But it's also not an unreasonable amount of money, either, even though it means Cobb's next landing spot is likely to be somewhere other than Green Bay. A combination of timing, age, his current team's philosophy, relative wideout contracts and available market money should pave the way for Cobb to cash in on the free-agency market.
Cobb timed his breakout 2014 season perfectly, catching 91 passes for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns immediately in advance of making a push for a new contract. If you're going to break out, do it right before you need to ask for more money. Cobb didn't plan it this way; he was hurt in 2013, and so was Aaron Rodgers. Full health last season resulted in big numbers, with Cobb ranking as the 4th-best WR according to Football Outsiders and the top wideout (!) at Pro Football Focus.
The price of the wide receiver franchise tag ($12.71 million) is pretty steep, especially when you consider Packers GM Ted Thompson's ability to procure stud wideouts in the second round (Cobb, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, and he also landed James Jones in the third). No doubt the Packers love Cobb as a person and as a player, but it's possible costs too much for their small-market sensibilities.
This is particularly true with Cobb slated to be the top wideout in free agency this offseason. The Broncos and Cowboys made it clear they won't let Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant, their respective No. 1's, hit free agency via the franchise tag. That leaves Cobb as the cream of the crop in this class.
A similar player in Victor Cruz signed a five-year, $43 million deal in the 2013 offseason. That's an average of $8.6 million and Cruz took less money because he was on UDFA deal to begin with (it looks incredibly smart now, with Cruz tearing his patellar tendon this past season). Cruz is the 11th-highest paid wideout according to Spotrac.com.
Above Cruz? Greg Jennings, a delightfuly perfect comp for Cobb. Jennings and Cobb are different receivers, but Cobb's presence (along with Jordy Nelson obviously) was a large part of why Jennings was allowed to walk from Green Bay to Minnesota and sign a him a deal that pays him ... $9 million even per year.
Now Jennings will be a large reason why Cobb is going to make that much if not more. The biggest difference is whoever pays Cobb will be purchasing the services of a 24-year-old wideout who hasn't tapped his full potential yet. Even a five- or six-year deal wouldn't put someone on the hook through any massive decline years (although admittedly Cobb might not age as well as other receivers).
So who's going to pay him? Great question. For starters let's look to a few of the teams on the list of franchises facing a reverse cap crisis as reported by USA Today.
Jaguars: No one's got the cap space the Jaguars have ($61 million) this offseason. Jacksonville needs to throw some money around to meet the cap floor and the Jaguars are in the process of continuing to innovate their stadium setup; they want to continually engage fans and big-ticket free-agent items like Cobb don't hurt. Cobb's the type of player who can do damage on and around the line of scrimmage, which only makes things easier for a young quarterback like Blake Bortles, provided Greg Olson is creative enough. Finding a bigger wideout to pair with Cobb, Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns would suddenly give the Jags a dangerous arsenal.
Raiders: Oakland's a very similar to the Jags. The Raiders have tons of cap space, actually need to spend money and have a clear need for additional talent. Especially on the offensive end, where the Raiders top wideouts are currently James Jones and Rod Streater. That's not nearly enough firepower to help Derek Carr blossom under new coach Jack Del Rio and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. Adding Cobb would aid Carr in the same way it would help Bortles. If the combo of Jones/Cobb is good enough for Rodgers, it's good enough for Carr. Like the Jags, Oakland could also chase an additional wideout in free agency to go all in on the position.
Browns: You might be noticing a theme here! Once again we have a team with tons of cap space available ($51.7 million) although the Browns aren't on the NFLPA's list of teams who need to go on a spree. They are, however, a team desperately in need of wide receivers. Ray Farmer made up for a smart move (taking the Bills first-round pick this year so they could move up and grab Sammy Watkins) with a dumb one (taking Justin Gilbert instead of Odell Beckham, Jr.) last year, all the while knowing Josh Gordon could be suspended for most of 2014. Gordon came back early but promptly got suspended for all of 2015 this offseason. Andrew Hawkins (63 receptions last year to lead the team), Miles Austin (47) and Taylor Gabriel (36) ain't gonna cut it. Cobb would infuse some much-needed talent in a group that will struggle to prop up Johnny Manziel or whoever the hell is under center to start next year.
Panthers: Dave Gettleman doesn't seem like the type of GM to go out and spend a bunch of money on a wide receiver in free agency, particularly with a deeper class available in the draft and Carolina coming off a home run in Kelvin Benjamin last year. But Cobb could do a lot to drastically improve Cam Newton and Carolina's offense. He'd pair perfectly with Benjamin and offer Newton an explosive, short-zone option. Carolina's cap situation isn't nearly as robust as the rest of these teams and, again, I wouldn't expect Gettleman to go out and spend a boatload on Cobb given his history (plus he knows you can find a Cruz on the cheap). But the fit would be nice.
Jets: Once again, tons of cap space and limited talent at the position. Even though John Idzik left the team in a good cap spot, the Jets last two front offices whiffed on a bunch of different wideouts in the draft. Pairing Cobb with Eric Decker would help Geno Smith or whoever ends up being the quarterback when Todd Bowles kicks off his inaugural season with the Gang Green. Again: young, not always accurate quarterback given high-end slot target who can make an impact in different offensive schemes. It makes a ton of sense.
Long story short is the available cap space for a teams who have needs at wide receiver plus the likelihood of Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas receiving the franchise tag plus Cobb's skillset and age mean he's going to find a robust market and should easily command $9 million a year.