Chris Wesseling and I teamed up to break down the 2012 free agency and trade markets at wide receiver, and Pat Daugherty will end our offense series with a look at the tight ends later this week. Click the following links for Wesseling’s Quarterback Market column and my take on the Running Back Market.
Wide Receivers Expected to be Franchise Tagged
1. Wes Welker, Patriots
Overview: The Pats have discussed a long-term deal with Welker's camp, but the sides don't seem likely to find common ground by early March. Welker is seeking a top receiver contract after a career year. New England is predictably loath to hand over a mega contract to a skill-position player on the wrong side of the age-30 barrier. National as well as local writers fully expect the Patriots to apply the franchise tag by the March 5 deadline.
Overview: Patriots on a one-year, $9.6 million contract.
2. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs
Overview: The Stanford Routt signing paves the way for Brandon Carr's exit, leaving Bowe as the obvious candidate for the Chiefs' franchise tag. GM Scott Pioli confirmed as much Tuesday morning, stating "one way or another" Bowe would be back in Kansas City in 2012. While Bowe's numbers were down across the board versus a tougher schedule last season, he continued to show game-breaking ability by leading the NFL in receiving broken tackles.
Overview: Chiefs on a one-year, $9.6 million contract.
3. DeSean Jackson, Eagles
Overview: Though the Eagles have been tight-lipped about their plans for Jackson, the Philadelphia Inquirer has twice reported that he will be tagged in lieu of a long-term contract. GM Howie Roseman won't lose one of the game's most dangerous vertical threats with nothing in return, but he will entertain trade offers over the next few weeks. Should Jackson show increased commitment and a willingness to make tough catches in traffic next season, the Eagles will be more inclined to meet his asking price of more than $10 million per year.
Overview: Eagles on a one-year, $9.6 million contract.
Wide Receiver Free Agents
1. Vincent Jackson, Chargers
Scouting Report: Jackson is seen as a high-risk signing in some circles due to his pair of DUIs and subsequent three-game suspension to open the 2010 season. While coaches have praised Jackson's work ethic and football IQ, the one hole in his game is a lack of game-to-game consistency a true No. 1 receiver must possess. On the flip side, Jackson is one of the NFL's elite downfield playmakers, a dangerous red-zone threat, and a first-down machine. Still in his prime at age 29, Jackson has averaged more than 1,100 yards and eight touchdowns in his last three full seasons.
Availability: The Bolts will reportedly "do everything in their power" to re-sign their top receiver, and there appears to be mutual interest on Jackson's end. The franchise tag is prohibitive, however, as Jackson would collect 120 percent ($13.7 million) of his $11.4 million 2011 salary. GM A.J. Smith will make a competitive offer, but there will be at least one desperate team with the cash flow to overpay. The Rams, Bucs, Redskins and Vikings should be among Jackson's most ardent suitors.
Prediction: Buccaneers on a five-year, $56 million contract.
2. Brandon Lloyd, Rams
Scouting Report: A boundary receiver and downfield threat, Lloyd succeeds with fluid long strides, outstanding leaping ability, and acrobatic body control at the point of the catch despite mediocre speed. After a career year in 2010 due in large part to Josh McDaniels' creative play-calling and scheming to create advantageous matchups, Lloyd's production dipped in two of the NFL's weaker passing attacks last season. Bright yet complicated and opinionated, Lloyd seems to have worn out his welcome in several locker rooms over his nine-year career.
Availability: Lloyd's age (31 in July) and checkered history would seem to make him an ideal candidate for the franchise tag, but the Rams reportedly have no interest in going that route. Acknowledging McDaniels' role in his late-career renaissance, Lloyd has made it clear that reuniting with the Patriots' new coordinator is a high priority. He's also open to returning to St. Louis, though it's clear that the team won't break the bank to bring him back.
Prediction: Patriots on a two-year, $15 million contract.
3. Marques Colston, Saints
Scouting Report: A picture of consistency despite persistent injuries, Colston excels in traffic by "high-pointing" the football with one of the most wide-spanning catch radiuses the NFL has seen. As a solid all-around receiver, Colston has long been an asset in the red zone, down the field, and as a go-to option on third downs. After a half-decade as Drew Brees' favorite target, Colston fell behind explosive matchup nightmares Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham in 2011 while remaining highly productive in his own right.
Availability: Saints GM Mickey Loomis has a history of managing the salary cap to keep home-grown talent, especially those offensive weapons for whom Brees has gone to bat. Brees can substantially increase the odds of Colston returning to the Big Easy by agreeing to a long-term deal of his own, freeing up the franchise tag. Should Colston hit the open market, teams in need of a big, physical receiver such as the Bears, Raiders, Vikings, and Redskins are potential suitors.
Prediction: Saints on a four-year, $36 million contract.
4. Stevie Johnson, Bills
Scouting Report: While Johnson has been the primary beneficiary of coach Chan Gailey's shotgun-heavy, short-passing based offense, he's also showcased physicality, separation skills, and red-zone chops the past two seasons. Among his primary concerns are a handful of high-profile drops, a penchant for juvenile back-breaking penalties, and an inability to consistently beat double coverage. As a result, Johnson falls just shy of the top tier of free agent receivers.
Availability: Johnson's preference is to stay in Buffalo, as he's not guaranteed to be featured heavily outside of Gailey's scheme. While the two sides have exchanged proposals, they haven't had luck finding common ground. Much like the Chargers with Vincent Jackson, the Bills aren't currently inclined to franchise Johnson but could reverse course over the next few weeks.
Prediction: Bills on a five-year, $33 million contract.
5. Reggie Wayne, Colts
Scouting Report: Wayne reversed a five-year decline in yards per reception last season, but his production predictably declined across the board without Peyton Manning under center. Wayne no longer separates from quality cornerbacks and didn't give consistent effort in a lost year. Entering his age-34 season, Wayne's ideal fit is as a possession receiver for a veteran quarterback on a playoff team.
Availability: Displeased with his contract the past two offseasons, Wayne is likely to flee the rebuilding Colts for a contender. Clearly on the decline, Wayne is headed for disappointment in a buyer's market at wide receiver. Although there's been talk of a package deal with Peyton Manning, the quarterback may not sign with a team until April or May.