Free Agent Market For Wide Receivers

Our list of 2015 free agents provides a comprehensive position-by-position breakdown of which players are eligible to hit the open market this year. However, that list of names doesn’t include much context or additional information about those players. So, with March’s free agent period fast approaching, we’ll be taking a closer look this month at the free agent market for each position. Today, we’ll turn our attention to wide receivers. Let’s dive in….

Top unrestricted FAs:

No other position has the same sort of star power at the top as this year’s free agent group of receivers does. In fact, in our last installment of 2015’s free agent power rankings, four of our top eight players were wideouts, with Bryant, Thomas, Maclin, and Cobb all making the cut.

Still, it’s probably fair to assume that Bryant and Thomas, at least, won’t reach the open market. Their respective teams have the franchise tag at their disposal, and intend to use it if a long-term agreement can’t be reached. Maclin and Cobb, on the other hand, may not warrant a tag, so they’ll be worth watching as free agency nears. If they make it to the open market, long-term deals worth $10MM+ annually aren’t out of the question, considering how many receiver-needy teams have cap room to spare.

While those four players are probably in a tier of their own, Smith isn’t far behind, and Crabtree is only two years removed from an 1,100-yard season. The rest of the list is a mix of reliable veterans (Royal, Washington, Wayne), and players with some upside (Britt, Nicks, Shorts), though teams likely won’t want to make too significant an investment on a guy from either of those groups.

Other unrestricted options:

You could make the case that Welker should be in the top tier of free agent wideouts this offseason, but his history of head injuries, combined with declining production, has him mulling the possibility of retirement, and I don’t think he’s the same guy he was even two or three seasons ago. Nonetheless, he’s one of the more intriguing names among this group, which features a number of players who are either past their primes or have yet to fully realize theirs.

If you’re looking for a player with some upside here, you could do worse than the two Raiders, Brown and Denarius Moore. Jernigan, who turns 26 this year, is also an interesting option — he was poised to assume a much larger role in the Giants’ offense in 2014 before a foot injury cut his season short. Williams also may have something left in the tank after a lost season in Buffalo, but a team shouldn’t invest more than a minimum-salary contract to find out.

In fact, that probably applies to most players on this list. There’s an outside chance a club could find an impact performer in this group, but most of these guys will end up no higher than third or fourth on a team’s depth chart. Others may not even rank that highly, contributing primarily on special teams or in the return game rather than an offense.

Restricted FAs:

It’s not easy to pry away a restricted free agent from a team that wants to keep him, and I assume that will be the case for the more noteworthy names among this year’s RFA wideouts. Guys like Beasley, Holmes, Johnson, Kearse, and Streater should pique the interest of teams in need of wideouts, but I imagine their current clubs will submit contract tenders to bring them back.

In my view, Holmes is the most interesting player in this group, but considering how much cap room the Raiders have, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Raiders placed a higher tender on the 26-year-old to discourage rival suitors from courting him. Typically, a minimum-level RFA tender is enough to scare off potential bidders, but for less than $1MM, Oakland could increase its offer to a second-round tender, meaning that any club hoping to sign Holmes would have to part with a second-round pick to land him.

Previous looks at the 2015 free agent market:

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