The NFC East historically has been known for its play-makers. From Michael Irvin to Art Monk to Terrell Owens, the division has been blessed with wide receiver talent. Over the last several years, an group of wide receivers have developed throughout the NFC East and become key contributors to their teams' success. However, with this season already five-games old, it is becoming clear that some of those pass-catchers may not be in the division much longer. It is the circle of life in the NFL and reality of free agency as these former Pro Bowlers and/or long-time starting talent will move on from their teams, opening up spots for younger talent to shine.
Maclin has been a starter throughout his career with the Eagles. A first-round pick in 2009, Maclin has been the team's possession receiver ever since and produced 3,453 receiving yards and 26 touchdowns. An ACL tear has made his season null and void in 2013.
While Maclin has produced as a number two wide receiver during his young career, he has not been able to produce a 1,000-yard season yet and has not been able to stay healthy on a consistent basis. While he will likely have to settle for a one-year deal in free agency this summer, the Eagles may choose to avoid another year with Maclin and attempt to draft a more efficient pass catcher who can block much better than the five-year veteran.
The Eagles clearly do not have a replacement from Maclin on the roster, but there is a talented free agent class and a lot of wide receiver talent in the draft. Chip Kelly is familiar with Maclin, but he could opt to select a college kid with more potential. While may have obtained a lukewarm reputation from the Eagles fanbase, he will surely get offers on the market in the offseason.
If you have followed Austin's career, you know that he became a starter basically out of necessity. The undrafted free agent out of Monmouth was thrust into the lineup, after years of special teams work, with Terrell Owens being released during the offseason. Austin emerged as a starter in 2009 and has produced 4,362 receiving yards during his eight years in the league.
The two-time Pro Bowler has been a key player for Cowboys but has struggled with hamstring issues for years. While he is still the Cowboys number two wide receiver, his replacement is already on the roster and is playing well. Austin has missed the last two games and rookie Terrance Williams has shined. In his first two starts, Williams has complied 222 yards and a touchdown. It is safe to say that Williams' emergence is likely to make Austin expendable.
Austin signed a six-year, $54 million deal in 2010 and most of the guaranteed dollars are likely all but done. The Cowboys could likely cut Austin without much damage to the cap and continue to play the younger, more talented Williams without skipping a beat. Austin's nagging hamstring injuries have eight games over the last three seasons and he has not produced close to the level that he did in 2009-2010 in at least two years.
Moss is the senior citizen of the NFC East wide receivers. The guy has been in the league since 2001 and has played for the Redskins since 2005. He was a Pro Bowler in his first year with Washington and has been a reliable target ever since. In nine seasons with the Redskins, Moss has produced 7,474 receiving yards and 46 touchdowns.
While he has had three seasons of 1,000 or more receiving yards, his role has greatly diminished over the last two seasons. In fact, Moss has started just one game in the last 20 for Washington. The Redskins have signed talent like Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan and drafted Leonard Hankerson. At this time, all three are more involved in Mike Shanahan's offense.
At 34, Moss is simply old and likely on his last leg. He has been a staple of the Redskins but he is easing closer to retirement or potentially release. He can be easily be upgraded as a returner and a receiver.
Nicks is likely the most talented player on this list. A first-round pick, in what seems to be the key year for NFC wide receivers (2009), Nicks has been the Giants and Eli Manning's number one offensive weapon for years. He has compiled 4,098 receiving yards and 27 touchdowns in his five seasons in New York, which is easily the most during that time period in the division.
The former Tar Heel is a free agent this summer after not being able to reach a contract extension with the Giants. New York instead made a deal with Victor Cruz and has Rueben Randle developing well behind both of them. Nicks has struggled with injuries and has missed six games due to bumps and bruises. He has also seen a bit of a decline in targets from Manning as Cruz and Rueben continue to emerge. He did, however, tear up the Eagles for 142 yards on nine catches in Week 5.
Nicks is going to want big money in the offseason and it is not likely to come from the Giants, who may blow up their aging roster this summer. With Randle, Cruz and Louis Murphy on the roster, Nicks may not be worth keeping around with a large price tag. He may have to make his millions somewhere else.
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