NFL - Free Agent WRs - On the Move
The agents representing this crop of free agent WRs will be doing their best Jerry Mcguire impersonation as they demand that GMs "show them the money" and they should get their wish with about half of the NFL searching for receiving upgrades. Many teams that are in salary cap hell (such as the Jets, Steelers, Cardinals and Panthers) will be forced to search for pass catchers via the draft, so be sure to check out Matt De Lima's in depth profiles on some the best collegiate WRs that will hear their names called in the early rounds of April's draft http://www.fftoolbox.com/nfl_draft/2013/top-nfl-prospects-for-2013.cfm?pos=WR.
This draft class lacks a top 10 WR talent (ala Julio Jones / AJ Green of 2010), but there is solid depth at the position with as many as 8-10 WRs in the running to be selected during the first 2 days of the draft. In my most recent Mock Draft (http://www.fftoolbox.com/nfl_draft/2013/2013-nfl-mock-draft.cfm?writer=37), I have four WRs going in round 1 and another 5 collegiate pass catchers hear their names called in round 2.
A few WR needy teams with adequate cap space (Cincy, Miami, Cleveland all rank in the top five in available cap room) will likely dip both feet into the free agent waters in hopes of scoring that prized big fish. In Cleveland first year head coach Rob Chudzinki and new OC Norv Turner will need to address a Browns passing offense that passed for the 5th fewest TDs (16) in the league. RB Trent Richardson will remain the focal point of the offense, but adding a compliment to Josh Gordon should take priority. In Miami, Ryan Tannehill will enter his 2nd season in the NFL with hopes that he'll get a true #1 WR as Davone Bess and free agent Brian Hartline are not exactly striking fear into opposing defenses. Miami is rumored to be hot on the trails of speed demon Mike Wallace. Buffalo first year coach Doug Marrone will look to find a running mate for Stevie "Why so Serious" Johnson in hopes of improving the Bills' 25th ranked aerial attack. The ongoing Percy Harvin soap opera in Minnesota could force GM Rick Spielman to open his checkbook for at least one legit WR in this free agent group in hopes of improving the Vikings' 31st rank passing game.
Last season there were multiple free agent WRs that parlayed their skills into monster contract extensions as Vincent Jackson, Reggie Wayne, Stevie Johnson, and Pierre Garcon proved their worth to varying degrees. Robert Meachem (Chargers - 4 year $26 million) and Laurent Robinson (Jacksonville - 5 year, $33 million) failed to come close to justifying their big paydays proving that GMs will need to do their due diligence to avoid wasting money on mediocre talents.
In this article we profile some of the bigger named free agent WRs that may or may not hit the open market. Some of them would see a decent bump in fantasy value if they change zip codes and team up with more talented QBs, while others might be hard pressed to match their career averages if they exit and are not paired with a future Hall of Famer QB (Jennings and Welker I'm looking at you).
The new regime is highly unlikely to let Alexander escape sunny San Diego after he caught 36 balls for 624 yards and six touchdowns in nine games with the Chargers. His extensive injury history (missed 21 games over his first 3 NFL seasons) is a major red flag, but there is no doubting his upside and Phil Rivers will most likely see his #1 target return. The 24 year old is just scratching the surface of his potential (provided those balky knees hold up - went undrafted out of Missouri in 2010 amid knee concerns). The restricted free agent is likely to get the first round tender ($2.9 million value) and could secure a decent payday if he builds on his 2012 performance. At 6'5 with above average speed, DA has a chance to be a solid WR2 for fantasy squads in 2013 as first year head coach Mike McCoy (former Denver QB coach) should have a positive influence on the Chargers' aerial assault.
One of the top slot WRs in the game also comes with a laundry list of injuries likely limiting the magnitude of his next contract. The 27 year old Texas Tech alum has averaged 5.4 catches per game over the last three seasons, but has missed 20 games due to injury. In 2012 he finished with 63 catches for 666 yards (60 YPG) and 3 touchdowns (found the end zone just 7 times over first four seasons). Despite their lack of a WR talent, the Rams seem unlikely to pay the $10-million franchise tag for the oft injured Amendola. Tagging their #1 WR on a 1-year proves it contract might actually be their best option, but for now it seems he'll hit the open market.
The Andy Reid regime in Kansas City has the unenviable task of improving a Chief passing game that has ranked as the worst in the league (averaged just 170 passing YPG). Finding an NFL caliber QB would be a start as Matt Cassel is a strong candidate for release after totaling 16 TDs and 21 INTs over the past two seasons. The one piece to the KC passing game that should be retained is 28 year old Dwayne Bowe. Jon Baldwin has disappointed since the Chiefs took him as the 26th overall pick in the 2011 draft and Dexter McCluster is nothing more than a hybrid RB/WR best suited for the slot. Initial reports indicate that the Chiefs front office plans to slap Bowe with the franchise tag for the 2nd straight year, which means he'd make $11.4 million in 2013. Bowe has had his disputes with coaches and a four-game PED suspension in 2009, but the Chiefs would be smart to consider giving their only legit pass catcher a contract extension. If they change their mind and use the tag on OL Branden Albert , Bowe will have no shortage of suitors as he amassed 20 TDs and 153 receptions from 2010-2011 despite being saddled with pedestrian QB play. In 2012, Bowe missed 3 games (rib injury) and finished with 59 catches for 801 yards and just three touchdowns for the offensively challenged Chiefs. Bowe's fantasy stock would likely see a decent spike if he leaves Arrowhead and is paired with a serviceable QB.
The undrafted UMass alum has now posted back to back impressive seasons and could be the prize of this group based on his age and skill set. In 2012, he followed up his monster rookie season (1,536 yards and 9 TDs) with an 82 catch 1,040 yard and 9 touchdown campaign and was an invaluable piece of the G-men passing game with Hakeem Nicks at less than 100% for the majority of the 2012 season. The 26 year old WR is a restricted free agent and the Giants could slap a first round tender ($2.9 million value) – a major bargain if they can't iron out a long term deal. He's very unlikely to hit the open market, but would battle Dwayne Bowe for the top spot among free agent WRs if he becomes available.
The 26 year old Buckeye alum is coming off career highs in catches (74) and yards (1,083) – including his week 4 game for the ages against Arizona when Hartline finished with 12 catches for 253 yards and a touchdown (incredibly his only score of the season). Hartline lacks the upside of many of the other free agent pass catchers in this class, but is a serviceable WR2 target for teams looking for a reliable, moderately priced WR (expected to command $6 million/year). Itis worth noting that in 2012, Hartline nearly doubled his career averages (averaged 36 catches for 557 yards from 2009-2011). He's also been allergic to the end zone hauling in just six TDs during his first four NFL seasons.