We have seen some precedent setting contracts the past few seasons in the realm of "slot" receivers. I am of course talking about the Victor Cruz's, Wes Welker's, and Danny Amendola's of the league.
The Emergence of the Slot Specialist
Just as the "nickel" Cornerback is quickly becoming a position in and of itself, so too is the Slot Wide Receiver separating itself from the norm. I have no doubt that soon we will be seeing the two positions listed on depth charts league wide. In a game where coaches spend countless hours night and day to exploit minimal mis-matches and gain the advantage, this constant march towards specialization is hardly surprising.
There is inherent differences when looking at the men who frequent the outside and those that ply their trade from the slot. The first noticeable difference is the physical makeup and abilities; the traditional SE or X type outside receiver. Wide-outs are the taller, bigger guys, capable of beating press man coverage, with the speed to go over the top and stretch a defensive secondary. Slot men can do similar things, but are generally smaller frame, quicker players with good lateral agility. These inside specialists have taken the burden from Tight Ends and Scat Backs in providing their QBs with "quick-hit" targets, with an improved ability to make yards after the catch.
Cost vs Value
Over the past few seasons, we have seen a huge disparity in the way Wide Receivers are compensated. Take Wes Welker and Mike Wallace for instance, a year ago both considered near the top of their respective positions. Let's look at their production before we get into dollars and cents.
Mike Wallace - 209 catches, 2959 yards, 21 TDs
Wes Welker - 313 catches, 3701 yards, 25 TDs
Welker was a far more productive player during this span, and even before, but I thought the past three seasons would be most relevant. He blitzed Wallace in two of the three categories,and also edged him in Touchdowns as well. And shouldn't that be how a player is measured? By how much they contribute to their team? There is little argument that Welker was the superior player, regardless of where he lined up or what kind of routes he ran.
But how are they compensated?
Wes Welker - 2 year, $12 million dollars
Mike Wallace - 5 years, $60 million dollars, $30 million guaranteed
Yep, that happened. And it's not isolated to these two players either. Danny Amendola received similar numbers to Wes on a per year average. Victor Cruz was the only of the "slot" receivers to get a contract comparable to outside players, but Cruz does a lot of both anyway, especially with the oft-injured nature of his teammates.
So are outside receivers that much more valuable to their teams? They are rarer physical specimens, I will concede that. But this is a game of numbers, and you can't ignore the immense production these slot guys are generating.
I would argue that slot specialists provide as much, if not more, to their teams than deep-ball guys. Keeping the offense effective, and your defense rested, is about moving the chains, and having a guy catch 8 balls for 80 yards instead of 2 for 100 helps the keep the team "on schedule". This kind of player is just as, if not more, dangerous in the open field, and can generally exploit match-up advantages more often that their wide counterparts. I would say that they are heavily undervalued in today's NFL, and the fact that franchises today seem to be stocking up on these kind of players only reinforces that notion.
In Tennessee, Kendall Wright, per multiple metrics, was a top 5 slot receiver in 2013. Per Pro Football Focus, Wright made 694 of his yards from the slot, and only Anquan Boldin, Jordy Nelson, and the prior mentioned Wes Welker, were the only other NFL players to have more than 600 yards from that spot. As a Franchise, the Titans should be thrilled about that. While I don't agree at all as far as the monetary disparity between outside and inside pass catchers, the Titans should be able to keep Wright around for a steal relative to his value to the team.
Personally, I look forward to Wright dicing up defenses for years to come, regardless of whether he does that damage from the slot, or from ten steps closer to the perimeter. In the end, it's all about scoring points and winning games.