It might come down to a game of chicken.
Franchise-level wide receivers who are entering free agency over the next two years will command a significant amount of money and the justified belief is that the first player to sign a long-term deal will become the ceiling for everyone else. Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas were franchised by the Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos respectively, while the Cincinnati Bengals and Atlanta Falcons exercised fifth-year options on A.J. Green and Julio Jones last year.
TOTALS for all four receivers:
AVERAGE per game for all four receivers:
Who is the first to blink?
Dallas Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones is "hopeful" that a long-term deal with Bryant will happen prior to the July 15 deadline that will prevent an agreement until after the regular season. Then again, if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen.
"We know he will be a Cowboy this year," Jones said via ESPN on Wednesday. "If he ends up playing this year under the tag we will go right back to work again next year. Now would we like to get a long term deal on him? Of course we would. We’ll work hard to do that and I’m sure we’ll make a push at some point and see if we can make it work. If not, hopefully he will understand it’s difficult to make a deal at this point and he’ll come in and get ready to play."
Despite having a new head coach and offensive coordinator, Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas is skipping spring/summer practices while hoping for a new deal. Thomas, who was franchised earlier this year, turned down a five-year contract worth between $7.5 million and $8.5 million last October. "To be dead honest with you, I see absolutely zero value with him being away from here," General Manager John Elway said last April. "Him being away from here there is zero value not only to us, but to him. To me it makes no sense.’"
The Falcons shifted their offseason focus towards an extension with wide receiver Julio Jones after the NFL draft.
"There is no question that our focus in the future will be on Julio Jones and where we are," Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff told ESPN.com. "I don't want to get into specifics about the timing of that, obviously. But now that the draft is over and we continue to build this football team, we understand that Julio is a very important part of our building and evolving as a championship-type team."
Jones, like Green, is scheduled to earn $10.176 million in 2015 on a fifth-year option. Both are prime candidates to receive the franchise tag, allowing Bryant and Thomas to set the market.
It just won't be easy.
"Signing Green long-term may be easier said than done because of Cincinnati's preferred structure with lucrative veteran contracts," writes Joel Corry at CBSSports.com. "The team's contracts are typically light on guaranteed money because of the absence of base salaries guarantees. Quarterback Andy Dalton's six-year extension with a base value of $16 million per year has a team high $17 million in guarantees. By contrast, $27 million of Wallace's $30 million in guarantees was fully guaranteed at signing. Since reinventing the wheel structurally will be a challenge for Green, it would not be a surprise if he played at least one year under a franchise tag."
Denver's Demaryius Thomas, Dallas' Dez Bryant and Atlanta's Julio Jones are all also in negotiations for extensions with their current clubs. Thomas and Bryant were given the franchise tag while Green and Jones will be eligible for that designation next season.
None are expected to approach Johnson money, but whoever agrees first likely will be leapfrogged by the other three as agents use one contract to set the floor for another.
The process will be arduous and long and will require observations with other franchise-level receivers.