A look at potential free agents by position heading into the NFL shopping season. This installment features the wide receivers.
By Jay Skurski
News Sports Reporter
Free agency and the draft share something in common when it comes to the wide receiver position.
They’re not very deep in 2016.
There was only one game-changing talent at the position set to hit the open market Tuesday, and even that player comes with some question marks. Chicago’s Alshon Jeffery missed seven games last season because of hamstring and groin injuries.
The Bears, however, took any suspense out of the equation when they used the franchise tag on Jeffery – basically guaranteeing he’ll be back for 2016.
The rest of the wide receiver class is thin. On a list of the top 99 impending free agents published by nfl.com, Jeffery is ranked fourth, with Cincinnati’s Marvin Jones the next receiver to appear at No. 39.
Jones had a nice season in 2015, finishing with 65 catches for 816 yards and four touchdowns after missing all of the previous season. But nobody would confuse Jones with a star.
Here is a partial look at the rest of the unrestricted free-agent crop at wide receiver, along with how the Buffalo Bills may approach the position:
Starting caliber: Kamar Aiken, Baltimore; Rishard Matthews, Miami; Jermaine Kearse, Seattle; Travis Benjamin, Cleveland; Rueben Randle, New York Giants.
The skinny: Aiken, who started his career with the Bills, had a breakout season in 2015 with 75 catches for 944 yards. … Matthews has said he doesn’t want to be anything lower than a No. 2 receiver on his next team. … Kearse’s numbers have improved in each of his four years, to 49 catches for 685 yards and five TDs last season. … Benjamin benefitted from Josh Gordon missing last season for Cleveland, becoming the Browns’ top option and putting up 68 catches for 966 yards. … Randle’s receptions and yards dipped in 2015, but he did have eight touchdowns.
Aging veterans (players 30 and older): Anquan Boldin, San Francisco; James Jones, Green Bay; Nate Washington, Houston; Wes Welker, L.A. Rams; Jason Avant, Kansas City; Ricardo Lockette, Seattle; Malcom Floyd, San Diego; Lance Moore, Detroit; Andre Caldwell, Denver.
The skinny: Boldin, who will be 36 early in the 2016 season, is the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of Year award winner. He would be a great addition to any locker room. … Jones went back to Green Bay after one year with the Raiders and had 50 catches for 890 yards and eight touchdowns. … Washington has eight straight seasons with at least 40 catches. … Welker played eight games for the Rams last season after it looked like his career was over because of concussion concerns. … Avant has just 28 catches over the past two seasons and looks to be nearing the end. … Lockette suffered a career-threatening neck injury last season. … Floyd has averaged more than 17 yards per catch in his 11-year career. … Moore has bounced between three teams the past three seasons and is more of a fourth or fifth receiver at this point. … Caldwell has just 32 catches over the past four seasons in Denver.
Injury concerns: Brian Quick, L.A. Rams; Percy Harvin, Buffalo; David Nelson, Pittsburgh.
The skinny: A shoulder injury in 2014 threatened Quick’s career. Last year he finished with 10 catches for 102 yards in 13 games and likely won’t get more than a one-year, “prove-it” contract. … Harvin was solid for the Bills in the first five weeks of 2015 until hip and knee injuries forced him to shut it down. Those injuries reportedly had him contemplating retirement. … Nelson has played just 18 games over the past four seasons, including missing all of last year because of a shoulder injury.
Roster depth: Leonard Hankerson, Buffalo; Andre Holmes, Oakland; Mohamed Sanu, Cincinnati; Marc Mariani, Chicago; Riley Cooper, Philadelphia; Hakeem Nicks, N.Y. Giants; Rod Streater, Oakland; Darrius Heyward-Bey, Pittsburgh.
The skinny: Hankerson spent time with three teams in 2015, including the Bills for the final week of the regular season. … Holmes caught just 14 passes with the Raiders last year, four of them for touchdowns. … Sanu is a former triple-option quarterback who has thrown for two touchdowns in his career, and also rushed for a pair last year. … Mariani caught 22 passes last season, all of them coming after Week Eight, with 19 going for first downs. … Cooper got cut by the Eagles after Chip Kelly was fired. They could reunite in San Francisco. … Nicks made an unlikely return to the Giants in 2015 after the team let him go as a free agent the year before. … Streater has just 10 catches combined the past two years after 60 in 2013. … Heyward-Bey averaged 15 yards per catch as a third option for the Steelers.
Who might fit the Bills: Harvin has a good relationship with the Bills’ coaching staff. If he’s healthy and willing to play for close to the veteran minimum, his return would be interesting. General Manager Doug Whaley has talked about wanting to upgrade the No. 2 receiver position, so it’s possible the Bills will have interest in some of these players. If it comes down to a bidding war, however, Buffalo won’t be the favorite given the salary-cap issues the team has. Given that the starting-caliber players are likely out of the Bills’ price range, it’s hard to see too many potential matches on this list. Sanu’s versatility would likely be attractive to offensive coordinator Greg Roman.