As I noted this morning when I examined the free agent market for wide receivers, the players at the very top of this year’s board likely won’t be available when free agency begins on March 10. Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas are both strong candidates for the franchise tag, and Jeremy Maclin and Randall Cobb could get tagged as well, if they don’t work out long-term extensions with their current teams.
However, that doesn’t mean that this year’s receiver market will be weak. Even without those four wideouts on the board, players like Torrey Smith, Michael Crabtree, Cecil Shorts, and Kenny Britt may be available, and Jason Cole of Bleacher Report (video link) suggests that a handful of players currently under contract could join them. Cole identifies Percy Harvin (Jets), Mike Wallace (Dolphins), Vincent Jackson (Buccaneers), and Brandon Marshall (Bears) as a few veteran receivers who could hit the open market if they decline to take pay cuts or rework their contracts.
While the top-tier free agent receivers figure to draw interest from around the NFL, Cole suggests that the Jets and Raiders will be the most aggressive teams in trying to secure one of those top options. As Over The Cap’s data shows, Oakland and New York should both rank among the top five clubs in terms of available cap room this offseason, with approximately $50MM in flexibility.
That cap space will increase for the Jets if they release Harvin, and such a move would probably have them in the market for two new receivers, either in free agency or the draft. The Raiders, meanwhile, have Denarius Moore, Vincent Brown, Rod Streater, and Andre Holmes all eligible for either unrestricted or restricted free agency, and will be looking for an impact wideout to complement James Jones in order to help advance Derek Carr‘s development.
Although it will become irrelevant if the Broncos use their franchise tag on Thomas, it’s worth noting that Decker has been pushing hard to try to convince his former teammate to join him in New York.