- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 12, 2022

ASHBURN — As the topic of a contract extension for Terry McLaurin was brought up again, Ron Rivera didn’t want to tip his hand. The Washington coach joked that the wide receiver’s agent would no doubt be listening to what he had to say. Rivera appeared to be cognizant of the possibility of giving away negotiating leverage through the press. 

But then he acknowledged the obvious, anyway.

Terry is somebody that we most certainly do want to make sure we get something worked out going forward,” Rivera said earlier this week.

After three seasons, McLaurin could be line for a massive raise this offseason as he’s now eligible for a new contract. And while the 26-year-old has one year left on his rookie deal, Rivera and Co. will have to decide whether to begin negotiations sooner or later when comes to keeping McLaurin in the long term.

The wideout, after all, has become Washington’s top playmaker and one of the franchise’s most recognizable faces. In each of his three years, the former third-rounder has made notable strides, as well. Not only did McLaurin top 1,000 yards for the second straight season, but the Ohio State product led the league in contested catches while appearing in every game for the first time. 

“We want to do it the right way,” Rivera said of a possible McLaurin deal. “Those are things that are obviously in discussion with us right now as we start preparing for the offseason.”

When it comes to “the right way,” Rivera and Washington’s front office will have to decide if they’re indeed comfortable with paying a player after just their third season — a philosophy that appears to greatly vary from team to team. Franchises like the Indianapolis Colts and Buffalo Bills seem to be much more willing to lock down their guys early, but that also depends on the quality of recent draft picks. 

According to data pulled from the contracts website Spotrac, there were 19 drafted, non-first-round players from the 2018 class that received new multi-year deals after their third year. Of those, 11 got done before the start of the season, while the rest happened during the campaign. Further, only one of those players — Denver’s Courtland Sutton (four years, $60.8 million) — was a wide receiver.

From the 2017 draft class, 13 non-first-rounders signed a multi-year extension after the third season — all but two of which got done before the 2020 season. 

Money, of course, is the complicating factor in this scenario. Just how much does McLaurin want — and how much is Washington willing to pay? Over three seasons, McLaurin has established himself to be one of the league’s top receivers — a position that draws between $27.5 million to $16.5 million annually among those who are paid within the top 10. 

Those salaries are likely to keep climbing — especially with the salary cap jumping up to a projected $208 million in 2022. The top receivers who have gotten paid over the last few years include Arizona’s DeAndre Hopkins (two years, $54.5 million), Dallas’ Amari Cooper (five years, $100 million) and the Giants’ Kenny Golladay (four years, $72 million). 

McLaurin may not be considered a top-10 receiver just yet, but his numbers are trending that way. Since entering the NFL in 2019, McLaurin ranks 14th in receiving yards with 3,090. This season, his total yardage dropped slightly from 1,118 yards to 1,053 — though he’s as vital to Washington’s offense as ever. 

According to Next Gen Stats, McLaurin accounted for 41.7% of his team’s air yards in 2021 — ranking second, behind only Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson. Further, McLaurin had 656 more receiving yards than Washington’s next player (running back J.D. McKissic) — the largest such gap of his career. 

Dependability was a goal for McLaurin this past season, and he accomplished it. He was on the field for 89.6 % of the team’s offensive snap with 1,010. 

In fact, McLaurin was just one of three receivers — Rams’ Cooper Kupp with 1,024 and Minnesota’s Jefferson with 1,014— in the league to log at least 1,000 snaps.

“I want to achieve greatness throughout my career as a player, as a person, as a leader,” McLaurin said. “I think one thing, a sign of greatness is consistency.”

McLaurin has done exactly that. And because of it, he’s in a position to get paid. 

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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