There's no doubt the wide receiver position has taken a massive leap forward in prominence within the NFL over the last five years.
With the line between a so-called No. 1 receiver and a No. 2 receiver graying each year, it seems now teams are loading up wherever and whenever possible at the wide receiver position.
Even if that receiver is a "one trick pony."
While it's hard to determine the exact value of a contract signed by an NFL free agent, the fact Philadelphia's DeSean Jackson signed a five-year, $51 million contract, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, shows at least the hugely escalating market price for a receiver.
Market price does not equal value, however.
It just means that's what teams in the NFC East are prone to pay.
We can reasonably expect Buss Cook, the agent of Steelers WR Mike Wallace, to enter extension negotiations with Pittsburgh armed with this contract.
The worst part is, if Cook doesn't get that deal for his client, someone's going to give it to him when he hits unrestricted free agency this year.
The report from ESPN spells out precisely why it's a problem for Pittsburgh:
Jackson held out last training camp because he wanted an extension and let his contract situation affect him. He was deactivated for a game after being late for a team meeting, dropped more passes than usual and his production dipped. But the Eagles are counting on Jackson to be the dynamic player he was in 2009-10.
In other words, Jackson acted as a distraction to the team on more than one occasion last season, produced less than he had in the past (his third straight season of less production) and has been whining for a new contract for over a year.
He got that contract.
What's the price for a receiver with better overall numbers per season, better health and a lack of a reputation of selfish actions (both on and off the field)?
Wallace hasn't missed a game since coming into the league in 2009. In 12 less games, he has approximately the same amount of catches per games (3.8 for Jackson, 3.5 for Wallace), 40 more yards per season (1,068 for Wallace, 1,021) and Wallace's numbers have increased every season. Jackson's have gone down. Wallace has more touchdowns (24) in less games than Jackson (21).
And before we try to suggest Jackson's return ability accounted for a huge part of his contract, he had 50 returns his rookie year, and just 17 last year (with 12 fair catches). His return ability obviously helps, but his injury history will likely lessen the amount of punt returns he fields throughout the life of his contract.
Jackson's production as a receiver has dropped over the past two seasons, which is probably the biggest reason why the Eagles didn't extend him before the 2011 season. In fact, I'm probably comparing Wallace with the wrong Jackson.
There's nothing statistically suggests Cook should ask for anything less than what Tampa Bay just gave Vincent Jackson (a reported five years, $55 million).
In seven seasons, Vincent Jackson has gone over 1,000 receiving yards three times. Wallace has done it twice in two years, and has a full yard on VJax in terms of yards per catch (18.7 to 17.5).
Vincent Jackson is significantly bigger, but Wallace is the big-play producer of the two, and he's 3.5 years younger.
And Wallace doesn't have two DWIs and a three-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy on his record, either.
Cook can easily make the argument his client is of more value to a team from both a production and a character standpoint. The ammunition the contracts given to both Vincent Jackson and Desean Jackson, to say nothing of the one given to Pierre Garcon by Washington (even suggesting a comparison between he and Wallace is laughable) is more than enough for Wallace to push a deal averaging north of $11 million a year.
The odds of the Steelers giving that much to a receiver, to put it mildly, would be unprecedented. It's not out of the question, but one thing is certain; Wallace now has all the leverage in his negotiation, and is more likely not to sign an offer sheet for less than what Tampa Bay gave to Vincent Jackson. He'll play for his $2.7 million this season without incident, looking to build again on another great season and get top five receiver money next year.