Paul Richardson’s value to Seahawks may not match his contract demands

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A series looking at the players on the Seattle Seahawks who are set to become free agents in March, as well as potential trade and cap casualty candidates.

Player: Paul Richardson

Position: Wide Receiver

2017 Cap Hit: $1.5 million (OverTheCap.com)

2017 Stats: 80 targets, 44 catches, 703 yards, six touchdowns, 16 YPC, 8.78 Y/Target, 55% catch rate, five drops, 161 DYAR (23rd), 13.4% DVOA (20th), zero fumbles, drew three DPI calls for 47 yards gained, caught 8 of 20 deep targets with three touchdowns (Pro-Football-Reference, FootballOutsiders, ProFootballFocus)

As the 45th overall pick in 2014, Richardson came to Seattle with some of the highest expectations ever set for a Seahawks draftee under Pete Carroll. And while he didn’t come close to meeting those expectations, it wasn’t for a lack of talent or because he was unable to translate his skills at Colorado to the NFL; it was just the injuries.

Over his first three seasons, Richardson caught 51 of 81 targets for 599 yards, missing basically all of 2015 while recovering from a torn ACL. His 2016 season was mostly free of injuries but he was caught behind Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, and Tyler Lockett on the depth chart, while Jimmy Graham commanded much of Russell Wilson’s attention at tight end. That resulted in just 36 targets and 288 yards for Richardson, but he caught 7 of 9 targets for 131 yards and a touchdown in the playoffs, including one of the best postseason catches in league history.

That late-season emergence gave Seattle the confidence to trade Kearse and to elevate Richardson to a starting position alongside Baldwin, knocking Lockett down a peg, and even out-gaining Graham by nearly 200 yards. At $1.5 million, Richardson is a valuable bargain who was better than many of the receivers making twice as much or more than him in 2017, but he has a significant raise coming next month.

Just how expensive will Richardson be next season?

2018 Contract Outlook

Our own John Gilbert projected Richardson’s next contract back in November: his conclusion falls in the five-year, $31-$40 million range, basically slotting him between the Golden Tate deal and the Marvin Jones deal. There’s little reason to argue against this projection and another comp that supports this would be Kenny Stills.

Stills had 81 targets in 2016, catching 42 passes for 726 yards and nine touchdowns. These numbers are stupendously close to Richardson’s 2017 output, with similarities in age and skillset; teams looking for a deep threat to “stretch” the field will elevate Richardson to the top of their free agent boards when looking for which receivers will be available in March. PFF ranked Richardson as a top-20 deep threat in 2017 and most of the other 20 are still under contract with their current teams.

Well, the Miami Dolphins re-signed Stills to a four-year, $32 million that kept him off of the free agent market. That $8 million APY is the same as Jones’s with the Detroit Lions and the probable negotiation point for Richardson and his agent. The next highest-paid receiver on APY is Robert Woods, who signed for $6.8 million/year with the LA Rams last year.

Woods was the 41st overall pick in 2013, he had 76 targets during his last season in Buffalo, he was 46th in DYAR, significantly worse than the season Richardson just had. So a four-year deal at $28-30 million or a five-year deal at $35-40 million seems reasonable to me.

Would the Seahawks pay that?

Likelihood to re-sign with Seahawks: <35%

In a perfect world, Seattle would not lose Richardson as he was a very valuable member of the offense last season.

It also hurts to lose out on a player who is so fun and exciting to watch, while realizing that his best years may be ahead of him and with another team. Just look (or don’t) at the last four years of Tate’s career:

Since leaving Seattle, Tate has averaged 93 catches, 1,056 yards, and five touchdowns per season while regularly being among the league leaders in broken and missed tackles for receivers, a trait that the Seahawks have desperately missed since the departures of Tate and Marshawn Lynch; an offense that has skill players who are able to overcome the deficiencies of a cheap offensive line. Tate may have never gotten the 132 targets per year that he gets in Detroit (his career high in Seattle was 99 targets) but he nonetheless would have been a considerable upgrade over the receiver the Seahawks did pay: Percy Harvin.

Is the Richardson situation just going to be a sad repeat of the Tate situation? I don’t think Seattle has much of a choice now but to risk that.

The Seahawks will be bringing back Baldwin (a large portion of his salary became guaranteed on Friday) and Lockett, setting two receivers in place already. Baldwin makes $11.5 million per year, currently the 10th-most in the NFL for his position, so it would be a bold statement to allocate another $7-8 million to your other starting receiver. How many teams have two receivers making at least $8 million APY?

The Denver Broncos have Demaryius Thomas ($14m) and Emmanuel Sanders ($11m) but many speculate that won’t continue in 2018, with Thomas potentially getting released or traded before he receives $4 million option bonus on March 14. Sanders had just 555 yards and two touchdowns last season, quickly falling into the territory of “mediocrity” since the decline and retirement of Peyton Manning, beginning in 2015.

The Green Bay Packers have Randall Cobb ($10m), Jordy Nelson ($9.7m) and the newly-extended Davante Adams ($14.5m), the latter move likely signaling the end for either Nelson or Cobb, if not both. They at least must restructure.

And that’s it. No other teams have two $8m+ WRs. The next-closest would be the Lions with Tate and Jones, and the Rams with Tavon Austin and Woods, but that will not continue in 2018.

Does the tandem of Baldwin and Richardson really “sound” or “feel” like an exceptional receiving duo worthy of being perhaps the only NFL team with two $8m+ WRs? Even if Richardson takes $6.5 million APY, does that make as much sense as the duo of Julio Jones ($14.25m) and Mohamad Sanu ($6.5m)? Not quite on talent (Jones is perhaps in a world of his own) and almost certainly not in the Seahawks offense, especially the Seahawks offense that Carroll wants to get back to.

Instead, Seattle could look to turn to Amara Darboh, who they spent the 106th overall pick on last year and whose pre-draft NFL projection was none other than Sanu. Except that Darboh will cost $754k; we don’t know yet if Darboh’s on-field ability in the pros will translate to an equal value of what they got out of Richardson last season, but at a cost difference of $6-8 million between the two players, it doesn’t have to be.

A $7 million savings could be used to put towards a franchise tag for Sheldon Richardson, a re-signing of Jimmy Graham (who may cost $9 million, but the Seahawks still need to sign a different tight end to replace him, likely one who will cost more than a couple million dollars if he’s going to be an established starter), or an extension for Frank Clark among other things.

Other receiving options still in tow include David Moore, Tanner McEvoy, and Cyril Grayson. That’s probably not enough to go into the 2018 season with if Richardson isn’t retained but a starting lineup of Baldwin-Lockett-Darboh and Moore-McEvoy as additional depth and competition is a reasonable starting point. Seattle then likely needs to draft a player — potentially with their first pick, as they’ve now well established that they value receiver/tight end acquisition higher than most other positions — and could sign someone, but I wouldn’t expect it to be much of a “splash” in anything other than name recognition, potentially. They could look for a veteran who has more left in the tank than some expect (a reunion with Terrelle Pryor maybe?) but I don’t know that they can let Richardson walk only to give the salary he wanted to some other receiver.

It’s gotta be either Richardson or that they’ll be trying to move forward with Darboh as the second or third option.

When I started this portion of the write-up, I had Richardson around a 35% likelihood to return. Now that I’ve dug a little deeper into the situation, I had to knock it down to 15%. There’s just not that many situations where I see the Seahawks being willing to match or beat the offers that Richardson could get from a team with deeper pockets and more opportunities. I’m guessing a fourth round compensation pick will be coming back in that scenario, same as what they received in 2015 for losing Tate.

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