New York Jets Free Agency Primer (Wide Receiver)

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With approximately $30-40 million in cap space, the New York Jets are pegged to be players when the new league year begins on March 3rd, 2013. Today, we look at free agent Wide Receivers. Check out our look at running backs from last week here.

By far the worst position on the New York Jets roster is Wide Receiver. Santonio Holmes’s career with the Jets is most likely over, as he is expected to be a salary cap casualty. It would be foolish to bring him back at this point. The Jets depth chart figures to look something like this: Free Agent WR, Draft Pick WR, Jeremy Kerley, David Nelson, and then one of Stephen Hill, Greg Salas, and either another Free Agent WR or Drafted WR. Jeremy Kerley should be signed to a contract extension this offseason before being given the opportunity to enter free agency, as he has been the Jets’s most productive receiver the last two seasons. David Nelson was signed for depth and quickly developed chemistry with Geno Smith. He should be back next season as well. Other than that, it’s anybody’s guess. Let’s dive into potential free agents at the WR position, ranked in order of who I think the Jets should target.

1. Eric Decker

2013 Stats: 87 RECEPTIONS, 1288 YARDS, 14.8 YARDS PER CATCH, 11 TDs, 5.4 RECEPTIONS/GAME, 80.5 YARDS/GAME

Analysis: The 6’3″, 205 pound free agent to be is coming off his finest season as a professional. Decker put together his second straight season of 80+ catches, 1000+ yards, and his 3rd straight season with at least a 12.5 yards per catch average and at least 8 TDs. This is important because some will argue that he is the beneficiary of playing with Peyton Manning as his QB. This claim holds some validity except that he was able to haul in 44 receptions for 612 yards and 8 TDs in 13 games with Tim Tebow as his starting QB. Decker is able to stretch the field vertically, has good hands, is a physical WR, and is a solid run blocker too. He is, also, 26 years old and it can be assumed that his best years are in front of him.

Likelihood: Decker may not want to leave Denver and the comforts of playing with Peyton Manning, but he may also hear the whispers of people saying he’s not a number one WR. Decker may view this as his one chance to cash in on free agency since he is the only WR on the market with the type of production he has. I think he’d be a great fit in Marty’s West Coast Offense as everything Stephen Hill should be. I’ll put this as an 8.

2. Golden Tate

2013 Stats: 64 RECEPTIONS, 898 YARDS, 14.0 YARDS PER CATCH, 5 TDs, 4.0 RECEPTIONS/GAME, 56.1 YARDS/GAME

Analysis: Golden Tate put together his finest season as a pro this past year, evidenced by the stats above. Tate posted career highs in receptions and yards as the NFC Champion Seahawks’s primary pass catcher since Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin missed extensive time. Tate is a vicious run blocker and plays much bigger than his 5’11″ frame. He, like Decker, can stretch the field vertically as he has averaged 13.3 yards per catch during his career. Tate can play either the Flanker or Split End  and has experience in the slot. As the Seahawks’s primary punt returner, he’s averaged almost 12 yards a return as well.

Likelihood: With the injuries to Percy Harvin and the expected release of Sidney Rice, I’ll put this as an 7. However, if there’s any team that can lure Tate away from Seattle it’s the Jets because of Tate’s relationship with John Idzik. Idzik was on the staff that scouted and drafted Tate out of Notre Dame and that connection may loom large when free agency begins. The Seahawks may do all they can to keep Tate from leaving, seeing as how he is their most durable WR.

3. James Jones

2013 Stats: 59 RECEPTIONS, 817 YARDS, 13.8 YARDS PER CATCH, 3 TDs, 4.2 RECEPTIONS/GAME, 58.4 YARDS/GAME

Analysis: James Jones missed two games with a knee injury, but still put up solid numbers as the #2 WR in the Packers passing attack. He’s had 7 straight seasons with at least a 12.3 yards per catch average and he is a year removed from a season where he caught 14 TDs as Aaron Rodgers’s #1 WR while Jordy Nelson battled injuries. Jones is older, as he’ll be 30 when the season begins, and he’s not as good a run blocker as Decker or Tate, but he’d be a good signing given his ability to make touch catches over the middle and his ability to spread the field vertically. Jones will also command less money than Decker or Tate.

Likelihood: Randall Cobb appears lined up for a bigger role in the Packers offense, so I’ll put this as an 7 as well. Jones has shown that he can be a #1 WR, as he hauled in 64 catches for 874 yards and 14 TDs in 2012. He is older and he has battled some injuries, so Idzik could target Jones for less money as a good WR opposite Jeremy Kerley or Draft Pick X.

4. Emmanuel Sanders 

2013 Stats: 67 RECEPTIONS, 740 YARDS, 11.0 YARDS PER CATCH, 6 TDs, 4.2 RECEPTIONS/GAME, 46.3 YARDS/GAME

Analysis: Sanders was a restricted free agent last year and the Patriots signed him to an offer sheet. The Steelers matched the offer sheet and Sanders returned to Pittsburgh on a one year deal. He played 11 games due to injuries, but still put together his best season as a pro with 67 catches, 840 yards, and 6 touchdowns. It’s not a stretch to say he would’ve surpassed 1000 yards similar to teammate Antonio Brown. Sanders is a burner, but this year he became Ben’s intermediate target especially with Heath Miller injured. Sanders showed a willingness to go over the middle and make the tough catches, a trait that he hadn’t shown much of during his first three seasons.

Likelihood: Sanders is an unrestricted free agent this year, and it’s possible that teams look to sign him early instead of waiting for Decker or Tate. I’ll put this as a 5, because a team like the Patriots may make Sanders an offer that would trump what the Jets are willing to offer, and I can’t see Idzik going above $3 or $4 million a year for Sanders.

5. Anquan Boldin

2013 Stats: 85 RECEPTIONS, 1179 YARDS, 13.9 YARDS PER CATCH, 7 TDs, 5.3 RECEPTIONS/GAME, 73.7 YARDS/GAME

Analysis: Boldin, fresh off making Joe Flacco a rich man in the playoffs the year before, was traded for a 6th round draft choice. I think the trade worked out well for the 49ers. Boldin posted his 6th 1,000 yard season (first since 2009), and is now 143 receptions away from becoming the 10th player with 1,000 receptions. Boldin, due to injuries to Michael Crabtree and ineffectiveness by Vernon Davis, was the de facto #1 WR in SF and he repeatedly won his battles with opposing DBs. Boldin’s 13.9 yards per catch was the 4th highest of his career. Boldin isn’t winning on speed, as he is just out-muscling DBs to gain separation. Boldin, also, is one of the better WRs in the postseason, and if the Jets are serious about making a run to the playoffs Boldin could prove vital to get there and win while there.

Likelihood: Boldin earned $6M this past season and was traded from the Ravens because he refused to take a paycut. I can’t see him signing for less than $6M, and just like I can’t see Idzik going past $4M for Emmanuel Sanders, I can’t see him going to $6M for Boldin. I’m going to put this at a 1, but Boldin would be an excellent teacher for Jeremy Kerley, Draft Pick X, and either Stephen Hill or Greg Salas. The Jets haven’t had a WR that can win one on ones with DBs consistently since Keyshawn Johnson, and they haven’t had a 1,000 yard WR since Jerricho Cotchery. Boldin would succeed on both fronts.

  • Mark

    How much per yr do you think decker will be?

  • Dalbin

    What’s up Mark, thanks for reading. I think Decker could be looking at a little more than Victor Cruz (say $8M) but a desperate team may try to offer him $11M to get him out of Denver.

  • Nick Evans

    Wouldn’t mind seeing what it would take to get cotchery back. Like you said this receiving corps could really use a veteran leader and who better than j-co? Don’t see him commanding too much money.

  • Nikolas

    The top receiver in FA is Hakeem Nicks and if the Jets do not go after him Belicheat will…

  • Dalbin

    @Nick: Great idea regarding Cotchery.
    @Nikolas: No, he’s not. Hakeem Nicks might be the worst free agent WR available. Injury prone, bad attitude, and didn’t give maximum effort in a contract year. Let some other team overpay for him.

  • Steven Windeler

    I would go right at Bolden with a big incentive laden deal. Maybe 4 mil with 2.5 mil worth of incentives. Treat him like a #1 and play on his competitiveness. He’d be a great fit here, and as you say, be a great role model, completely changing the attitude of the WR core. I was glad the 49ers lost because I didn’t want him to win two in a row. He can now win one with the Jets next year.

  • Dalbin

    @Steven: Absolutely agree and actually like the idea if an incentive laden deal for Boldin. An added plus to signing him is that he’s played some of his best games against the Pats. You want a WR who’s not afraid of the team standing in your way.

  • Big Al

    Decker, clean cut Minnesota boy coming to the Big Bad Apple?, when Tebow came here I was blown away and thought it would never happen, but it did, i think it all depends on the vibe he gets around Manning, we know he’s coming back? Any one of them would be an improvement over what we have, but Jets getting Decker?, would be biggest FA deal of past 10 years

  • Dalbin

    @BigAl: I agree. I think signing Decker would be HUGE.

  • Brad

    I am really excited for free agency and the draft. If we can add 2-4 starters in Free Agency and then another 2-4 starters in the draft we will be on the right track.

    I think Decker might be the best choice for us but I am also very intrigued by Boldin. Decker is going to command a monster deal and he has some question marks playing with Manning and opposite of D. Thomas; but you cannot teach 6’3″, good hands and good route running- just ask our own Stephen Hill.

    Denver has a lot of guys on the last year of there rookie deal or entering FA and it will be very hard for them to keep Decker; D. Thomas going on last year of Rookie deal and he is there true #1 WR.

    Boldin intrigues me because i really think he is the 2nd best WR, but his age and lack of speed is the issue. Because of his age you wont have to give him a huge deal. I would be fine giving boldin a 3yr deal with first 2 yr guaranteed- 20 mil, 13 guaranteed, 3 years. Decker will command around 45mil, 20 guaranteed, 5 years. Decker probably is not a true #1, but he is young and someone geno can build with, so i still lean towards probably overpaying for Decker.

    Not crazy about Tate, small and we have small in Kerley; Maclin- coming off ACL injury, small frame and was always Desean Jacksons side kick, never had a great year.

    Give me Decker, and then draft either Ebron, Amaro, or Lee first round and I really want Devante Adams in the 2nd Round, but would be fine with Allen or Matthews too. I personally think we should try to trade up into the early mid 2nd rd to get the WR we Want if we take a TE in the First RD.

  • Lidman

    It will all come down to money on these guys, specifically how much of the contract has to be guaranteed. I think if you can get Decker on contacts similar to Antonio Brown, Percy Harvin and Mike Williams, where less than 24% of the total value is guaranteed, than he might be worth $7-8mm APY risk. However, if you have to guarantee in 30+%, it’s a significant risk, with the team saying: ‘this guy is a difference maker’.

    Nobody else, on this list, should command more than a Wes Welker like deal. Neither Tate, nor Sanders has ‘earned’ anything more. At 29, Jones’ potential upside is limited, and he’s never been more than 2/3 type guy, with an elite QB. Boldin would be a great add, but I’m sure a number of teams will be looking at him, and he’s a winner and great pro, so he’s likely to be picking base on situation, not money.

    If they want an impact target, they should hope Graham gets labeled a WR, making it much more difficult for NO to ‘tag’ him. None of the available FA are no doubters, in my book.

  • Phil

    I don’t see anyone giving Decker a penny over 7m he is coming off his best year but GMs will attribute that to who his QB is more than anything else because of Deckers body of work without him . That being said Tate remains the most viable option more for his age and looked at as coming into his prime ,in my opinion don’t think relationships matter much when guys are Turing to get paid and not sure there is a way to tell what if any relationship he may or may not have with Idzik . My bet is on Jets rebuilding WR spot through draft primarily and making a splash with Orakpo in free agency as well as Jarius Byrd

  • http://thejetsblog.com e star

    i dont see what u see in golden tate man i like him but i wouldnt go over 3 mil wit this guy he is a #2 at best

  • John X

    I don’t see that big of a market for Decker in as far as teams willing to throw big money at him due to having such a desperate WR situation as the Jets. The Broncos cannot afford him with all the money they threw at Welker and Manning with Demarius Thomas’ contract looming next year not to mention Julius Thomas (TE) needing to be retained. I think the Jets can get him and not overpay. I also believe they can get either Maclin, Edelman or Cooper to complement him in FA thereby freeing up other positions to address in the draft such as OG which I think needs priority attention after seeing the slim pickings in FA.
    Of course, we know they will get a TE with the 1st pick.

  • Beamen321

    I think you left off one guy that I would really like to see in a NYJ uniform J. Maclin. He’s a dynamic athlete that will be 12 full months removed from surgery and knows Marty’s system. Because he’s coming off injury, I think they would be able to get him at a “discount.” The other low cost guy I would like to see the Jets sign is Kenny Britt. He’s a headcase but his talent is undeniable. I think on a one or two year “show me” deal he would be a great bargain.

    If I were GM, I would sign a few low level WRs and then save our draft picks for positions that can not easily/cheaply be found in FA (like TE, OLB, and OG).

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  • SuffernJetsFan

    Keeping in mind the Jets will address WR/TE in the draft I think they definitely need to sign at LEAST one UFA WR. Decker would be a great fit. I LOVE Bolden’s toughness and leadership, qualities that would be immeasurable for Gino. There is one guy out there that I’d REALLY LOVE the NYJ to sign which is JULIAN EDELMAN. Besides the obvious FU to NE, he’d be the perfect slot WR in the NYJ offense and upgrade the Punt Return game from embarrassing to one of the best. Thoughts?

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