Fantasy football teams will be watching the NFL closely in the coming hours, days and weeks, as the NFL free-agent market is about to kick off. Plenty of players are able to change teams this year, and there should be a healthy dose of non-stop football action to absorb each day.
The San Francisco 49ers got a head start on the free-agent wide receiver market, working out a deal with Randy Moss, who didn't play in 2011, on the eve of the free agency kicking off. While Moss is off the market, there are still plenty of intriguing options available amongst this year's free-agent class.
The New Orleans Saints prevented a top option from entering the market, as they agreed to terms on a five-year deal with Marques Colston, who was set to become an unrestricted free agent when the market opened. This one surprised me, as I did not think the Saints would be able to figure out a way to keep him with financial hit surrounding Drew Brees being tagged as their franchise player. Either way, having Colston off the market takes a sure-handed, steady possession option out of the mix.
Mike Wallace is worth the first-round pick to acquire
2012 NFL Free Agent Wide Receivers
Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh Steelers (RFA) - Wallace is the only restricted free agent on this list. If I'm a team needing a wide receiver (New England Patriots, are you listening?) picking late in the first round of this year's NFL Draft, I am strongly considering floating him a large deal the salary-cap tight Steelers cannot afford and giving up the pick to bring Wallace on board. Wallace has improved his reception total each year in the league and is just coming into his own. He'll be 26 years old when the season begins and seems poised to have his best seasons ahead of him. He can catch clutch passes, get over the top of defenses with ease, and has the athletic ability and speed to take simple slants the distance.
Potential landing spot(s): For as much as I would like to see a team go all in on Wallace, I think the odds are much higher he works out a long-term deal with Pittsburgh and remains in tow there. Keep an eye on the Patriots, though; they could be a very intriguing spot if they don't go a cheaper route like Brandon Lloyd.
Wes Welker, New England Patriots (FFA) - The most productive receiver on this list, Welker was tagged as the team's franchise player. Sure he had an unfortunate key drop during the team's Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants, but Welker is one of the most sure-handed slot receivers you are ever going to find. He has only caught better than 110 passes in four of the last five seasons and is coming off a career-best 1,569-yard and nine-touchdown season.
Potential landing spot(s): This pass-catching machine isn't going anywhere; look for New England to hook him up with a long-term deal.
Vincent Jackson, San Diego Chargers (UFA) - Jackson will be one of the most coveted receivers on the open market. The intangibles are there, but consistent production often isn't. While he had 1,106 yards receiving last year, he was held below 80 yards receiving in 11 games. Of his nine touchdowns, five of them came in two games. V-Jax is often feast or famine, but someone is going to pay him based on his feast potential. That doesn't appear likely to be the Chargers, as it appears the market will set the price much higher than San Diego is willing to pay. For the first time in a while, I agree with a front-office decision in San Diego.
Potential landing spot(s): The Redskins need a big-play receiver for Robert Griffin III, who they'll likely take No. 2 overall in the NFL Draft. Jackson would fill that void. Also on the radar: The Patriots, Raiders, Buffalo Bills, Bears, Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings, Buccaneers, Carolina Panthers and St. Louis Rams.
Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs (FFA) - Bowe, another franchise player, is a guy I have a hard time getting my head around. He has shown flashes of brilliance and dominance during his five-year career, but he has also completely vanished for long stretches at times. Sure the quarterback situation in Kansas City hasn't been ideal, but you want a "franchise-type" player to show up week in and week out. Bowe, 27, has solid size at 6-foot-2 and 221 pounds and sufficient enough speed to do everything on the field. He has gone over 70 receptions and 1,000 yards in three of the past four seasons. In 2010, he had an impressive three-game run where he caught 32 receptions and scored seven touchdowns -- he looked impossible to stop! The problem is he caught a whopping three passes in the following three games that year. Concentration issues and spats with the coaching staff have also haunted him during his career.
Potential landing spot(s): Bowe will remain with the Chiefs barring some massive turn of events.
Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts (UFA) - Wayne will turn 34 late in the football season, but the 11-year vet still has some gas in the tank. On a bad Indy team last year, he posted 75 receptions for 960 yards and four touchdowns. Rarely did he get help from whoever was under center for the Colts. He likely cannot serve as a team's No. 1 receiver for much longer (if he even still can this year), but he would be a solid No. 1 option and take pressure off of the other wideouts where ever he goes.
Potential landing spot(s): Keep an eye on where Peyton Manning ends up, as there is a strong chance Wayne comes on board in the same spot shortly later. Considering the Chargers will likely lose Jackson, Wayne could make some sense in San Diego, too, as a short-term option. The Seahawks, Cardinals and Patriots could all seek his service, too.
DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles (FFA) - Another of the franchised free-agent receivers, Jackson wants a long-term deal. Whether the Eagles feel they can trust him enough to hand over a truck full of cash has yet to be seen. He is a big-play target, but his numbers were affected last year by poor attitude and his focus being on his contract -- not what he needed to do on the field.
Potential landing spot(s): He'll stick with Philly barring a trade.
Brandon Lloyd, St. Louis Rams (UFA) - Lloyd turned his career, which appeared to be almost over, around in 2010 when he caught 77 passes for 1,448 yards and 11 touchdowns with the Denver Broncos. He had a solid 11-game run with the Rams last year, hauling in 51 receptions in 10 starts. I have a hard time viewing him as a legit No. 1 receiver, but he has played big the past two years and has a high level of confidence in his game right now. At 6-foot and 188 pounds, he lacks the physical size to dominate corners, but he has learned to position himself to use his speed and elusiveness to come up with key grabs and pile on valuable yards after the catch.
Potential landing spot(s): There is continued speculation that the Patriots will make a run at Lloyd, which makes sense seeing Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is the only reason Lloyd is being given any consideration as a talent these days. Don't rule out a return to the Rams, too, as that would afford him a chance to build on what he started last year and be the team's No. 1 option.
Pierre Garcon, Indianapolis Colts (UFA) - Garcon is coming off a career year in Indy, posting 70 receptions for 947 yards and six touchdowns. He'll be just 26 when the new season begins, and it appears he is already pricing himself high after turning down a long-term deal from the Colts. Sure his numbers last year were nice, but I still view him as a weak No. 2 receiver in the NFL. Keep in mind the Colts played a lot of catch-up football last year and Reggie Wayne typically demanded the double teams. Garcon benefited, which will help his financial cause.
Potential landing spot(s): With a lot of teams needing a wide receiver, Garcon will be given a lot of looks on the open market. Throw the Bears, Redskins, Jaguars, and a return to the Colts in the mix here.
Mario Manningham, New York Giants (UFA) - Manningham, soon to be 26, is a nice complimentary receiver who will benefit from some big grabs during the Super Bowl earlier this year. Unfortunately, he is injury prone and can often disappear in games. That won't stop someone from overpaying for him. Manningham has never caught more than 60 passes in a year or had more than 944 yards receiving; he can, however, be a big-play, home-run threat when he is on his game.
Potential landing spot(s): Throw Chicago at the top of the list. The Cincinnati Bengals, Buccaneers and Browns may also be in the mix. Manningham has expressed interest in returning to the Giants; but I don't see them being willing to invest a lot of money considering they have Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz already on roster and Cruz is already looking for a new deal.
Laurent Robinson, Dallas Cowboys (UFA) - I loved what Robinson was able to do in Dallas a year ago and the smartest move on his side would be returning to Big D on an incentive-laden deal. He wants to return to Dallas, but time will tell. Robinson posted a career-best in receptions (54), yardage (858) and touchdowns (11) last season. The important part is he was able to avoid significant injuries -- although he was often banged up and questionable to play. He and quarterback Tony Romo built a solid rapport quickly, seeing the two continue to work together would be a smart move for Robinson.
Potential landing spot(s): Based off his injury history and lack of production up until last year, I don't see a lot of teams being willing to commit hefty financial compensation to Robinson. He is, however, a big-play option when healthy, so teams like Washington, Tampa Bay, New England and Cleveland could show interest.
Robert Meachem, New Orleans Saints (UFA) - I've been a big fan of Meachem for a number of years. Unfortunately, the least talented part of this big-play receiver is his hands. By my count, Meachem caught 47 of the 72 passes that went his direction last season.
Potential landing spot(s): The Bears, Bengals and Redskins all stand out as potential new teams for Meachem. Hopefully he finds a pair of dependable hands wherever he ends up.
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