5 best NFL wide receiver contracts | PFF News & Analysis | PFF

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5 best NFL wide receiver contracts

Baltimore Ravens' Kamar Aiken catches a pass during NFL football training camp, Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The passing game is increasingly the means by which successful NFL teams move the football offensively. With this, finding talent and production at the wide receiver position is as important as it has ever been. The scarcity of resources available to each team places rewards on front offices that are able to find said talent and production at a discounted rate. Below we give the top five wide receiver contracts (with rookie deals excluded).

[Editor’s note: All cap numbers are from Over the Cap. To see the five worst WR contracts, click here.]

1. Kamar Aiken, Baltimore Ravens

Years remaining on current deal: One

Average remaining cap hit (per year): $2.55 million

Aiken entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 2011, and played just 350 snaps in his first three seasons. Injuries to Breshad Perriman and Steve Smith forced Aiken to play 955 of the Ravens’ 1,155 offensive snaps last season, however, and he responded with the 19th-best overall grade among NFL WRs (84.6). With less-than-stellar quarterback play for most of the 2015 season, Aiken was able to haul in 75 of 121 targets for 944 yards, dropping just four passes while forcing eight missed tackles. He graded negatively in just two games last season, and had the ninth-best grade among all receivers during the second half of the season. With Perriman's health again a question this offseason, the Ravens should be more than happy to have Aiken in the fold at his current rate, which stems from the second-round tender placed on him during the offseason.

2. Steve Smith Sr., Baltimore Ravens

Years remaining on current deal: One 

Average remaining cap hit (per year): $4.17 million 

Having just one negatively-graded season in the PFF era, Smith has been a marvel of consistency throughout his 15-year NFL career. As he has aged, he has simply become more valuable, maintaining substantial production while commanding marginal salaries relative to his peers. Before tearing his Achilles tendon in Week 8 of the 2015 season, his cumulative PFF grade was second only to Julio Jones amongst wide receivers, despite earning less money than the likes of Kenny Britt, Dwayne Bowe, and Riley Cooper.

(PFF Fantasy Insight: Smith is currently going late in fantasy drafts, based on average draft position, but he had a stronger showing in our Fantasy 101. For Smith and other potentially under- or overvalued fantasy options, check our comparison of our 101 rankings to current ADP.)

His 2.90 yards per route run was also second to Jones during that time span, and his 3.25 yards per route run out of the slot was the best mark in the league by almost half of a yard. If Smith can overcome another season-ending injury at the age of 37 and produce similarly to his 2015 grades, his cap hit of just over $4 million next season is an absolute steal.

3. Julian Edelman, New England Patriots

Years remaining on current deal: Two 

Average remaining cap hit (per year): $4.84 million

Since joining the Patriots as a seventh-round pick in 2009, Edelman started slowly—grading positively in just one of his first four seasons. However, since Wes Welker left the Patriots in 2013, he has been the team’s steadiest receiver, finishing last year with the position’s 15th-highest grade (86.5). Before sustaining a foot injury in Week 10 of the 2015 season, Edelman’s 2.02 yards per route run were higher than the likes of the more highly-paid wideouts such as Calvin Johnson, Jeremy Maclin, and Dez Bryant, while his 2.07 yards per route run from the slot was 11th-best in the league. He can also add substantial value as a punt returner, averaging over 12 yards per return through the course of his career, including four touchdowns. While the Patriots added Chris Hogan in the offseason, Edelman figures to continue to be Tom Brady’s favorite target on the outside, with a cap hit of less than $5 million per season freeing up resources for other positions moving forward.

4. Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks 

Years remaining on current deal: One 

Average remaining cap hit (per year): $6.33 million

Plainly put, Baldwin was one of the best receivers in the NFL last season, finishing seventh with a 91.1 overall grade. Underestimated since entering the league in 2011 as an undrafted free agent out of Stanford, his statistics finally caught up to his grading, which have been positive every season of his career. Russell Wilson’s 142.8 passer rating on throws in his direction was the best among all NFL wide receivers by more than 12 points, helped substantially by Baldwin’s league-leading 14 touchdown receptions, as well as the absurd 79.7 completion percentage on his 99 targets. Although players generally regress from high-touchdown seasons statistically, high grades are often more robust—meaning that more of the same should be in store for Baldwin and the Seahawks. As he enters the final year of his second contract, it will be interesting to see how aggressive the Seahawks are with extending his contract beyond the 2016 season.

5. Emmanuel Sanders, Denver Broncos

Years remaining on current deal: One

Average remaining cap hit (per year): $6.60 million

After three relatively quiet seasons with the Steelers, Sanders joined the Broncos to replace Eric Decker in 2014. Since then, he has finished among the highest-graded WRs in the league, finishing last season with the 13th-highest grade (87.2) at the position. Arguably one of the better free-agent signings of the PFF era (since 2007), Sanders has been productive despite the regression of Peyton Manning and the inexperience of Brock Osweiler. His 2.10 yards per route run last season was down from his 2.45 mark in 2014 (ninth in the NFL), while the 89.1 passer rating on passes in his direction was higher than the more generously-paid Pierre Garçon, Demaryius Thomas, Mike Wallace, and Dez Bryant. Like Baldwin, Sanders is finishing his second contract; unlike Baldwin, the Bronco is going into the final year of his second deal with a great amount of uncertainty at the quarterback position. With Demaryius Thomas using up a substantial amount of Denver's salary cap, it may take a fantastic year from Sanders to earn a contract extension, meaning he may enter free agency again—only this time, with the expectation of a contract far larger than his current deal.

[More: Click here to see the five worst wide receiver contracts in the NFL today.]

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