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DeAndre Hopkins’s Record-Shattering Contract Sets the New Normal for Top-Flight NFL Wide Receivers

As the passing game becomes more important, teams have to shell out for talent

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

It’s a good time to be a key piece of an NFL team’s passing game.

With the importance of the air attack at an all-time high, players who throw and catch (and stop players from throwing and catching) are cashing in. Three days after Lions quarterback Matt Stafford signed the richest contract in NFL history on Monday, the Texans signed DeAndre Hopkins to a five-year extension worth $81 million with $49 million guaranteed, a record for a receiver. The guaranteed figure is the most important number on an NFL contract, and in a “what have you done for me lately” league, indicates the continued ballooning value of elite receiving talent. Just look at the Texans’ last 24 hours.

That’s a lot of money!

Hopkins is an elite talent who makes his touchdown catches look like posterizing dunks. In the last three seasons, he has averaged 88 receptions for 1,228 yards and seven touchdowns per 16 games, which is even more impressive when you remember he’s rarely, if ever, played with even a league-average quarterback. While players like Jordy Nelson, Julio Jones, and Antonio Brown have established seemingly telepathic rapport with their stud QBs, Hopkins has had a revolving door under center. The 25-year-old has had nine starting quarterbacks in his four NFL seasons. It’s scary to consider what Hopkins might be capable of if he can establish a consistent connection with a talented passer.

As for the other two contracts, there’s certainly a whiff of overpaying for your own players. C.J. Fiedorowicz is earning $21.5 million over the next three years, which is a lot for a tight end who hasn’t cracked 560 yards in a season and was 16th in receptions among tight ends last year; still, everything about Hopkins’s middling quarterback play can also be said about Fiedorowicz. If Houston is confident that their receiving corps is a competent quarterback away from Super Bowl contention, it’s wise to keep the gang together.

As for Jay Prosch, the Texans fullback signed a three-year deal worth $5.75 million—about half of which is guaranteed, which, good for him. If you’re a fullback in 2017, your job is disappearing faster than Jets fans at MetLife stadium. Prosch becoming one of nine fullbacks in the NFL to earn over a million a year might be the biggest coup of the day.

Hopkins is just the latest receiver to be paid top dollar in recent years. In 2015, Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas signed nearly identical five-year $70 million contract deals within minutes of each other, with Bryant getting $45 million guaranteed while Thomas got $43.5 million. Last offseason, Julio Jones signed a $71.25 million deal with $47 million guaranteed, which made him the highest-paid receiver in football, albeit barely. Now Hopkins has come swinging in, raising the receiver salary ceiling by nearly 15 percent a year later.

The deal will reverberate around the entire league. Hopkins’s contract is going to have the receivers from the 2014 draft class salivating. Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans, Allen Robinson, Brandin Cooks, Sammy Watkins, and Kelvin Benjamin are all due for new contracts soon, and those dudes will be jockeying to snatch Hopkins’s crown as the highest paid pass catcher in football. The Bills dealt Sammy Watkins earlier this month after deciding they didn't want to extend him long-term. The Giants have made it known to Beckham that they intend to give him a blank check, a negotiating tactic that now has Beckham talking about being the highest-paid player in the league. Hopkins may be the highest-paid receiver in football now, but he could be the fourth- or fifth-highest paid a year from now.

The Texans have an elite defense and nearly took down the Patriots in the playoffs last season (despite Brock Osweiler doing his best to end their season from within). Now Savage (and if he stumbles, Watson) has all the tools to lead the team on a deep playoff run. Houston shelled out a lot of money to keep their homegrown star, but the Texans are wise to invest in Hopkins now. The price for talented pass catchers is only going up.