.

If the price of the super-star quality of the WR truly improves the output of all the other WRs on the roster, and that is what justifies the expense.. it will come out in the wash. At the end of the day, what do you want from your WR corps? Yards and TD's. What's your total investment, what's your total return? We're talking about WR's.

If you want to start bringing the QB's into it, pretty soon you'll start talking about the OL, the running game, the offensive system, the coach, the division opponents. A game I don't really want to play.

Don't mistake elegance for simplicity. What do you pay for your WRs and what do they produce. That's it.

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ricky's picture

June 05, 2024 at 05:16 pm

As always, the structuring of the contract is crucial to what it's really going to cost the Vikings. If you take a look at Jefferson's contract, it is heavily front loaded. What that will do is give their young QB, McCarthy, a top tier WR, along with a good TE and other WR's. Then, in four or five years, when the Vikes have to decide whether to pay big bucks to their QB, Jefferson's contract becomes very team friendly. So, although the average per year is $35 million for Jefferson, the distribution of the money will go down very significantly as he gets older. And as far as the Packers WR's only getting small salaries now, once those rookie contracts start lapsing, the Packers will also be facing some tough choices. In brief, there are a lot of facts and factors that are being ignored in this article. Anyway, here is Jefferson's contract from OverTheCap: https://overthecap.com/player/justin-jefferson/8762

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stockholder's picture

June 05, 2024 at 05:59 pm

If they're not viewed as a franchise player.
They're not worth the price.

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Oppy's picture

June 06, 2024 at 05:00 pm

Who gets to be the guy who's view is *the* view?

Nearly everyone views Jordan Love as a franchise QB, but you still don't think he's worth the price.

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HarryHodag's picture

June 06, 2024 at 06:59 am

The current bargaining agreement gives the teams five years of lower cost ball players before the team has to make a decision to either pay them a larger second contract. In many cases the player has already made his case to either retain him or let him go.

The Packers are a good example of a team that will sign a quality player to a second and larger contract, but you rarely see the team pay even bigger dollars for a third contract. The main exception is at quarterback. David Bakhtiari an exception at left tackle. Kenny Clark might also be an exception. He's likely to get another contract as he's still playing at a high level.

All contracts are based on future performance promises. With the kind of dollars being tossed around today look for teams to be hiring fewer free agents and scouring the college ranks for less expensive players as the Packers have done. Look for teams to eventually pull the plug on big money contracts as few of those players are as productive compared to the dollars earned.

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brenner's picture

June 06, 2024 at 03:43 pm

Something else to remember is the nfl is a business, and business cannot thrive without marketing. Somebody please name a player jersey the vikings are going to sell outside of Jefferson.... I'll wait...
Bottom line is the signing was as much for helping attendance and sales as it was about winning football games, and possibly more so about avoiding the pr nightmare of not signing him.

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GregC's picture

June 06, 2024 at 04:00 pm

Not so sure about that. Nothing boosts attendance like winning football games, and Jefferson helps them win games.

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