By Brady Henderson
The new deal that wide receiver Riley Cooper signed earlier this week with the Eagles helps set expectations for what Seattle's Golden Tate might command as an unrestricted free agent.
Let's take a closer look.
Cooper's deal, according to ESPN's John Clayton and the website Spotrac.com, is for $22.5 million over five years, contrary to reports that count an additional $2.5 million in incentives that may not end up being reached.
The $4.5 million average should provide a baseline for Tate, who will undoubtedly ask for – and can realistically expect – a deal paying him more than that annually for a few reasons, chief among them the fact that he's been a more productive player.
Tate has finished with more receptions and receiving yards than Cooper each season since the two entered the league in 2010, and as the graphic at right shows, for the first three years he did so by a wide margin. While their 2013 seasons are comparable, Cooper's combined receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns over his first three seasons are about equal to what Tate did in 2012 alone.
There's also the fact that Tate is a more versatile receiver, having played mostly outside but also occasionally in the slot during his career. He carries added value as a punt returner, finishing last season second in return yards and ninth in average. At 25, Tate is a year younger than Cooper as well.
Something else to consider is that Cooper re-signed with Philadelphia before the start of free agency, and this is where his personal baggage might have come into play. Cooper, you may recall, was seen in a video that surfaced last summer using a racial slur in anger. And while he ultimately worked his way back into the good graces of his teammates, there's no telling how he would be received in a new locker room full of players who only know of him for that transgression. It probably made the most sense for Cooper to stay put.
Tate, on the other hand, will almost certainly test the market when free agency begins March 11. This is his best shot at a big payday, and whatever offer he gets from the Seahawks will likely be tempered by the realities that they have other unsigned free agents and key players eligible for extensions and are already paying another receiver, Percy Harvin, an average of $11 million a season.
So while the deal that Cooper signed represents the value one team placed on him, Tate will be in a much different situation when he hits the free-agent market to what should be a good number of suitors whose interest will only increase his value.
So where does that leave him? While his deal should surpass the one Cooper just signed, it seems unlikely Tate gets $8 million annually, which is on the low end of what No. 1 receivers typically make. Somewhere between $5.5 million and $7.5 million might be more realistic based on what the market has been like for top-end No. 2 receivers. The contract Brian Hartline signed last offseason with Miami – worth $30.775 million over five years for an average of $6.155 million – could be in the right neighborhood for Tate.
We'll find out sometime around March 11.
Follow Brady Henderson on Twitter @BradyHenderson.