When looking at the landscape of free agent receivers, Eric Decker has separated himself in the eyes of general managers as the top pass catcher on the market. Our own Luke Adams wrote about Decker’s spot as the top free agent receiver earlier this month, noting that the only receivers on the market who can even come close to his production are Anquan Boldin and Julian Edelman. However, Decker was not always the clear cut big name receiver teams were looking. Last summer, Hakeem Nicks was thought to be the guy who would command the most free agent dollars this offseason.
Unlike Decker, Nicks is coming off his worst season as a pro in his contract year. He caught only 56 passes, totaling 896 yards, and very notably finished the season without a touchdown. He spent the season alternating between looking disinterested and expressing his discontent. The New York media started raking him over the coals due to his effort level about halfway through the Giants’ 0-6 start, declared him a malcontent and seemed to close the door on his tenure with the team by midseason. Trade rumors began to swirl, first with the Giants looking for a second-round pick in return. By the trade deadline, the media was wondering if the Giants could even expect a fourth-round pick in return. All in all, 2013 fell short of expectations for Nicks to say the least.
While Nicks cost himself a ton of money with a down 2013, teams interested in acquiring a number one caliber receiver for a cheap price could be enamored with the 26-year-old. Coming into last season the only knock on Nicks was his durability, as he had trouble staying on the field for Big Blue and often when he was on the field, he was playing at less than 100%. Shoulder, ankle, and knee injuries nagged him throughout the 2011 and 2012 seasons. When teammate Victor Cruz signed his extension last offseason, the sentiment was for Nicks to prove he can stay healthy and his deal would follow. Nicks was mostly healthy last year, but to no avail.
For teams interested in finding a talented receiver in free agency, long-term memory may have them leaning toward Nicks. It feels like forever ago, but in 2010, Nicks caught 79 balls, for 1,052 yards and a whopping 11 touchdowns in 12 starts. He followed that up with 76 catches for 1,192 yards and seven more touchdowns in 15 games in 2011. His most impressive stretch came during the Giants’ Super Bowl run, where he was the team’s most dominant offensive player, putting impressive numbers as he propelled the Giants to victory:
- Wild Card Round vs. Falcons – six catches, 115 yards, two touchdowns
- Divisional Round at Packers – seven catches, 165 yards, two touchdowns
- NFC Championship at 49ers – five catches, 55 yards (left with shoulder injury)
- Super Bowl vs. Patriots – ten catches, 109 yards
Had he reached free agency that offseason, his value would be much different. An injury-plagued 2012 season leading into this past year has dimmed the light shining on a player who was recently thought of as one of the top young playmakers in the NFL. Nicks is unlikely to re-sign with the Giants, even at a reduced rate, although Cruz has pushed for him to return. He may find himself on a one-year “prove it” deal with some team. Brad Wells of StampedeBlue.com believes the Colts could be able to lure him in on a one-year, $2.2MM deal.
Andrew Cohen of OverTheCap.com broke down the wide receiver market earlier this month, he saw Nicks as still deserving of a bigger contract. Cohen predicted Nicks to the Lions on a three-year, $30MM deal with about $13MM in guaranteed money. The thinking behind this was that the Lions are ready to win now, and positioning a star like Nick across from Calvin Johnson could take the offense to new heights. If Nicks was willing to take a smaller deal, Cam Newton and the Panthers are in desperate need of a bigger receiver, and the North Carolina product might consider his hometown if the market didn’t present a more lucrative option.
While his durability and effort level have provided serious red flags to his pending free agency, there should be some team out there with money to spend on potential. The draft will provide teams with a number of options at receiver, as it is supposed to be a deep class highlighted by Sammy Watkins of Clemson, Mike Evans of Texas A&M, and Marquise Lee of USC, all three of which are expected to be drafted in the first round.
Nicks is a 6’1″, 208-pound wideout, with impressive speed and playmaking ability. At 26 years old, and with the numbers he put up only a few years ago, he could command more money than most expect in a year where the other top free agent options are Decker and Boldin. While some may think Decker is a number two wideout about to be paid like a number one, Nicks is the buy-low option, where a team can pay him like a number two and hold out hope that he produces like the number one option he was in 2010 and 2011.