The Cowboys’ and Broncos‘ respective approaches with their All-Pro wide receivers following statement contract years will draw the most headlines this offseason, but not far off that radar will be the Packers‘ decision on slot target Randall Cobb.
Not possessing the traditional build of a No. 1 target Demaryius Thomas or Dez Bryant have, Cobb put together a consistent campaign — 106 catches, 1,465 yards, 13 touchdown receptions in 18 games — but the Packers have a history of allowing their receivers to walk and restocking the position with home-grown talent: see Greg Jennings in 2013 or James Jones last March. But Cobb’s case may be unique, writes Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
Packers hall of fame receiver James Lofton weighed in on this issue, via Dunne.
“Which free-agent wide receiver has left a team and gone on to become a Pro Bowler on a new team?” Lofton said. “Vincent Jackson did in his first year at Tampa. … Emmanuel Sanders was (an alternate), when he went to Denver, but that’s an extenuating circumstance when you have Peyton Manning throwing the ball. So where can these guys find a home that was better than where they were? We saw Greg Jennings leave Green Bay — who was a good player — and now he’s an average player at best.”
Jennings exceeded 1,100 yards for three straight seasons in Green Bay — 2008-10 — but hasn’t topped 805 in two years with the Vikings. Jones scored 14 touchdowns in Green Bay in 2012 and set a career high in receptions with 73 in Oakland last year, but the 30-year-old averaged just 9.1 yards per catch as primarily a wide receiver. Almost exclusively a slot man when not stationed in the backfield, Cobb, only 24, averaged 14.1 per grab last season in a position not known for over-the-top proficiency, a statistic which increases his case to be paid like a top wide receiver. The franchise tag for wideouts is expected to be around $12.7MM, and the Packers have just more than $23MM in cap space, according to OverTheCap.com.
Meanwhile, the Broncos made a rather controversial shift from their three-wide receiver, no-huddle-based attack to a power-running approach midway through last season, and while free agents-to-be Orlando Franklin and Will Montgomery posted top-15 finishes at guard and center, respectively, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), new coach Gary Kubiak is likely to reshape the front based on his zone-blocking past, writes ESPN’s Jeff Legwold.
The Broncos entered the season with two first-team All-Pros on their front in left tackle Ryan Clady and right guard Louis Vasquez, but both regressed — Clady graded negatively on Pro Football Focus’ overall rating for the second time in four years after returning from the foot injury that ended his 2013 campaign after two games; Vasquez was marginalized when moved to right tackle to compensate for others’ struggles at that spot — and weakened the line. While Clady, the only lineman who played for the Broncos when they deployed Mike Shanahan‘s zone-blocking scheme, and Vasquez are expected back, Franklin and Montgomery are free agents, Manuel Ramirez slipped after a solid 2013, and the team is still without a viable right tackle option.
“Yes, that’s absolutely, 100 percent correct, three new starters minimum,” said ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth, a former Broncos zone-blocking bastion, via Legwold. “… Athletically speaking, they’re not good enough at left guard, center, and they need to find a right tackle.”
Solutions for both Cobb and Denver‘s offensive line don’t have to come from free agency, however, and may not require a No. 1 draft choice. From 2012-14, 37% of the Pro Bowlers came into the league in the third round or later, including 21 undrafted talents, ClevelandBrowns.com’s Kevin Jones measured. Cornerbacks from Denver (Chris Harris Jr.) and Green Bay (Sam Shields) contributed to that total as 2014 Pro Bowlers.