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Why the leverage between Ja’Marr Chase and the Bengals changed with the Justin Jefferson deal

With Justin Jefferson’s $35 million per year and $110 million in total guarantees, the wide receiver market wasn’t just reset Monday morning, it was redefined.

No one has benefited more from the new definition than Ja’Marr Chase.

“Fuck yeah!” ” the Bengals receiver said with a laugh in January when asked if he wanted to wait for Jefferson to sign a contract before making his own.

He probably woke up to the same exclamation on Monday.

With a giant contract keeping Jefferson in Minnesota through 2028, all eyes are on the Bengals’ approach to keeping their elite receiver in quarterback Joe Burrow.

The initial idea was that Chase would wait for the deal with Jefferson and then, perhaps, surpass him.

“BREAK THE BANK,” Chase directed Jefferson on Instagram, more invested than any of his former teammates’ millions of followers.

Has he ever done it? These transactions are often enhanced to appear stronger than they are with fake money, early withdrawals and soft collateral. Not that. It was clear as day. The previous high mark for fully guaranteed money when signing a receiver was $52 million for Tyreek Hill in Miami. Jefferson landed $89 million.

League sources said the $35 million average value wasn’t a shock, but those guarantees were telling.

The conversation can now begin for Chase, but questions also begin to be asked. Is he worth as much as Jefferson? When does this happen? Is there another move to expect? Is this structure even possible in Cincinnati?

Money and expectations have changed in recent months.

The summer of wide receiver deals hit like a wave pool at a water park. Seven extensions averaging at least $23 million per season for the position have been signed one after another. Only five such contracts existed before this year.

WR extensions this year (min $23 million AAV)





Total G

G to sign



$35 million

$110 million

$89 million



$28 million

$76 million

$36 million



$24 million

$52 million

$32 million



$32 million

$84 million

$51 million


the Lions

$30 million

$77 million

$35 million



$25 million

$51 million

$34 million



$23 million

$46 million

$41 million

The wave of expansions felt like a race. The timing of many of these transactions was outside historical norms, much like cash.

All of this was a game changer. The deadline for WR deals wasn’t the start of the season, training camp or even the mid-July franchise extension deadline. The deadline for teams was to get into the financial waters before the Vikings and Jefferson made a splash.

Four of the seven highest-paid non-quarterbacks (AAVs) are now extended wide receivers this offseason.

In the NFL, as in life, always follow the money. In doing so, the league sent a clear message: Elite quarterbacks and receivers are the two most valuable assets on any team. Once you have those two things, you can always find a way to make the rest work well enough to contend for a championship. No one knows that better than the Bengals.

It’s easy to say that the Bengals should have found a way to get Chase an expected extension sooner and avoid this hefty market adjustment, but Chase wasn’t even going to look in their direction until the Jefferson’s last pen stroke dries in Minnesota.

There was no reason. Let his friend reset the market and contribute to its success, once again, just like at LSU.

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This all fits with the Bengals’ approach with Tee Higgins and the general reluctance at this point to reach the levels he desires and deserves. This decision was complicated and came with Chase in mind.

Chase’s situation didn’t seem as difficult to decipher. He wants to stick with Burrow (he said so this year), the Bengals want to keep him with their franchise QB and view him as the second best player on their team. The price would be high, as would the interest in building around an elite QB-WR connection.

The deal would likely close sometime in the summer of 2025, as that’s when almost all of these types of deals had been made – until now.

The extensions for 2021 top-10 draft picks Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith came ahead of their fourth seasons. Since the 2011 CBA instituted a rookie salary scale, only one first-round receiver had signed an extension before his fourth season (Tavon Austin). Only 19 of 288 non-quarterback first-round picks had done the same.

Yet add in Lions offensive tackle Penei Sewell and you have three of the seven non-QBs in the 2021 top 10 signing deals before year four. Adios, previous. Welcome to the new era of the ever-increasing salary cap, creating bargains for early extenders.

Could Chase join the unprecedented trio? By the way, while the Jefferson contract may have officially started the conversations, it also gave the Bengals the lever of patience again.

No one will be touching that Jefferson number anytime soon, with the Cowboys’ CeeDee Lamb being the only other major receiver without a deal. The Bengals signed Chase through the 2025 season with the fifth-year option next year at $21.9 million. The advantage to Chase signing now would be to secure his guarantees before risking injury this year.

The Bengals can now sit back and play the long game until next summer.

Remember, Cincinnati did this with AJ Green. He signed his extension the day the team flew to Oakland for the opener of its fifth-year option season in 2015.

Last offseason, they worked on a Burrow extension and didn’t finish it before the Chiefs and Lions kicked off for the opener.

Playing the timeline is as much in the Bengals’ DNA as setting a value and refusing to stray from it.

League sources indicated that signing Chase before this season would likely mean his camp would give up a bit in the negotiation.

That’s not to say Burrow and Chase’s futures are suddenly in jeopardy. Barely. They are at the heart of the Bengals’ championship dreams. Everybody knows it. Eventually, the deal should be closed.

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The concern will not be about the cost, which will approach (or exceed) $35 million per year, but about what to think of these guarantees. The Bengals famously never gave high guarantees before Burrow. He was the exception. You can get away with a franchise-altering QB.

Going back and breaking their rules on guarantees with Chase would be the real problem. This could open Pandora’s Box for all the Bengals’ big players to claim they deserve the big guaranteed money as well. Perhaps an argument could be made for Burrow-Chase as a blanket exception to the first-day rule.

Still, no one would be surprised to see Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn and her family take a hard line on guaranteed money with Chase and create the biggest obstacle.

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That’s probably the one thing they can’t do with the Chase deal if they plan to continue doing business the way they have for generations. Certainly, regarding the Jefferson Model outlier.

There are creative ways around this problem, the Bengals have a lifetime of contracts to cite as examples. This will require the same.

The question that needs to be answered in the guarantees conversation is whether Chase deserves to match Jefferson’s record deal.

Jefferson’s deal reached new heights because his production dictated it — and Minnesota didn’t have anyone else to pay after giving up Kurt Cousins ​​for rookie JJ McCarthy.

Jefferson recorded the most receiving yards in four seasons in NFL history (5,899), edging second-place Michael Thomas by 377 yards.

Chase totaled 3,712 yards in his first three seasons and is unlikely to catch up.

If you look at receiving yards per game over the first four seasons by players with at least 3,500 yards, you end up with this list.


Construction sites/Game


Justin Jefferson



Odell Beckham Jr.



Julio Jones



Mike Thomas



Randy Moss



Ja’Marr Chase



Anquan Boldin



Jerry Rice



AJ Green



Terry Holt



Lamb CeeDee



Of course, there could be an additional season of data points to reference if this trade extends to 2025. The Bengals signed Justin Rascati from Minnesota as passing game coordinator under new offensive coordinator Dan Pitcher . There will be designs to find new methods of using Chase in the same way the Vikings introduced Jefferson.

There’s still room for Chase — and his value — to grow in Cincinnati.

After Monday, the cost of being an elite wide receiver in the NFL increased significantly. The next phase of star negotiations can officially begin in Cincinnati.

(Photo: Jeff Dean/Getty Images)

News Source : www.nytimes.com
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