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AJ Brown trades an example of teams’ tough WR decisions

The specter of paying big-ticket contracts to wide receivers has teams bailing out receivers before they want to. We can thank the Jacksonville Jaguars for giving Christian Kirk $21 million a year for the madness that ensued.

With top receivers now eyeing contracts well beyond Kirk’s $21 million a year, the Green Bay Packers shipped Davante Adams, the Kansas City Chiefs traded Tyreek Hill and Thursday, in the first round of the NFL Draft, the Tennessee Titans traded AJ Brown for a surprisingly poor return.

The Titans sent Brown, a big, explosive No. 1 receiver who is expected to become a free agent in a year, to the Philadelphia Eagles for picks No. 18 and 101 in the draft. The Titans used the 18th pick on Arkansas WR Treylon Burks, a talented player who likely won’t be as good as Brown in the NFL. Not many are.

After a season in which they won the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs, the Titans weakened their team when they fired Brown due to his impending second contract. In the end, the Titans felt they couldn’t pay Brown what he wanted.

AJ Brown was traded from the Titans to the Eagles in the first round of the NFL Draft. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Mike Vrabel: ‘It wasn’t easy’

Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said after the trade that the team could not justify meeting Brown’s contract demands.

“I’m convinced we went to extreme lengths to try to keep AJ here,” Vrabel told the media. “I’ve been involved in the process the whole time. We’re going to continue to coach our guys, develop them, take care of the team and this is just another example of making tough decisions which hopefully -the, in the long run, will make our team better. I know it’s probably not received that way publicly, but it was a difficult process to go through. I know what the gap was that we had to fill. It wasn’t not easy.”

The Eagles must have been feeling pretty good. They didn’t have to give up too many picks to land a receiver who, if he stays healthy, could be one of the NFL’s top 10. They paid him immediately, giving him a four-year, $100 million contract with $57 million guaranteed, according to multiple reports. That’s not ideal in a sport that has a salary cap, but Brown makes the difference.

The Titans won’t spend as much on Burks, but he probably won’t have the same impact either.

Other Traded WRs

The trade of wide receiver Marquise Brown from the Baltimore Ravens to the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night was also likely influenced by Brown’s ability to become a free agent after the 2023 season, following his fifth-year option on his rookie contract. Brown may not command $25 million a season, but he’s a former first-round pick after a 1,000-yard season. He will be paid. The receiver market will not slow down.

Still, the Marquise Brown trade was not as shocking as the AJ Brown deal. The Titans beat Brown in the second round of the 2019 draft. He’s just 24 years old. You dream of making a pickaxe like this. And he left after three years, with plenty of bounty years left.

Other outstanding young receivers like Deebo Samuel of the San Francisco 49ers and DK Metcalf of the Seattle Seahawks will also put their teams to the test: pay a shocking second contract or explore a trade. Just wait until Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings and Ja’Marr Chase of the Cincinnati Bengals start asking about their extensions.

The receiver market has changed dramatically over the past two months. Some teams decide they don’t want to be part of it. He’s set up an unprecedented trade deal, and it won’t end with the Titans trading Brown on Thursday night.

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