Anytime a player is on a rookie contract fans will keep relatively quiet about how well or not so well a player is in fact doing. However, once they get paid, it’s a completely different story. The Rams paid a 24-year-old wideout who was underutilized on his first team, eight million dollars per year. Fans had an issue with it, regardless if it was the going rate for a young receiver with production in the NFL for that time. That 24-year-old was Robert Woods who is on track to have his second 1,000-yard receiving season in the last three years of him being in Los Angeles. The fans clearly don’t have an issue with the contract now.
Fast forward to just 2019, the fans who like Tyler Higbee start to warm up to the idea of trading away their fourth-round pick from the 2016 NFL Draft. This, of course, is all in favor of pushing 2017 second-round pick Gerald Everett into the spotlight. During that time, rumors swirl about a potential late-round pick for Higbee and maybe a destination like Minnesota. As confusing as it sounded, it was all fans had to go off of. Then, it happened. The Rams extended the 26-year-old out of Western Kentucky. The contract spans four years and is worth up to $31 million.
Instantly, the reaction from this contract extension mirrored that of Woods’ contract. Many fans felt Higbee was indeed overpaid and it’s hard to really disagree at first reaction. The Rams tight end had a career-high of just 25 catches for 295 yards in 2017 and two touchdowns in 2018. Coming into the 2019 season, especially with the hopeful emergence of Everett, fans felt like a potential breakout of Higbee to match the contract was far from likely.
Up until week 13, it felt like the fans had a legitimate point. Just by factoring in the offensive production, Higbee did not look to be the answer until a road game in Arizona. That’s when he started a streak which led to him going over the century mark in four-straight games. Rams QB Jared Goff has counted on Higbee over the last four weeks to carry the load while teams hone in on shutting down Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods. It has worked wonders and it would lead many to believe it’s a fluke.
Here’s the thing, Higbee was always a receiving tight end with blocking deficiencies going back to his days in college. However, as a pro, he has worked hard at becoming a better all-around player and that starts with his enormous improvement as a blocker. The key at the tight end position is being able to generate a big snap count. Coaches will not leave you on the field if you cannot block and Higbee made sure to improve upon that. Let’s just cut to the chase though, like the ascension of Robert Woods, the recent ascension of Higbee is no fluke.
Some people seem to think Tyler Higbee has produced so much more consistently the last 4 weeks because some switch has magically clicked and he's become better at football.
You of course know that he's simply played much more with Everett out.#LARams pic.twitter.com/L7PqvBTT2M
— Tom Kislingbury (@TomKislingbury) December 23, 2019
Sure, the injury to Gerald Everett and the lack of snaps his way has opened things up for Higbee but the way Higbee has stepped up in the wake of the injury, it’s gone past just being a replacement, which he wasn’t, to begin with. Higbee is a legitimate figure piece in the Rams offense. That might be one of the only positive takeaways to take from the 2019 Los Angeles Rams season.
Tyler Higbee (@Ty_Higs19) now has 100+ receiving yards in 4 consecutive games.
— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) December 22, 2019
As you see above, Higbee joined quite the company of tight end’s two weeks ago, which includes one of the best tight end’s in the league in Travis Kelce, former superstar, Jimmy Graham, twice and the Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez. In the fourth game of Higbee’s monster run, he went up against one of the best defenses in the league and caught nine passes for 104 yards. With that, he also broke the Rams franchise record for most receptions in a single-season. In an organization that historically hasn’t had a ton of success at the tight end position, Higbee has a chance to be the best one in franchise history. Is it early? Perhaps. But now due to the contract, Higbee will at least have that chance to ascend in Rams history.
A shame it had to happen in a losing effort, but @Ty_Higs19 becomes the first NFL tight end since the 1970 merger to have 4 straight games of 7+ catches for 100+ yards. A historic month of December for the @RamsNFL. (h/t ESPN Stats & Info) pic.twitter.com/7XtVBPvJu7
— J.B. Long (@JB_Long) December 22, 2019
To cap off the 2019 campaign, Higbee finished in the final game just 16 yards shy of being the first tight end in NFL history to have 100-plus yards in five-straight games. While he caught eight balls for 84 yards and a touchdown, Higbee pushed his season-ending stat total to 69 receptions, 734 yards and three touchdowns.
Similar to the Woods contract, with many fans doubting if it was the right move to “overpay” him. Higbee has fans doubting their knee jerk reactions to his early-season extension as well.
While the Rams personnel staff isn’t on the best terms with fans after missing the playoffs one year removed from their Super Bowl appearance…It’s important to give them credit for going against the grain and paying the player they believed in. A player that was drafted before Sean McVay was in the building, simply a player they felt could be a building block piece.
If there is any sort of silver lining you can take away from this season, the emergence of Tyler Higbee has to be one of the biggest ones. It will be thrilling to watch the impressive budding-star tight end in 2020. Just like it has been exciting to watch Robert Woods every year since he signed his contract in 2017.