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.