To be sitting in the famous black and silver of the Las Vegas Raiders, associated with toughness and winning, is a 21-year dream come true for Davante Adams. And sometimes, he likes to just soak it all in.

It’s March and the All-Pro wide receiver has just been traded to the Raiders after eight successful years with the Green Bay Packers, reuniting him with his college quarterback, Derek Carr.

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The move – which tore arguably the best receiver in the NFL away from arguably the best quarterback, Aaron Rodgers – sent the league into overdrive, in particular the wide receiver market.

With Adams – who signed a five-year, $141.25 million contract with the Raiders after joining, making him the most expensive receiver at the time – the first big domino to fall in free agency, teams began to re-evaluate their own position group, resulting in the fabric of the league being shaken up with big trades and even bigger contracts.

In addition, the trend of teams selecting exciting receivers early in the draft continued, with seven being drafted among the first 34 picks.

The historic success of Ja’Marr Chase last year as a rookie continued the run of first-year wide receivers producing from day one, whereas previously they might have struggled.

Quarterback Derek Carr and Davante Adams during the Las Vegas Raiders’ pre-season game against the Minnesota Vikings at Allegiant Stadium in August. Credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

So why have teams suddenly decided that the position group is one of such importance, and one which requires huge assets to be invested in?

According to Grant Caraway, founder of wide receiver training site, First Down Training, a stylistic change to the way the game is being played – brought to the fore by current San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan – has helped facilitate a change in the way teams value wide receivers.

“The offenses have changed. Everybody’s moving to that air raid, throwing the ball 40, 50 times a game,” he said.

“So they need athletes out there to be able to have success because like in an air raid system, you’re trying to stretch the field.

“You have four or five receivers on the field the entire time, so you’re going to be getting a lot of one-on-one match ups. That’s just how it’s going to go because you’re trying to stretch the field, so if you got guys who can win those match ups and you have those guys who can create separation…

“And so I think that’s why you’re seeing such a push nowadays because everybody’s trying to find that guy who can, for the best value possible, they don’t have to drop $100 million and get Davante Adams, they can draft a guy who runs good routes and gets separation. And that’s why I think the offenses are evolving and I think that’s what people are constantly looking for: those receivers who can win and win in one-on-one match ups.”

Davante Adams soaks in the atmosphere ahead of the Las Vegas Raiders’ pre-season clash with the Minnesota Vikings at Allegiant Stadium. Credit: Michael Owens/Getty Images

Money, money and more money

It’s been an offseason of spending on those whose job it is to catch the ball. Outside of Adams’ monster deal, top-level receivers have been on the move, getting paid as they go.

After Adams, the biggest and possibly most shocking move was Tyreek Hill swapping Kansas City for Miami’s South Beach, traded from the Chiefs to the Dolphins before signing a massive four-year extension worth $120 million with $72.2 million guaranteed – the new highest paid contract for anyone at the position group.

In the following weeks, DeVante Parker left the Dolphins to go to the Patriots, Marquise Brown was traded from the Baltimore Ravens to the Arizona Cardinals and the Tennessee Titans traded A.J. Brown to the Philadelphia Eagles. The latter agreed to a four-year extension worth $100 million with $57 million guaranteed shortly after.

Las Vegas Raider Davante Adams waits in the tunnel prior to a pre-season game against the Minnesota Vikings at Allegiant Stadium in August. Credit: Michael Owens/Getty Images

Not only that, but other receivers were tied down with their own monster deals. After a Super Bowl-winning season, in which he won the receiving triple crown – leading the league in receptions, yards and touchdowns – Cooper Kupp signed a three-year extension worth up to $80 million with the Rams.

Stefon Diggs agreed to a four-year, $96 million contract extension with the Buffalo Bills, Terry McLaurin signed a three-year extension worth up to $70 million with the Washington Commanders and D.J. Moore signed a three-year extension worth $61.9M with the Carolina Panthers.

Caraway says the swathe of high-paying contracts this summer comes in part down to agents sensing a change in the environment.

Miami Dolphins’ Tyreek Hill warming up prior to a clash with the Philadelphia Eagles at Hard Rock Stadium in August. Credit: Megan Briggs/Getty Images

“If they want that solid receiver one, they got to pay for it,” he said.

“And I think that the guys who negotiate the contracts, the agent and all that stuff, they probably know that and they probably come at the organization with that kind of like: ‘OK, listen, if you want this caliber of a player on the team, you’ve seen what he’s been able to do for other teams’ – like Davante Adams in Green Bay.

“That was their guy. That’s like the best receiver in the league, everything he does looks so easy, it almost seems like he’s head and shoulders above the other receivers on the team. So going into that contract negotiation, they’re like: ‘Hey, listen, if you want this type of player on your team, what he can do for your team, you got to pay the man.’”

And Drew Lieberman, founder of the Sideline Hustle and personal wide receiver coach to numerous NFL players, believes that an “NBA mindset” – with players happier to move teams more frequently in the search of a better fit – has creeped into NFL players’ psyche.

“It used to be in the NFL that guys tried to stay on one team for as long as possible,” he said.

“And there are a few guys who decided that the No. 1 thing they wanted to do was get paid as much as possible, which is their right.”

Why it’s a case of sudden impact for first-year stars

As Chase scorched past seven Chiefs defenders for a remarkable 72-yard touchdown in Week 17 to seal the Bengals’ place at the top of the AFC North, it was easy to forget that this was his first season in the league.

Just 21 years old at the time, Chase enjoyed a historic rookie season in the NFL. In the three-touchdown, 266-receiving-yards afternoon against the Chiefs, not only did he set an NFL record for most receiving yards in a game by a rookie, but he also broke the record for receiving yards in a season by a rookie.

That record had been set just the year before by Minnesota Vikings star Justin Jefferson.

Although first-year receivers have often struggled to produce at the highest level from day one, the trend of rookies stepping in as No. 1 options is now definitely something real – from Chase and Jefferson to DK Metcalf and DeVonta Smith.

So how are rookie wide receivers so much more adept at entering the league and producing from day one? Both Caraway and Lieberman noted that the rise of multi-sport athletes has helped teach receivers attributes that set them apart.

Phoebe Schechter, former coach with the Buffalo Bills, said some of the league’s biggest stars have benefited from playing non-contact football.

“And that’s essentially just quarterback, receiver and defensive back play. And for me, that’s almost made the biggest difference,” she told the Around the NFL Podcast.

“You’re looking at your (Patrick) Mahomes, your (Justin) Herberts, guys like that who have grown up playing seven-on-seven.

“I mean, imagine having pass gally every single week since you’re 10 years old. Definitely, you’re going to learn how to read a defence and be able to react and, no doubt, that’s not to take away from the unbelievable athleticism that we seem to be growing in this world.”

The advent of the internet and social media has also helped reduce the “information gap” between the top of the game and its up-and-coming stars, Lieberman explains.

“Just with the internet … there’s a lot of great accounts online and on social media that teach the game,” he said. “I think when I started coaching like 10 years ago, the biggest thing I noticed was there’s just a huge information gap between how we teach the game and how we coach the game at the highest level versus what you’re exposed to in high school and younger.

“It’s a totally different game the way it’s talked about, the detail in which you’re game planning and attacking things with and all of that. The preparation and the amount of detail and in the game plans and kind of the nuances and how the game works, it’s never really explained to you at those lower levels. I think a lot of that information is more widely available.

“I know guys who watch YouTube highlight videos of their favorite players over and over and over. That wasn’t necessarily available 10 years ago the way it is now, where there are so many videos and so much footage for guys to study.”

A busy offseason could spell the end of something, with players perhaps finding long-term homes and the pay checks they think they deserve.

So why does it feel like just the beginning?

Australians in the NFL

Jordan Mailata (Philadelphia Eagles)

The 25-year-old offensive lineman is living up to the contract that guaranteed him $A60 million – and teammates are predicting even bigger things this season.

“To see how far he’s come, I can only imagine how it was when he was first playing, especially at the NFL level,” Haason Reddick said.

“But to see him now as he continues to get more experience, he’s going to continue to get better.

“We’re already talking about how good he is – we’ll be talking about him being one of the best, if not the best.”

Arryn Siposs (Philadelphia Eagles)

Siposs followed in the footsteps of Ben Graham, Sav Rocca, Chris Bryan and Darren Bennett last year to become the latest former AFL footballers to reach the NFL.

Now he’s determined to stick around and avoid a repeat of his 2021 season, where his performances dropped off towards winter. The 29-year-old spent some of his off-season trip home to Melbourne training on the city’s windier and wetter days.

Mitch Wishnowsky (San Francisco 49ers)

The 30-year-old is entering his fourth season with the Niners but, crucially, it’s the last year of his contract.

Michael Dickson (Seattle Seahawks)

Three years removed from his All-Pro season as a rookie in 2018, he is still one of the best punters in the NFL.

Dickson has a knack for pinning the opposition inside the 20. With the Seahawks predicted to struggle this season, can he continue to give their defence a helping hand?

Cameron Johnston (Houston Texans)

One of the worst teams in the NFL has something going for it – a workhorse punter who refuses to be a weak link. Johnston kicked the most punts in the league last season and more often than not gave Houston something to work with in defence.

Adam Gotsis (Jacksonville Jaguars)

It’s been a whirlwind week for the 29-year-old, whose career was on the rocks when he was surprisingly released by the Jaguars on September 1 – and then re-signed on September 4.

Gotsis needs 11 appearances to notch up the 100-game milestone since his NFL debut with the Denver Broncos in 2016.

Daniel Faalele (Baltimore Ravens)

Australia’s biggest wildcard heading into the new season. Faalele, who weighs upwards of 170kg and is the heaviest player on an NFL roster, showed solid signs in the pre-season. We’ll see how much time he gets in the regular season.

Kyrgios has commentators in stitches with strange celebration.

Kyrgios has commentators in stitches with strange celebration.