By Eric D. Williams
FOX Sports NFL Writer
First thing is to sign a big new contract. The Rams rewarded Kupp for his production, loyalty and patience, inking him to a reported three-year, $78 million contract extension Wednesday, including $75 million in guaranteed money. That’s reportedly the most money guaranteed to a receiver in league history. His $22 million average salary over the five years of his new deal makes him the sixth-highest paid receiver in the NFL.
Is Cooper Kupp underpaid?
Cooper Kupp joins Aaron Donald as the latest Los Angeles Ram to hit a big payday. However, does Kupp remain underpaid? Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe debate whether the receiver deserved more money.
Last season, Kupp became the first receiver to win the triple crown since Steve Smith achieved the feat for the Carolina Panthers in 2005. Kupp led the NFL in receptions (145), receiving yards (1,947) and receiving touchdowns (16), and those larger-than-life numbers earned him the NFL Offensive Player of the Year Award.
For his quarterback, Matthew Stafford, the answer to what Kupp will do for an encore is in the details.
“That’s an unbelievable year,” Stafford said after the Rams’ last day of mandatory minicamp Wednesday. “You can’t sit there and go, ‘Well, the only thing to do now is to go for 2,500 yards if you’re Cooper, and I’ll throw for 7,000 yards,’ you know what I mean? That’s unrealistic. You go out there and try to find ways to improve things that are probably not going to be noticed by any of you.”
Kupp said he and Stafford worked more than 500 hours outside the facility last season. The chemistry they developed helped them connect on 22 scores, second-most in league history behind Tom Brady and Randy Moss (24) in 2007.
In the postseason, Kupp finished with the most receptions ever in a single playoff run (33). He totaled 478 receiving yards and six touchdowns in the postseason, trailing only Larry Fitzgerald (546 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in 2008) in league history.
Kupp, who finished with eight receptions for 92 receiving yards and two scores in the Super Bowl, became the first wide receiver to win MVP in the big game since Julian Edelman took home the trophy in Super Bowl LIII.
“It was an unbelievable thing, what he was able to accomplish last year,” Stafford said. “But had we not come away with the Lombardi, it would have felt different. And that’s the most important thing to people in this organization, him included, is winning.
“As long as we’re doing that, and he feels like he’s playing at a high level, and I feel like I’m playing at a high level, that’s what we want to do. We want to be a part of a winning team and lead the way if we can.”
The unassuming Kupp said he was not concerned about resetting the receiver market in his new deal, despite players such as Tyreek Hill, Davante Adams, Stefon Diggs, Mike Williams and A.J. Brown receiving lucrative, multiyear deals this offseason. With a year left on the three-year deal he signed in 2020, Kupp said he was more involved in negotiations this time around because of his experience in the league.
“Being a few more years into this and having a little more knowledge about the business side of things has helped,” Kupp said. “Just being able to communicate myself clearly what was important to me and then the collaborative approach and mutual respect we had for each other.”
Kupp wore a Stafford No. 9 jersey, posing in a picture with wife Anna after signing the new deal.
“To be able to sign that contract, your quarterback plays a huge role in that,” Kupp said. “So it was a little bit of a nod to Matthew Stafford in that way.”
Kupp’s focus remains on improving the little things each day. He chatted with undrafted rookie Lance McCutcheon while walking to the locker room after practice Wednesday. Like Kupp, an Eastern Washington product, McCutcheon cut his teeth in the Big Sky conference at Montana State.
“Anyone that comes into our receiver room, we work together,” Kupp said. “We try to be our best in lifting guys up so they can be the best version of themselves when they come onto the field. We have a high standard. We hold everyone up to that and expect that you’re striving toward that in how you do things.”
New offensive coordinator Liam Coen said he still sees ways Kupp can improve during the offseason, but it might not necessarily show up in the statistics.
“Just his physicality,” Coen said. “You could see that he was physically stronger, and he looked faster.”
Coen emphasized that it’s not so much straight-line speed for Kupp as it is his ability to win at the top of the route, routinely creating separation to make room for Stafford to cleanly deliver the football.
“This level is really not about speed; it’s about separation,” Coen said. “If you can separate at this level against the type of DBs we see every week, you’re going to have a successful career. And it’s really about: Can you play with speed and control in a certain yardage?
“The ball is not going down over people’s heads all the time. But he can really win and separate within that 15-to-20-yard range, which is difficult to cover.”
Kupp joins foundational pieces Stafford and defensive tackle Aaron Donald in signing new deals this offseason (along with coach Sean McVay) as the Rams try to run it back in defending their Super Bowl title.
But for the 28-year-old Kupp, the focus remains on staying at the top of his game and figuring out ways to get even better.
“I had an incredible time last year,” Kupp said when asked how much he enjoyed last season’s Super Bowl run. “I truly loved coming in, being a part of the game plan and the process of trying to figure out how you’re going to attack a defense and what are the little details that are really important each week.
“Certainly, winning games helps. It’s not as fun to prepare and lose. But I enjoy the process so much — and I know it’s hard for people to understand this — but the end result is secondary to how much the process is important to me. It’s understanding when you do things the right way and prepare how you are supposed to, a lot of the times the result is going to be in the right spot anyway.”
Maybe 2,500 yards isn’t so unrealistic?
Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.
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