2014 NFL Free Agent Receivers
By: Roshan Bhagat
Hakeem Nicks [New York Giants] - Marred with his own durability concerns and back-to-back seasons of subpar production, Hakeem Nicks enters free agency coming off a season that offers more questions than answers. After extending Cruz and with the emergence of Randle, the Giants may be over Nicks despite his speed, physicality, and YAC ability. Following an offseason met with a little more star power, this year's class of receivers is anything but. Surely there's a team with cap space that will attempt to ignore the bad in pursuit of the good. The Giants appear more and more unlikely to be that team.
Eric Decker [Denver Broncos] - After a quiet start to the year, Decker emerged as the team's premier downfield threat, finishing with nearly 1300 yards and 11 touchdowns. With several expiring contracts this year and Demaryius Thomas's rookie contract expiring next year, retaining Decker will bring about a few challenges. Though the Broncos are a frontrunner to this point, the lackluster free agent class could enable a few interested suitors to drive up the price.
Anquan Boldin [San Francisco 49ers] - Sandwiched between a 208-yard game in week one and a 149-yard effort in week 17, Boldin went 14 consecutive games under 100 yards receiving. Still, he posted his best season since 2008 and helped the Niners through a season where they needed production in passing game. His physicality, strong hands, and route-running ability should keep him going for the duration of a 2-3 year contract. With the 49ers due to hand out several extensions in the coming years, Boldin's contract situation may not be the top priority, but could be an under-the-radar move that leaves a lasting impact on the growth of the offense.
James Jones [Green Bay Packers] - The last time Jones found himself in this situation, he found disappointment in the market and returned to the Packers with a little lobbying from his quarterback. Since then, Jones has improved as a receiver, shored up a battle with drops, and displayed great leadership and toughness in a timeshare situation in Green Bay. Given the number of Packers set to become free agents, the organization could lose sight of Jones, allowing him to become the second Packer receiver in as many years to don a new uniform.
Julian Edelman [New England Patriots] - Though it took a little longer than expected, Julian Edelman eventually came through as the slot receiver the Patriots offense needed to keep the offense alive. After learning their lesson with Welker, expect the front office to make a better push to re-sign the younger Edelman.
Jeremy Maclin [Philadelphia Eagles] - Maclin couldn't have envisioned a worse situation in his nightmares before the season began. He tore his ACL in a contract year then witnessed his peers enjoy career-seasons in Chip Kelly's electrifying offense. Surely Philadelphia will have interest in returning Maclin to the fray, but for a receiver coming off his rookie contract, money may speak more fondly than in other circumstances.
Kenny Britt [Tennessee Titans] - After displaying flashes of brilliance between his bone-headed off-field decisions and long droughts on the field, Kenny Britt could be a bargain find in free agency in the right situation. His imposing size will likely draw a secondary niche market for teams in dire need of improving their receiving corps without wanting to spend the resources and risk to do so.
Golden Tate [Seattle Seahawks] - With the absence of Percy Harvin for much of the year, Golden Tate continued to provide Seattle's offense with a dependable receiver. Though he has yet to eclipse the 1000-yard milestone, he provides the offense and special teams with consistency and dependability—things they haven't found elsewhere.
Devin Hester [Chicago Bears] - Though Hester will turn 32 in the middle of next season, he continues to provide the Bears with a dangerous returner. Though his best days are likely behind him, there's still plenty of ability and good years in his future. However, the Bears have a number of expiring contracts, dropping Hester in the list of priorities.
Jimmy Graham [New Orleans Saints] - Despite injuries that slowed him in the middle of the season, Graham finished with over 1200 yards and 16 touchdowns on the season. Though the Saints and Graham will attempt to hash out a long-term contract over the offseason, the Saints' less-than-ideal cap situation and Graham surpassing the 50% mark on the season at wide receiver may widen the jumping off points in negotiations. The battle for the franchise tag at wide receiver or tight end will be dicey and could set the standard for the future.
Dennis Pitta [Baltimore Ravens] - Pitta's early season injury scare promised to be a season-ender. However, by making a return late in the year and producing effectively in a couple games, he increased the likelihood that the Ravens will extend his agent an above-market long-term offer.
Jermichael Finley [Green Bay Packers] - There are conflicting reports regarding the likelihood of Finley's return to football—a similar injury to the one that has likely ended the career of Packers' safety Nick Collins. Though he seems determined to return, ultimately the decision will fall upon doctors for medical clearance. The Packers doctors are notorious for playing these situations conservatively in favor of the player's long-term health. Further, by resuming football, Finley will pass up a lucrative insurance policy, which all but assures that he won't take a home town discount even if the stars align for his return. If he returns, he could provide some team much needed help in the red zone, where the Packers desperately missed him a year ago.
Brandon Pettigrew [Detroit Lions] - Pettigrew has frustrated the Lions with drops and miscues despite talent that suggests he should be among the league's best. He's a good all-around tight end with the size and ability of an old school in-line player. Generally in situations such as these, the home town is unwilling to match the market offer as they are less receptive to potential than production.
Scott Chandler [Buffalo Bills] - Chandler has been a reliable staple in the Bills offense over the past couple years, becoming more of a threat inside the red zone. Though he isn't a game-changing tight end, his ability as a blocker and receiver could facilitate good value. The Bills will probably look to improve their tight end situation in the draft to help stimulate growth in EJ Manuel.
Dustin Keller [Miami Dolphins] - After an unfortunate gruesome knee injury, Keller's rehabbing will be monitored throughout the offseason. Though it would be surprising to see his name in the early weeks and months of free agency, interest could start to surface later in the offseason or in the middle of the year as he continues to regain strength and stability in the knee. When healthy, he's an athletic tight end that can stress a defense.
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