So the first weekend of the offseason has arrived. As I watch NFL Network reminiscing about the past and upcoming season, I conjure up a few topics that can be discussed for the off-season. As there has been a lot of talk about Joe Flacco and his impending free-agency, it would be a perfect time to discuss some of the players that will have new homes in 2013. The first edition will feature the free-agent wide receivers that are available this offseason.
Greg Jennings: With the Packers conglomerate of slant running, back shoulder catching receivers developing nicely in Green Bay, the new elder statesmen of that group (now that Donald Driver called it quits) is almost certain to find himself a new home. Jennings has been a tremendous deep threat with the Packers and can still burn guys with the long catch averaging over 16 yards per pass between 2007 and 2010. This year he battled a nagging grown injury and was relegated to his worst statistical year as a pro. There are quite a few teams that could use his deep threat capability. Forget the fact that he is turning 30 shortly; Greg Jennings can still be a 1000 yard receiver for a number of years. In terms of teams he may fit well with, the Dolphins would make a great partnership as they have over $35 million in projected cap space. Joe Philbin who was the old offensive coordinator for the Packers would be familiar with Jennings and would be a much needed boost in their passing offense that finished 26th in passing efficiency. Brian Hartline and Devone Bess are good foot soldiers as number 2 and 3 receivers, but they desperately need an established receiver that will help Ryan Tannehill develop.
Mike Wallace: Flashback to last season, 2nd and 10 from the Steelers 5-yard line. Roethlisberger drops back and throws a bomb to Wallace for a touchdown. Who was covering him? Patrick Peterson who ran a 4.34 40-yard dash time at the combine. There is a reason Wallace’s name is associated with “SEC Speed” and he is the fastest elite receiver in the game. (I make that distinction because there are some receivers who may be faster, but do not posess the complete game that Wallace does I.E. Jacoby Ford). When he first came in the league in 2009, you could argue he was only a deep threat, but he has worked and become a complete receiver that can beat you short or deep and also turn small gains into big ones (Like he did last year vs. the Giants). Wallace had a disappointing year to his standards due to a lengthy contract dispute that made him miss most of training camp. My view is if the Steelers wanted Wallace and felt he was an integral part of their offense, he would’ve been signed already. Wallace has long been asking for a big deal above the 5-year $55 million Vincent Jackson got. Considering he is, younger, has produced big numbers and shows no signs of slowing down, he definitely has a legitimate argument to recoup that much coin. While I do still think there is a chance, albeit slim, for Wallace to return to the steel city, look for him to sport new digs next season. After all, they are cap strapped and just signed Antonio Brown to a big deal. A dark horse team would be the Browns. With potentially near $50 million in cap space, they certainly have the money available. Their receiving corps has not had a legitimate number one threat since Braylon Edwards scored 16 touchdowns and over 1,200 yards in 2010. Josh Gordon played great considering how bad Brandon Weeden was at times, but he is more of a complimentary guy. Greg Little simply has not developed like he should have and at times can have stone hands. Keep in mind a few things: Rob Chudzinski, new headman for the Browns was the offensive coordinator when the Browns had that big 2009 season on offense. Norv Turner is the new offensive coordinator for Cleveland and has always favored a vertical passing game. Just look at the Chargers of the last 4 seasons with Vincent Jackson, Malcolm Floyd and Antonio Gates. Mike Wallace would be a tremendous fit with Brandon Weeden’s big arm.
Dwayne Bowe: I will be quite honest. I am not a big fan of Bowe. Never should he be in discussions of the top 10 or even 15 receivers. He disappears too often and is far too inconsistent. No longer can you assume that a receiver being 1000-yard receivers vaults him into being elite. Bowe is a benefactor of a bad team that throws a lot; therefore many of his yards are gained during garbage time. Despite his faults, Bowe was franchised last year by the Chiefs and had a decent season. With Andy Reid coming into town, you could assume that Bowe staying may gain some traction. After all, Reid is an offensive coach who can design plays with the best of them. Rookie receiver Jon Baldwin also is not ready to take the reigns as a number one guy yet. Bowe would be terrific for a team that already has an established number one receiver, but gets far too much coverage shifted his way. A team such as Minnesota, where Leslie Frazier is running out of ways to feature Harvin before teams start doubling him, would be a nice fit. Arizona as well with Larry Fitzgerald on one side, although they did just draft big receiver Michael Floyd out of Notre Dame. Wherever Bowe plays, there will need to be good coaching in place and veteran leadership that keeps him in check and assures that he remains focused on every down. He is still blessed with great talent and still has a lot left as a player.
Wes Welker: Over 600 catches since 2007 as well as being top 5 in yards receiving in that span makes Welker, on paper at least, one of the best receivers in the game. You would figure it would be a slam-dunk that he re-signs with the Pats, correct? We can assume that Wes is irreplaceable, can we not? Unfortunately the Patriots have been masters of making the general public question the worth of a terrific player on their team. They did it with Randy Moss, Deion Branch, Logan Makins and countless others. The Patriot way has always been talked about for years. Be selfless, play hard and do not ask for more money when you deserve it. Wes Welker has been an amazing player and the media in New England and the spin-doctors in the Patriots organization need to stop portraying Welker like a guy who is easily replaceable. Should he be paid like an elite receiver? I personally do not think so as he is still at a notch below guys like Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. However, there is no better player on 3rd downs at finding holes in the zones than he is. He has reliable hands (except for last years Super Bowl vs. the Giants) and always plays tough. How many receivers in the league make a living off running drag routes and slants towards the middle of the field? It appears the writing is on the wall with Edelman ready to take over that Wes Welker slot-receiving role. Welker would be a great fit in a spread offense similar to the one the Patriots run, with a team that runs a consistent amount of 3-4 receiver sets. He will definitely find a home next season, but unlike the other receivers in this list, finding a true fit for him is easier said than done. Not many teams run the precision passing game that relies on one receiver that can catch those dink and dunk throws. But let me just throw out the Atlanta Falcons with Matt Ryan who spreads the ball relatively well. That would not be a bad fit for Welker to run underneath routes while Jones and White make big plays.
The next edition will feature the tight ends where there is surprisingly a very strong free agent class in 2013.