Renck: Broncos receiver Courtland Sutton deserves praise, not another raise (2024)

Just because Cleveland made another mistake by the lake does not mean the Broncos must reciprocate.

Broncos receiver Courtland Sutton missed the first day of voluntary workouts this week — he is not required to attend — because he is angling for a new contract, according to an NFL Network report. It’s hard to blame the veteran after watching the Browns acquire his former teammate Jerry Jeudy and sign him to a three-year contract extension with $41 million guaranteed.

Sutton outperformed Jeudy by every measure last season, most notably in reaching the end zone. Sutton scored a team-best 10 touchdowns. Jeudy finished with two.

But using the Browns as a straw man for an argument is not ideal.

Following Cleveland’s model for contracts is like asking Spinal Tap for advice on drummers. Yes, Russell Wilson ranks as the worst contract in Colorado sports history. But, Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson has the worst contract in NFL history, guaranteed $230 million over five years while his statistics pale in comparison to off-the-couch and into-the-huddle Joe Flacco. Good for Jeudy that he got paid. It should have no connection to Sutton.

Entering his seventh season, Sutton wants another bite at the apple. He signed a four-year, $60 million contract in November 2021, but only $2 million remaining is guaranteed. Players possess scant leverage in the NFL so Sutton bypassing spring workouts to goose contract talks is understandable.

But when his agent calls, there should be clarity in brevity. The answer is no.

Sutton is a solid player. He is not invaluable. The Broncos showed what they thought of him last season, shopping him for months before nearly trading the former SMU star to the Baltimore Ravens. To his credit, Sutton took the slight personally by changing his workout routine and turning into a red zone monster.

Beyond his touchdowns, there is not a lot of there there. He ranked 44th in yards (772) and 38th in yards per catch (13.1). His contract is appropriate for his production.

It makes zero sense for the Broncos to revise or extend his deal for a number of reasons. It starts with their current situation. They are in a rebuild, reboot, Febreze refresh. Their roster features “vacancy” and “under new management” signs hanging from multiple positions. When making roster and financial decisions, the question must be asked: Will this player be here when the Broncos make a serious playoff run?

We found out the Broncos’ answer with Jeudy, Josey Jewell and Justin Simmons. Simmons was the team’s best player on and off the field the past five years, and coach Sean Payton moved on without losing a wink of sleep.

Simmons will likely sign with a contender after the draft. Payton read the safety market correctly. Everyone wants a solid one, but few want to pay them anymore.

I bring this up because it applies directly to Sutton. The Broncos need offensive weapons, and he was clearly their best last season. However, college football turns out receivers like windshields on an assembly line. Payton has long prided himself on finding sleepers in the draft. Isn’t it possible he can do it again?

Sutton would be missed, but his absence would be negligible on a team without realistic postseason aspirations. He will turn 29 in October and has not posted a 1,000-yard season since 2019. Sutton has shown his ceiling. Give him his flowers for his 2023 campaign as a leader and performer. But in the previous 26 games he posted two touchdowns. Last season screams “outlier.”

In the first two seasons of his current contract, Sutton has averaged 800 yards and six touchdowns with 13 yards per reception. It makes him functional. Anything beyond that description is a hamstring stretch.

As I write this, I know Sutton fans will fire off angry emails. I love their passion. They will insist his numbers were dulled by the carousel of clown car quarterbacks. The problem with this theory is that receivers who make big money are not as quarterback-dependent as you think. There were 28 1,000-yard receivers last season, including Terry McLaurin in Washington, Jakobi Meyers in Las Vegas, and Garrett Wilson with the Jets with Zach Wilson taking snaps and Nathaniel Hackett calling the plays. Yes, Can’t Hackett’s team had a receiver reach the century mark.

The point of this column is not to diminish Sutton as much as to put his statistics in context. He has been a strong player on terrible offenses. Should he have received more targets the past two seasons? Yes. But it is hard for the number to grow exponentially when he is not consistently creating separation.

If Sutton’s motivation is twofold — get more money or force a trade — then more power to him. He deserves quarterback stability at this point in his career.

Sutton has been a solid Broncos player. He deserves praise. Not another raise.

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Renck: Broncos receiver Courtland Sutton deserves praise, not another raise (2024)


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