Monday, July 25, 2011

NFL Free Agent/Trade Preview - WR's (July 25)

The next coach of the Philadelphia Eagles!
Football is back! Thank goodness...

At this point, I'm not exactly sure what I'm more excited about; getting to hear about actual football news, or NOT having to hear about the lockout. It certainly has been an annoying journey for NFL fans, but it's finally over. We can finally get back to football!

Speaking of football...the first thing on tap for the belated 2011 NFL season is the long overdue (and highly overrated) free agency period. Originally, this was set to begin late this week, however, it now appears as if teams will be allowed to begin negotiating as soon as noon tomorrow. As you know, I've been previewing the upcoming free agent/trade class over the last few days. My intent was to do WR/TE today, OL/DL tomorrow, and LB/DB on Wednesday. So...yeah...apparently that's not going to work now. Unless these posts somehow miraculously write themselves in the next 12 hours, I'm probably (read: definitely) not going to make it past WR/TE. Let me just tell you...I tried to get my homework to do itself throughout the entirety of my academic "career." Doesn't work...

That having been said, I am unfortunately going to appear to be that which all true football fans loathe...the fantasy football guy. I mean, who else would only write about QB's, RB's, and WR's? Please understand, this was not my intent. I don't want to be "fantasy football guy!" Yes, I participate in and enjoy fantasy football, but I am much more! I love real football! I know more than just skill position players! I swear it! Wait, what's that? You don't care? Yeah, I guess I don't really care either. After all, only three people are ever going to read this, right?

Thus, in taking the next step in becoming "fantasy football guy," I will preview the final offensive skill position and completely ignore OL and defense...all while expecting you to take me seriously. Ladies and gentlemen, the Top 10 Available WR's! (Note: I personally think this crop of available WR's is extremely solid. There's a surplus of talent on the market and this group looks even better when compared to the lackluster group of QB's and RB's available.)

(In case you haven't read them, here are my previews for QB and RB)

#43 Plaxico Burress

OK, so maybe I'm exaggerating a bit by putting him at #43, but he certainly doesn't belong in the top ten. Yet, I've heard a lot of analysts and "experts" talk about him as if he were still the same game-changing player he was before putting a big hole in his leg. My guess is that Mike Vick's meteoric return to prominence has fueled much of this thought, but for the life of me, I can't figure out what the two situations have in common! OK, fine, they both went to jail. So what? Somehow, I don't think an orange jumpsuit and some bars are enough to draw a definitive conclusion from. Back here in the real world, there's a huge difference between a 29 year old QB who's taken a fairly small amount of punishment and a 34 year old WR with 128 games under his belt. Look, I'm not saying I wouldn't take a chance on Burress. He still has terrific size and he might very well have something left in the tank. At the right price, I'd be glad to roll the dice on a couple more good years of Plax. At the right price...

Possible Fits: I keep hearing the Eagles tossed around. How ironic would that be?! Let me throw out a prediction here; Eagles sign Burress this offseason, and then sign Pacman Jones next offseason after his inevitable stay in prison. And then hire O.J. Simpson to coach via Skype...

#10 Randy Moss

One of my favorite quotes from the offseason comes from Moss' agent Joel Segal, saying, "Whatever team ends up getting Randy, they're going to know they're getting the old Randy Moss." You're totally right Joel, they are getting 'old' Randy Moss. As in, 'I'm 34 years old, I've been in the league since 1998, I've played in over 200 games, and I just played for three teams in one season and only caught 28 passes,' old. What's that? That's not what Segal meant by 'old Randy Moss?' Hmm...interesting.

Possible Fits: He's supposedly in the best shape of his life and he supposedly gives a crap. Stop me when that sounds familiar. Still, he probably won't be that expensive, and a team with good veteran leadership would encounter only minimal risk in bringing him on board. If Moss really does have another Randy Moss-like season in him, then this could be the FA signing of the year. Two oft mentioned teams are San Diego and New Orleans. Depending on what happens with Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd, San Diego might find themselves in desperate need of help. A Rivers-Moss pairing does sound quite interesting, doesn't it?

#9 Chad Ochocinco

In continuing our theme of over-the-hill, troublemaking receivers, I present to you Chad Ochocinco. Ocho is an interesting case as it could be argued that his 'decline' has a lot to do with the ineffective play of Carson Palmer. Of course, there are also those who argue that Ocho's me first attitude and sloppy route running are the cause of the ineffective play of Palmer. No matter what side you take, there are some definite red flags that can't be explained away. Ochocinco is 33 years old, has posted negative DVOA's in two of his past three seasons, and has seen his Y/R and TD's dip dramatically in the past three seasons. On the other hand, he still has caught 139 passes combined over the last two seasons, so there's still something left in the tank.

Possible Fit: You mean, apart from VH1? Chad, seriously, stop doing these stupid shows...nobody cares about them. Anyways, back to football. It's possible Chad isn't really available at all. He's still under contract with the Bengals, and, while it seems logical for the two sides to move on, it might actually be a bit too logical for Mike Brown to pull the trigger.

#8 James Jones

In my RB preview, I brought up an article on written by Bill Barnwell. In another section of his "Free Agents You Meet in Hell" piece, he talks about the pitfalls of handing out big contracts to secondary receivers who put up big numbers in a pass friendly offense. Often, teams assume those receivers will step up their production given a bigger role. Unfortunately, that is often times completely wrong. It's possible James Jones could be one of those guys. Several teams are going to look at Jones and see nothing but a 27 year old receiver coming off a 50 catch season as the #3 receiver. For that, he'll probably get twice what he's actually worth. They don't call him 'Hands of Stone' Jones in Green Bay for no reason!

Possible Fits: It seems odd that I would rank him #8 and then rip on him. In all honesty, I really do like him as long as he's put in the right role. I just have a feeling that someone like St. Louis is going to panic and give him a big deal to be one of their primary targets. Az Hakim anybody?

#7 Steve Breaston

If not for his troubling injury problems, I could make a solid argument for Breaston to be higher on this list. I've followed Breaston since his days at Michigan, and I won't be surprised if he ends up far out-earning whatever contract he receives. It's easy to overlook him given the injuries and Larry Fitzgerald's shadow, but don't forget that Breaston posted 77 catches and 1006 yards just a few seasons ago, while also notching impressive DVOA's of 12.7% or higher in two of the past three seasons. Perhaps even more impressive, he averaged over 50 yards/game and set a career high of 15.3 Y/R last season with Derek Anderson, John Skelton, and a homeless guy from downtown Tucson throwing to him.

Possible Fits: After first acquiring an NFL level QB and easing the gun out of Larry Fitzgerald's mouth, it should be a high priority for Arizona to bring Breaston back. No, Kurt Warner's not walking through that door, but even Kevin Kolb would look good throwing to those two guys! With Early Doucet on the open market as well, Arizona must retain some continuity and talent in the passing game to ease the new QB's transition and keep pressure off Fitzgerald.

#6 Braylon Edwards

I'm sure more people rank him higher, but I need to see more than one season to make me believe he's a star receiver. After all, thus far in his career he's had more court cases (2) than 1000 yard seasons (1). Perhaps even more troubling is his terrible catch percentage, which has been 52%, 47%, and 40% respectively in the past three seasons. Still, he's suffered through a career of brutal quarterback play, is still relatively young (28), and has definite big play ability (15.8 Y/R).

Possible Fits: Given the Jets difficult free agent position, it seems like they'll be forced to decide between Edwards and Santonio Holmes. So, yeah...Edwards is going to be available. His propensity for trouble will definitely hurt his stock, but I'm sure there's somebody out there who thinks they can get him straightened out. Some people have suggested Chicago might be that team, pointing out their need for a #1 receiver. I'd like to go ahead and agree with this line of thinking, while also pointing out Chicago's stupidity, their insatiable desire to overpay #2 WR's to be their #1 WR, and their never ending love affair with overrated former Michigan players. Congratulations Braylon, I'm sure you and Jay Cutler will share many drinking binges together. Let's go ahead and set the over/under on combined DUI's at 4.5...I'll take the over.

#5 Steve Smith (NYG)

Bill Barnwell specifically mentions Steve Smith as a bust candidate due to the Giants offense and his role in it, but I'm not sure I can go with him on this one. How exactly was Smith a secondary target on this team? In his first full season as a starter in 2009, Smith was targeted 157 times, caught 107 of those passes, racked up 1220 yards, and posted a 13.2% DVOA. For comparison, Mario Manningham finished second on the team in receptions at 57 and was targeted only 99 times! Now, you tell me if it sounds like Smith was a secondary receiver. Even if you want to point to last year when Hakeem Nicks broke out as the Giants top target, Smith was still targeted 75 times in only 9 games. Given his low Y/R total and lack of success in the red zone, I won't argue that Smith is an All-Pro, but he's easily one of the best possession receivers in football right now...and he's only 26!

Possible Fits: The Giants have placed a second round tender on Smith and, as long as that stands in the new CBA, it probably means the Smith will once again be donning a blue helmet next season. As Brian Billick pointed out in his WR breakdown, it's probably not a coincidence that Eli Manning threw a career high 25 INT's in the year Smith missed significant time. As a Cowboy fan, I find myself following the Giants fairly closely, and it's always been crystal clear that Steve Smith is Eli's security blanket. Given this, I'd expect Jerry Reese to go out of his way to lock him up.

#4 Steve Smith (CAR)

OK, I really wish one of these Steve Smith's would just change their name! I get so confused! Anyways, it's difficult to accurately judge how much value Smith has left. On one hand, he's a 32 year old speedster coming off his least productive season since his rookie year. On the other hand, it's kinda unfair to make a judgment on him based off what happened last season. Given the quarterback situation in Carolina, it's hard to blame Smith for not racking up yet another 1000 yard season. In the five preceding years (2005-2009) Smith put up an average of 83 REC, 1227 YDS, and 8 TD's per season. With Jake Delhomme at the helm. Jake. Delhomme.

Possible Fits: Smith is still under contract with Carolina and it's unclear as to whether Carolina is interested in meeting Smith's trade request. To me, it would make more sense to keep him around. The Panthers' future rests on Cam Newton (HAHAHAHAHAHA) and he's definitely going to need someone to throw to. That having been said, I'd bet they value the draft pick more. The most prominent trade rumor has involved the Patriots. I don't see it. Bill Belichek could definitely end up featured on an episode of Hoarders with the way he stockpiles draft picks. Besides, when is the last time New England payed full price for anybody? St. Louis, Chicago, and San Diego make a lot more sense.

#3 Sidney Rice

I know everyone is on the Sidney Rice train, but it needs to be understood how dicey a free agent prospect Rice really is. Given all the hype, it may seem like Rice is a seven time Pro Bowler, but in reality, he's only had one good season. He spent his first two years as a bit player and spent the majority of last season on the IR. Heck, he didn't even perform that well when he came back! Of Rice's 146 catches, 83 of them came in the 2009 season.

That having been said, Sidney Rice is a major question. He's going to get paid as such. The question is, are you going to get 2009 Sidney Rice? 2009 Sidney Rice posted an astounding 35.4% DVOA (1st) and had a 69% catch rate. 2009 Sidney Rice is one of the best receivers in football. I feel fairly certain Rice is more than a one year wonder, but given the high price it'll take to get him, I'd be much more comfortable with more than a one year sample to go on.

Possible Fits: There won't be any shortage of suitors for Rice's services and, by the end of tomorrow, his agent's cell phone will probably have blown up from all the phone calls. Honestly, it's pointless for me to even begin to speculate on where he will end up. On one hand, I'd be shocked if the Vikings let him walk...especially if they're serious about starting Ponder. On the other hand, Rice has been expressive about wanting to test his value in free agency, which gives me the sense that he's serious about moving on.

#2 Vincent Jackson

I'll keep this one short and simple. Jackson has the dreaded franchise tag on him. Nobody is going to want to give up the type of compensation it'll take to pry Jackson away from San Diego. I know some have suggested St. Louis might still be interested, but I'd be very surprised if they paid that steep a price when they could give up far less in landing one of these other free agents. Vincent Jackson is staying in San Diego. End of story.

#1 Santonio Holmes

Maybe it's just me, but it feels like Santonio Holmes has been in the league forever. Much to my surprise, he's only 27 years old! Assuming Holmes can stop throwing things at women and keep away from away from drugs, he's the one guy I'd feel most comfortable about giving a big deal to. Does that make sense? No? Not really? Crap! OK, I know he's got issues, but he's been a consistently productive big play guy throughout his career. Even in struggling to adjust to a new stystem last season, Holmes still posted a 4.3% DVOA. Also, extra credit goes to him for having to deal with crappy Mark Sanchez as his QB.

Possible Fits: As I said earlier, I think the Jets will have to decide between Edwards and Holmes. Of those two, only Holmes can legitimately claim to be a true #1 receiver. As ESPN NFC East blogger Dan Graziano reports though, the Washington Redskins could make Holmes a Godfather offer. We all know how Dan Snyder operates and the Jets might have trouble matching the 18 year $794 million offer Snyder will definitely make. Seriously though, if the money is close, Holmes isn't going to Washington.....because the only thing worse than Mark Sanchez is John Beck!


I wish I could've gotten to more, but it's just not possible. Oh well, you guys didn't want to read more of my blathering and speculation anyways! At least we have real football news to talk about!

Also, I'm closing on my house this afternoon and we have a lot of work to do on it. I'll try to keep producing as much as I can, but it's going to get hard over the next several weeks. This will affect the podcast more than the written content. Hopefully I'll still be able to do at least one a week, but that's not guaranteed.

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