2006 NFL Free Agents: Wide Receiver
By: Thomas J Gersey
1. Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis [83 rec, 1008 yds, 5 td]
Wayne is very close to being the complete package. He has soft hands, and consistently makes the easy catches. He can make the acrobatic ones, but not often enough to be considered an elite, game changing player. His speed is better than average, though some top notch corners will be able to keep up with him. His strength is excellent route running. He has excelled in Indianapolis, where precise routes will get you the football consistently with Peyton Manning behind center. So effective has Wayne become that the past two years he has gone from a distant number 2 receiver, to the Colts' 1(a). He definitely benefits from his supporting cast, and it is tough to say whether or not he could be a #1 on a less talented team. However, he is certain to be more like P Burress than P Price if he were to change teams.
GOOD FITS: Chicago, Atlanta, Denver, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Washington, Indianapolis
EARLY PICK: Wayne is a player who will be most effected by the actions of Edgerring James. If James and Dwight Freeney sign large deals, Wayne will likely find a huge payday elsewhere. If James leaves, the Colts will keep Wayne, and maintain their dominance through the air. In the event Wayne does leave, he will likely seek a situation where he either be the number 1 guy from day one, or be 1(a) again, with top receiver status looming in the near future. He would be more of a complementary player in Chicago or Washington, and those are run-happy offenses. In Denver, he would replace Ashlie Lelie as Rod Smith's heir apparant, and maintain his place on a winning ball club. Teams like KC and Philly make the most sense, where there are established passing offenses in place with Pro Bowl caliber QBs calling the plays. I expect KC to make a very strong push for his services.
2. Antonio Bryant, Cleveland [69 rec, 1009 yds, 4 td]
Putting up a 1000 yard season in Indy is one thing, but doing it in Cleveland with a more heralded first rounder flanking you is another. Bryant is the prototypical receiver, with good size, and very good speed. He runs very efficient routes, and gets off the line exceptionally quick. Though his speed gets him into his routes early, he does not have break away speed in the deep open field, although his strength and body control allow him to position himself for the deep bal very well. He has the desire and competitive spirit you want in a top receiver, and will fight any corner on every pass. He was a top 15 talent as a college junior, but demonstrated immaturity as a senior and slipped to the late second round, so there are questions about his attitude. However, he has been a solid citizen in Cleveland and if those doubts are erased, would be an excellent fit on any team looking for a dependable number 2 receiver.
GOOD FITS: Minnesota, Baltimore, Carolina, Houston, Tennessee, Washington, Cleveland, Atlanta
EARLY PICK: Bryant is a wild card, because there is little information in regards to how teams perceive him. He has been under the radar, with the thought that he could break out in the right situation. Where he will end up is anyone's guess, but a team with a solid passing game and a need for a quick, physical receiver would be the perfect fit. Atlanta would be a great team for Bryant, as Mike Vick could use a dependable receiver who will fight for wayward passes. In Carolina, he would be a great Robin to Steve Smith's superman, while in places like Tennessee or Baltimore, he could be the number one receiver in title only, as those offenses will look to move the ball around evenly.
3. Antwan Randle El, Pittsburgh [35 rec, 558 yds, 1 td]
A converted quarterback, there was never any question that Randle El's athleticism would convert to the next level. However, there has always been a question as to whether or not he could pick up the nuances of the position. In his 4 years in the league, Randle El has put those worries to rest, and become Slash II in the Pittsburgh system. Randle El is agile and shifty, almost impossible to get a direct hit on. He has sufficient size and strength to go in the middle of the field, and often performs better there, where a quick pass allows him to out-manuever linebackers one-on-one. On a team that emphasises the run game, there aren't many opportunities for a third receiver, however, Randle El has consistently made the most of his time on the field. Couple with that his track record as a return man, and his value to a contender could be considerable.
GOOD FITS: Chicago, Pittsburgh, New England, San Diego
EARLY PICK: Rumor has it that Chicago is already targeting Randle El this free agent season. Typically, the Bears identify a player they want, and they do what it takes to get him (see: Muhammad, T Jones). This year should be no different. Expect the Bears to overpay for Randle El, and put him in the slot, where he is comfortable, giving Rex Grossman a more reliable option than he has had in the past. Throw in Randle El's Illinois roots, and it becomes a match made in heaven.
4. Keenan McCardell, San Diego [70 rec, 917 yds, 9 td]
Excellent hands and a feel for his place on the field, McCardellis the type of number 1 receiver you like to have. He has the inate ability to find holes in the zone and get open on a consistent basis. He isn't a speed burner, and can be shut down by elite corners, but even then, he manages to get his 4-5 catches and find space in the end zone. He is nearing the end of his career, and at 36 is a risky proposition as a free agent. However, with the success of guys like Jerry Rice and Joey Galloway recently, production is all that matters, and McCardell is certainly capable of that. Similarly sized to Antonio Bryant, he isnt nearly as strong or as physical, and will not win as many battles as he loses. A possession receiver at this point, but with the ability to stretch the field when the defense allows it. Not very strong after the catch.
GOOD FITS: San Diego, Houston, Carolina, New England, Kansas City, Denver
EARLY PICK: McCardell's place is on a team seeking a stop gap, an effective receiver to hold down the position until a younger player can fill it. Teams like Carolina, New England and Denver are super bowl contenders who could strengthen already effective offenses with a savvy veteran like McCardell. In the long run, San Diego can't afford to lose him right now, and will work hard to sign him to a short term deal before the free agent period. Houston is the wild card. With Gary Kubiak and Reggie Bush joining the Texans, McCardell would be the perfect supplement to the young and athletic Andre Johnson. McCardell is a Houston native, and ending his career at home isn't too far fetched an idea.
5. Joe Jurevicius, Seattle [55 rec, 694 yds, 10 td]
The prototypical possession receiver. All he does? Catch touchdowns. When Darrell Jackson went down with an injury, Jurevicius stepped up and saved the Seahawks season. This is his third Super Bowl appearance with his third different team, which says something about his contribution in the locker room. He is a top notch character guy, and brings more than athletic gifts to any team. He has excellent hands, and size that rivals most tight ends. At 6'5, 230 lbs, Jurevicius fits great in the slot, where he can handle linebackers, or on the outside, where he can screen smaller defensive backs. He is smart and seasoned, and knows how to get open. Seattle would love to keep him, and will likely try their best to do so. But after a Super Bowl run with more pressing free agents, there just may not be enough money.
GOOD FITS: Seattle, Washington, Carolina, Denver, Pittsburgh
EARLY PICK: Where he will end up is anyone's guess. He fits best with a contender who relies on a ball control offense. Seattle and Carolina aren't really his best fits, but he would be a sound complimentary receiver in either offense. The memories of Ed McCaffery are still fresh in the minds of Broncos fans, and Jurevicious could easily be a similar complement to Rod Smith for the next couple years. A player like Jake Plummer needs as many veteran players on the field to be effective. In Washington, he would team well with a player like Mark Brunell, and offer the soft touch to compliment the lightning of Santana Moss. Pittsburgh makes a great deal of sense. The Steelers rarely make big name signings, instead spending their money wisely on role players. With Randle El likely to leave, Jurevicius (who played at Penn State) could step in and be a third sure handed target for the conservative Rothlisberger.
OTHER FREE AGENTS OF NOTE:
Koren Robinson, Minnesota: A gifted receiver with significant problems catching the ball, Robinson had a late season rebirth after legal troubles got him released in Seattle. Still young and talented, some team will give him an incentive-laden shot in the hopes of untapping his undeniable potential.
David Givens, New England: He and Troy Brown are solid if unspectacular Patriot receivers available this offseason. In today's NFL, Givens is the type of player not exciting enough to warrant a long look from other teams, who will end up signing with his previous team for a reasonable amount.
Brandon Lloyd, SF/ Kevin Curtis, STL/ Nate Burleson, Minn: These are the top notch restricted FAs. Lloyd is going no where, as the Niners cant afford to lose anyone with any talent currently in red and gold. Curtis was a revelation in St Louis, and it is possible a bad team may overpay for his speed and excitement....and make a huge mistake. Burleson was supposed to supplant Randy Moss as the go-to guy in Minnesota, and will likely re-sign for a second shot under new guidance. Patience, however, is wearing thin.
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