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Courtland Sutton Seeks A New Contract

Per Tom Pelissero, Courtland Sutton’s desire to get his contract changed resulted in him not reporting for voluntary workouts on Monday.

On the one hand, I can understand Sutton’s desire for a new contract. When he signed his current extension in 2021, it was very much seen as a team friendly contract. And at only $15M APY and only $13.6 million in cash due for 2024, that view has held up: the APY ranks only 20th, and the cash due in 2024 only ranks 24th.

But on the other hand, how has Sutton’s production held up compared to his peers in wide receiver pay? Let’s take a look at that in the table below, which adjusts 2023 receptions, yards, and touchdowns if every player who is due at least $13 million in 2024 had played all 17 games:

Player2024 Cash DueAdjusted RecAdjusted YardsAdjusted TDGP
Michael Pittman Jr.$28,000,0001161224416
Calvin Ridley$25,000,000761016817
Keenan Allen$23,100,0001411625913
Mike Evans$23,000,0007912551317
Stefon Diggs$22,520,0001071183817
Deebo Samuel$21,922,000681011815
Tee Higgins$21,816,00060929712
DeVonta Smith$21,406,554861133716
A.J. Brown$21,000,0001061456717
Cooper Kupp$20,000,000841044712
Chris Godwin$20,000,000831024217
Amari Cooper$20,000,000821417615
Tyreek Hill$19,765,00012619111416
Justin Jefferson$19,743,0001161826910
Jerry Jeudy$19,000,00057805216
Terry McLaurin$18,500,000791002417
CeeDee Lamb$17,991,00013517491217
Darnell Mooney$17,510,00035469115
Davante Adams$17,500,0001031144817
Christian Kirk$16,500,000811115412
DJ Moore$16,050,000961364817
Brandon Aiyuk$14,124,000801426716
DeAndre Hopkins$14,000,000751057717
Courtland Sutton$13,600,000638201116
Gabe Davis$13,500,00045746717
Tyler Lockett$13,000,00079894517
DK Metcalf$13,000,000701184916

As we can see, Sutton ranks 4th to last in cash due in 2024. But even when adjusting his 2023 yardage to 17 games, in receptions and yards he still ranks 5th and 4th to last on this list. This would indicate that his pay is right in line with where it should be. Touchdowns of course tell a different story in 2023, where he ranks 4th highest here. But contrast to the previous two seasons, where he only garnered two TDs in each one. And his highest yardage total in a single season on his extension has been 829 yards, and even adjusting that to 17 games, it still comes out to only 940.

What kind of change can he get?

In my opinion, any sort of pay raise is off the table–either directly, or via moving 2025 money into 2024. The Broncos should also reject any request to void Sutton’s 2025 year, and Sutton should reject any effort to extend the contract without a pay raise.

The only reasonable change I can see to add incentives to Sutton’s contract. The incentives on his current contract are paltry: only $100,000 annual for gaining either 1,500 yards or 10 touchdowns–and as demonstrated, the only season he earned it was last season with his 11 touchdown campaign. These could reasonably be raised to put Sutton’s pay more in line with other peers if his receptions and yards go up.

What I would consider fair as one example is an incentive schedule as follows, where Sutton’s existing Likely To Be Earned $100,000 incentive is replaced with the opportunity to be paid $500,000 for each of the following thirteen metrics in 2024 and 2025:

  1. 75 receptions
  2. 1,000 yards
  3. 75 receptions and 1,000 yards
  4. 85 receptions
  5. 1,100 yards
  6. 85 receptions and 1,100 yards
  7. 95 receptions
  8. 1,200 yards
  9. 95 receptions and 1,200 yards
  10. 105 receptions
  11. 1,300 yards
  12. 105 receptions and 1,300 yards
  13. 12 touchdowns

This gives Sutton the potential to raise his pay in 2024 from $13.5 million to $20 million, which would be above the median pay of his peers.

All of these incentives would be considered Not Likely To Be Earned, since Sutton did not meet any of these marks in 2023, and thus would not immediately add cap dollars charged from Sutton’s contract. If any of these are earned, in 2025 each one earned would change to Likely To Be Earned, and would default to cap dollars charged, with a credit in 2026 returned if he did not earn them in 2025.

For 2025, another possible path to negotiate that would be more favorable to Sutton would be to change some incentives to escalators, where his base salary would be raised if he meets metrics in 2024. Sutton would like this more, as this would mean he would not have to repeat the metrics again in 2025 to earn that money.

If an agreement can be had in this regard, Sutton should ask for two other adjustments that should not be a major burden for the Broncos. One is to fully guarantee the remainder of his 2024 base salary, which should be trivial to do since all indications are that the Broncos are committed to having him on the roster for that season. The other should be to move $2.5 million of his 2025 base salary into a roster bonus due immediately after the start of that league year. This forces the Broncos, should they want to cut Sutton before 2025, to do so at the peak of free agency in 2025, so Sutton can go find another team while the money potential is at its highest.

Who else should look for a new contract?

In my offseason road map, I did not mention Sutton at all because he still had two seasons left on his contract, and I figured that 2025 would be the proper time to address his contract. There were two other players with only one season left that I considered instead. One was Justin Simmons, who instead was cut as part of the collapsing safety market leaguewide. The other was Garrett Bolles, who I think still has a strong case for an extension on the terms that I laid out back in December. I would hope that Bolles is still eager for an extension, and that the Broncos are willing to negotiate one.

But the player that I think really should be pushing for a top tier extension is, of course, Patrick Surtain II. And while Sutton, not being on a rookie contract, has very little leverage to carry out his holdout into training camp due to very considerable fines and forfeitures that are mandated by the 2020 CBA, that’s not the case for Surtain.

Indeed, I have always thought that if star first rounders are going to hold out, the optimal time to do it is in one’s fourth season. This is because the cash due in that season is considerably lower than the fifth year option, thus there is less available to forfeit. And unlike non-first rounders, losing an accrued season would not risk adding restricted free agency into the mix, as that critical fourth accrued season can still be earned in the fifth year option season.

I obviously have no idea how eager Surtain is to get a new contract right now. But if he is eager, the optimal time to strike would be now, and as I’ve already said, it’s also optimal for the Broncos to reset the cornerback market before another team and cornerback does so first.