FRISCO, Texas – In a true sign of the times, I can’t stop thinking about a specific tweet from the 2018 season.
Not surprisingly, it was a tweet from Cole Beasley. In addition to being a very good football player and an above average rapper, Beasley is famously fun to follow on social media.
Anyway, the tweet in question was pretty straightforward:
It was a sentiment that made waves when Beasley shared it back in October. Interestingly enough, he said it three days before the Cowboys hosted the Jacksonville Jaguars – where he had his best game of the season, toasting the Jags’ corners for 101 yards and two touchdowns on nine receptions.
That game was the standout moment, but Beasley quietly had the second-best season of his pro career. It felt like he disappeared from the offense on occasion, as he himself has alluded to, but he still managed to catch 65 passes for 672 yards and three touchdowns.
Four months later, as we settle in for the offseason, I keep going back to Beasley’s tweet for one simple reason: what exactly is the market for the top slot receivers in the NFL?
This might be the biggest variable facing the Cowboys in 2019. Yes, we know that DeMarcus Lawrence is headed for free agency. We also have a clear idea of his value, and we know the Cowboys will use the franchise tag to keep him in Dallas if they have to. There’s not a lot of mystery with him.
That leaves questions to answer regarding Beasley, without the safety net of a franchise tag to keep him in place.
Which goes back to my question: when it comes time for Beasley to sign his next deal, what exactly is it going to look like?
In an era when wide receivers are as important and as versatile as they’ve ever been, it’s not an easy question to answer. Every great receiver in this league can move into and out of the slot with relative ease. All-Pro talents like Antonio Brown, Julio Jones and Odell Beckham play out of the slot at least 10-15 percent of the time, while guys like Adam Thielen and Doug Baldwin play inside as often as 45 to 60 percent of their snaps.
It’s hard to compare Beasley to these guys – not just from production, but a usage standpoint as well.
Over the course of a seven-year Cowboys career, Cole Beasley has run snaps on the outside of the formation. But I probably don’t need to tell you that he has done the vast majority of his work from the slot.
There might not be a regular NFL contributor who spends more time in the slot, to be honest. RotoUnderworld.com pegged Beasley in the slot on 86 percent of his offensive snaps last season, which far exceeds most of his counterparts – even fellow slot receivers.
Jarvis Landry, Julian Edelman, Golden Tate and Juju Smith-Schuster are all guys that typically get mentioned alongside Beasley. It’s true that most of them work extensively in the slot. But for comparison’s sake, Landry was lined up inside on just 59 percent of his snaps during his first year in Cleveland. For Edelman, it was a surprisingly low 45 percent, while Smith-Schuster clocked in a 57 percent. Tate is a little closer to what we’re looking for, with 69 percent of his snaps coming in the slot.
Looking around the league, the closest comparisons are probably Tampa Bay’s Adam Humphries, Green Bay’s Randall Cobb and Miami’s Danny Amendola.
Humphries played a similar role to Beasley for the Buccaneers, lining up inside 80 percent of the time and catching 75 passes for 816 yards and five touchdowns. In his first season since leaving the Patriots, Amendola played inside 76 percent of the time for the Dolphins and caught 59 balls for 575 yards and just one touchdown.
Cobb was slowed by injuries throughout 2018 and put together his least-impactful season since his rookie year. But he has been a mainstay in the slot during his Green Bay career, helping him earn a four-year, $40 million contract back in 2015.
Unfortunately, Humphries played the 2018 season on a restricted free agent tender, and he’s just now set to hit unrestricted free agency for the first time. That puts him in the exact same boat as Beasley, so he can’t help us much in determining value. After the Packers flirted with cutting Cobb, he eventually played out the final season of his deal and is scheduled to hit free agency in March, as well.
Amendola signed a two-year, $12 million deal in Miami last spring, but he is also several years older than Beasley and owns a lengthier injury history.
So, at the risk of sounding repetitive, I’ll ask again: do we know what numbers would get a deal done for Cole Beasley?
It’s hard to imagine Beasley could expect a Jarvis Landry deal. The Browns signed Landry for five years and $75 million after trading for him last offseason. Landry also has 162 more catches, 1,743 more yards and three more touchdowns than Beasley in two fewer seasons.
Cobb is another guy who finagled a nice extension working primarily out of the slot. His production over the course of this $40 million deal has been comparable to Beasley, averaging out at 61 catches for 619 yards and four touchdowns per season. However, it’s probably a fair guess that the Packers are a bit disappointed by that production, given that Cobb signed the deal on the strength of a 91-catch, 1,287-yard and 12-touchdown season in 2014.
Suffice to say: I doubt Beasley will be offered $15 million per year, and he’s likely not going to see $10 million per year, either.
That said, his production these past few years far outpaces his average salary of just $3.4 million, and the contracts of other slot receivers around the league give us a vague idea of what to expect. Mohamed Sanu and Golden Tate both signed on for the long-term, with five-year deals that paid them roughly $6.5 million per year. Tyler Lockett got himself a $10 million per year salary – although on just a three-year deal.
Then there are Edelman and Amendola, who are each playing on a two-year deal that pays them roughly $6 million a year.
That hopefully clears things up a bit. Nothing is certain on the open market, but deductive reasoning suggests that Beasley’s salary might fall somewhere between $6-8 million. Given that he’ll turn 30 years old this spring, it remains to be seen how long of a deal he might get.
Would the Cowboys offer him a three-year contract, $18 million? Or $20 million? If offered, would he sign it? Or is there another NFL club, flush with salary cap space, willing to make a splash? Could Cole Beasley command a four-year deal worth $26 million, or maybe even $32 million?
Unfortunately, we can’t know the answer to that without polling all the different front offices in this league – including the Cowboys. Two years ago at this time, it seemed like a lock that Terrance Williams would be off to greener pastures, but he wound up back in Dallas on a significantly smaller contract than many expected.
It’d be foolish to assume that anything is a done deal with Beasley at this point in the process. He said himself last month that he’s interested in more than just money.
Still, the financial aspect is a big part of free agency, especially when teams need things to make sense within the structure of the salary cap.
When it comes time for him to decide his future, hopefully this provides a clearer picture of what to expect.