The San Diego Chargers signed Keenan Allen to a four-year, $45 million extension on Friday that could be worth up to $49 million with incentives. Allen was going into the final year of his rookie contract, in which he is set to be paid $1.8 million after making just $753,000 last season. The APY is higher than Larry Fitzgerald and Jeremy Maclin, and would make him the seventh-highest paid receiver in the NFL by that measure.
But is that fair?
Allen missed eight games last season, but was on pace for 134 catches, 1,450 yards and eight touchdowns before suffering a lacerated kidney against the Baltimore Ravens. That would have been the second-most catches during a season of all-time headed into 2015, but funny enough, Julio Jones and Antonio Brown each finished last season with 136 catches. Allen had games of 12 catches against the Vikings, 14 catches against the Packers, and 15 catches in Week 1 against the Lions.
And he ain't no Julio or Antonio. (Maybe he should change his name to Keenanio?)
One of the major issues I have with Allen is the same issue I pointed out with Kendall Wright before his career started to putter out last season: He doesn't do enough after the catch. Over the last two years, Allen is averaging just 10.5 yards per catch on 144 receptions. At best, he's Wes Welker, but he could just as easily be Marty Booker, a former receiver for the Bears who broke the franchise's single-season receptions record in 2001, became one of the highest paid players in the league because of it, and then was traded in 2004 when he started catching fewer than half of his targets.
Worse than that, Allen has caught just eight touchdowns over his last 22 games, another sign that sometimes a good receiver will put up the same numbers as a great tight end, but you don't pay a receiver top-receiver-money if he's producing like a top tight end. There's a significant difference in value there, and Allen doesn't have the body of work that would have made me comfortable with the Seattle Seahawks paying him that much money.
Which makes for an easy transition to talk about the Seahawks.
Doug Baldwin is looking for an extension. He is entering the final year of his deal, in which he's set to make $6.3 million. That's not an insignificant difference from the $1.8 that Allen was about to make, because it means that Doug is already being paid pretty well. If you thought of a four-year extension as a "five year contract," which it kind of is, then Doug's deal already starts with a higher APY. There's also an age consideration, and Doug is about to be 28, whereas Keenan just turned 24. That being said, I don't think that there's a very significant chance that Doug's skills will greatly diminish by the time he's 32 -- however, it is still more likely than it is for Allen.
And yet, I still think that Doug is a better and more valuable receiver than Keenan Allen.
Over his three-year career, Allen has averaged 69 yards per game, 11.9 yards per catch, and caught 68.2% of his targets with 16 touchdowns. When Ken Whisenhunt was the offensive coordinator in 2013, Allen averaged 14.7 YPC and had eight touchdowns, but with Frank Reich over the last two seasons, his YPC is down to 10.5 and I believe his 90.6 YPG last year would have eventually started to come down to the territory we were used to; Allen averaged just 55.9 YPG in 14 games in 2014.
Over the last three years, Baldwin has averaged 55.7 YPG, 13.8 YPC, caught 71% of his targets, and scored 22 touchdowns. He has missed two games over his five-year career, compared to 11 games missed in a three-year career for Allen. Baldwin may have peaked last season with 1,069 yards and 14 touchdowns, but he has consistently been between 12.5 and 15.5 YPC during his career, which is much more significant to me than the consistent 10.5 YPC that Allen has produced while playing with Philip Rivers. He may have been a safety net for the Chargers offense last season but "safety nets" don't help you win as often as cannons do. In fact, a safety net by definition is only put to use after you have fucked up.
I believe that Baldwin is a better receiver than Allen, but is he more valuable?
Given a slightly advanced age, the different style of offenses, the fact that this would be Doug's third contract and not his second, and that Doug really didn't produce at this level over his first four seasons, I think it's safe to assume that he could sign an extension that's comparable, if not slightly lower than what Allen got. I don't think that Doug can exactly risk waiting another year to cash in. If the Seahawks put an offer on the table that pays him $10 million per year with $19 million guaranteed plus incentives, can he really pass that up after he averaged 689 yards and four touchdowns from 2011-2014?
We don't have to worry about Doug getting a "mega-deal" on par with the NFL's elite receivers, and we must remember that Brandon Marshall, Brown, and Jordy Nelson all make less than $10 million per season, so I think in this case Doug would be doing quite well for himself. Allen is a very good receiver, but this contract shouldn't put any rush on Seattle putting out an offer to Doug and the fact that San Diego overpaid for him won't mean that the Seahawks are about to make the same mistake.