When an NFL player puts his signature on a new contract, it creates a ripple effect. That player gets paid, his team gets to retain his services for X amount of years, and they both shake hands at the press conference—that we know.
What might not be as obvious is that a new contract will always serve as a point of reference for other players at the same position looking to sign a new deal. And after the Seattle Seahawks extended wide receiver Doug Baldwin, the Denver Broncos will have a much clearer look at what it will take to keep Emmanuel Sanders in orange and blue.
On Tuesday, the Seahawks tied down Baldwin with a four-year extension worth $11.5 million per year, including $24.25 million guaranteed. If those figures look familiar, it might be because they’re just a hair shy of the four-year, $48 million deal Sanders wants from the Broncos.
Determining whether or not Sanders has valued himself correctly goes further than just answering the question of which wide receiver is better. There are a number of important factors that went into the Seahawks’ decision to give Baldwin $11.5 million per year, just like there are other factors that will decide what Sanders is worth.
The Seahawks, even with the new extension, aren’t allocating as much money to the wide receiver position as the Broncos (24th most versus Denver’s 6th most). Seattle doesn’t have a Demaryius Thomas opposite Baldwin—he is the number one.
Jermaine Kearse fits what the Seahawks want to do offensively, but he’s never caught 50 passes or surpassed 700 yards receiving. Numbers aren’t everything in Seattle’s run-heavy offense, but being Russell Wilson’s go-to target will net you a big contract.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1681565-5-reasons-you-should-go-p...Denver rewarded Thomas with a five-year, $70 million deal last offseason, which means the Broncos would be paying their top two wide receivers a combined $26 million per year, if Sanders were to get his wish.
With a monster Von Miller deal looming, it could be difficult to tie up that much money into one position, even without spending much on quarterbacks. Miller will essentially be getting upper-echelon quarterback money, taking up more than one-tenth of the 2016 salary cap if he is signed.
Together, Sanders and Thomas would be commanding about one-sixth of the cap, which could potentially hamstring Denver’s ability to re-sign key veterans like T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib, and Darian Stewart after the 2016 season.
Seattle can afford to spend on Baldwin because, miraculously, all of their core players are under very frugal contracts until 2018. The Seahawks brass lucked out in 2013 when they signed elite pass-rushers Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett for a combined $11.3 million. A year later, both Avril and Bennett signed extensions worth a fraction of what they would command on the open market today.
Broncos GM John Elway has played his hand fairly well in the past couple of years. Like the Seahawks with Avril and Bennett, Elway quietly locked up Derek Wolfe and Chris Harris, Jr. with team-friendly contracts.
Even with those shrewd moves, an NFL player’s second instinct after winning a championship is to get paid. And since the Broncos checked that first box last year, opening up the checkbook becomes an unavoidable reality.
That bring us back to Sanders, whose achievements over the last two years with the Broncos have certainly made him deserving of a raise.
RELATED: Broncos Offer Sanders Lucrative Deal
After leaving the Pittsburgh Steelers and joining the Broncos in 2014, Sanders’ numbers have skyrocketed. In his first year with Denver, Sanders receptions jumped from 67 to 101 (including nine touchdowns), while he almost doubled his yardage from 740 to 1,401. Last year, he still produced despite the glaring weakness that was the quarterback position, catching 76 passes for 1,135 yards and six scores.
Most importantly, when Thomas encountered slumps in 2015 (most notably the entire postseason), Sanders always stepped up and saved the passing game. In the three playoff games, Sanders caught 16 balls for 230 yards while Thomas reeled in just seven passes for 70 yards.
Put simply, Sanders consistency is a must-have for the Broncos offense, especially given his explosive, but erratic, counterpart on the outside. Sanders was the glue that held the offense together in 2015, and for that, he’s worth every penny.
Sanders isn’t entirely comparable to Baldwin in terms of numbers (the different offensive philosophies and level of quarterback play make fog up the statistics) but they each provide a similar level of value to their team. Behind Wilson, Baldwin is in all likelihood the next most valuable offensive piece for the Seahawks going into 2016. Sanders may not be the number one receiver, but he is probably still the second most valuable cog in the Broncos offense after Thomas.
It may have looked at first glance that Sanders was demanding a lot when he set his price at $12 million per year, but after the Baldwin extension put things in focus, it seems that he may have hit the nail right on the head.
RELATED: State of the Broncos: Wide Receivers
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Will Keys is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @WillKeys6.