Wednesday morning brought another blockbuster transaction in this whirlwind of an NFL off-season as yet another contract dispute between a star receiver and his team led to a trade. This time it was Tyreek Hill heading to the Miami Dolphins for a slew of draft picks. Aside from the obvious comparisons that will be drawn between what the Kansas City Chiefs received for Hill and what the Green Bay Packers received for Adams (for which different trade charts will tell you different things), why does this matter for Green Bay?
Tyreek Hill was added to a team who already had spent meaningful resources at the wide receiver position. They traded significant draft capital to move up in last year’s draft and then selected Jaylen Waddle. They also just signed Cedrick Wilson to a three-year contract with $12.75M guaranteed at signing and a total value of up to $23.55M. Combined with Hill, and you have three meaningful additions to the group in the past eleven months. These three additions leave a productive receiver as surplus to requirements though, and that receiver is DeVante Parker.
I have always had a soft spot for Parker, as I do with basically any deep threat with two functioning hands, but this potential acquisition lines up extremely well for Green Bay. Before I dive into Parker the player, it’s necessary to dive into DeVante Parker’s contract because of Green Bay’s cap situation. This contract, which runs through 2023, is incredibly easy to absorb as far as veteran players go. It would leave a dead cap hit of $5.4M on Miami’s books (and save them $3.34M), while Green Bay would only be on the hook for a maximum of $6.25M this year. Green Bay would have the flexibility to kick some of that money to 2023 by converting some or all but the minimum of his base salary to 2023 as part of a re-structure, bringing his cap hit potentially as low as $3.985M. Green Bay could get more creative by adding a void year or working through some type of extension with Parker, although that would require his cooperation. All in all, this is a very manageable contract from a cap perspective, and not something you often see with a veteran player.
Looking at Parker’s numbers the past two seasons is pretty underwhelming. He has amassed 103 catches across the past two seasons, but on pretty middling efficiency with a catch-rate of just 58.5% and a yards-per-target of just 7.43. Neither 2020 nor 2021 are particularly glowing by DVOA either, as he was at -4.7% and 0% in those two years, respectively. So why am I pining for a player who has been the definition of mediocre? Because quarterback play matters for receiver production, especially a receiver like DeVante Parker.
Tua Tagovailoa is bad. At least at the bare minimum, Tua Tagovailoa has played badly. In the past two seasons, Tua has ranked 18th and 26th in DVOA. Combining the two seasons, he ranks 28th in EPA-per-dropback. Tua’s shortcomings are particularly damaging for DeVante Parker as his arm strength is virtually non-existent and the Dolphins ran one of the most conservative passing offenses you will ever see. All those jokes that were made about Ben Roethlisberger? Those apply to Tua as well, as their intended air yards were only 0.3 yards apart last season (Tua’s was 7, Roethlisberger’s 6.7). Only Roethlisberger and Jared Goff were more conservative with the ball last year. The Dolphins offense was built around protecting Tua from his own weaknesses, as well as the putrid offensive line put in front of him, and they killed the very thing that DeVante Parker excels at: winning down the field.
According to PFF, Parker was targeted only nine times in 2021 beyond twenty yards. In 2020, that number was eleven. In 2019, he was targeted twenty-nine times beyond twenty yards. His 20+ target share was double in 2019 of what it was from 2020-21. His average depth-of-target dropped from 14.74 in 2019 to a combined 11.43 in 2020-21. While PFF grades can be... erratic... his grades show relatively little variation across the three years, comfortably in the seventies for all three.
So what was different in 2019? The answer is the quarterback.
If we go back to 2019, we will find a much more productive DeVante Parker. Being paired with Ryan Fitzpatrick instead of Southpaw Big Ben will do that for you. Fitzpatrick, who is well-known for his gun-slinging mentality and ability to push the ball down the field, was a big reason for Parker’s improved production. Fitzpatrick’s intended air yards in that season was 9, a full two yards higher than Tua’s 2021, and the seventh highest in the NFL. Parker put together a career year, posting the 16th-best DVOA in the league at +14% and the eighth-highest DYAR at 283. While his yards-per-reception were only decent with Tua (12.6 and 12.9), with Fitzpatrick they soared to 16.7. In 2019, Parker’s yards-per-target ranked 16th amongst wide receivers and his adjusted-yards per route run ranked 14th. This is a player who had broken out and was doing all of this with legitimate WR1 volume. His 128 targets ranked 16th in the league, one ahead of Davante Adams.
The cost for Parker should not be high. He’s been relegated to WR4 and is coming off of two rather disappointing years with a quarterback who cannot facilitate the type of offense he thrives in. If Parker was traded for more than a day three pick, I would be surprised. In Green Bay, he could have a resurgence — with a quarterback who can deliver the ball down the field and in a role that should allow him to return to 100+ targets again, all while doing very little damage to the the Packers cap situation. Let’s turn that facemask green.