In his end of season press conference, Howie Roseman laid out a general plan for his approach to free agency:
Ideally in free agency you’re signing 26-year-old, 27-year-old guys who can be part of the core. Unfortunately, teams are doing a good job locking those guys up as well So we’ve got to try and balance that, and bring guys here who fit what we’re trying to do, and understand there’s no way to do everything in one offseason.
On Monday we looked at a few of the bigger name wide receivers that are scheduled to hit free agency. Today we’ll look at those second and third tiers of free agency where the Eagles could upgrade talent or fill needs without hamstringing their salary cap. Most don’t fit Roseman’s description of players in their mid-twenties, but that’s free agency, as Roseman said, teams lock those guys up and you can’t do it all in one offseason. Though they may try to reboot the WR depth chart this spring. But they all fit one of three broad categories: dependable possession receiver, low usage deep threats, or low risk, high reward fliers, the latter two the Eagles tried to cash in on last year. Some of these players will re-sign with their current teams, but for now, they’re free agents to be. They come in all sizes, shapes, types and ages.
Aiken had an out of nowhere season in 2015, catching 75 passes for 944 yards and 5 touchdowns for the Ravens after being a backup in 2014 and not catching a pass for the Bills in 2011, the Patriots in 2012 and not appearing on a roster in 2013. He went back to nowhere in 2016, catching just 29 passes for 328 yards and 1 touchdown. He might make some sense as a third tier low risk signing similar to Reuben Randle last year.
At 36, it was no surprise for Boldin to have the least productive season of his career. Entering the season he averaged 13.1 yards per catch, in 2016 that plummeted to 8.7. Still, it wasn’t a completely unproductive one, 8 of his 67 passes were for touchdowns, and he converted 21 of his 24 receptions on third down for a first down or touchdown. One one hand, the Eagles could use a dependable third down receiver, on the other, they should focus on adding players who will be on the Eagles in 2018 and beyond.
In his three seasons with the Rams, a team that has had one of the worst offenses in the league, Britt has averaged 51 catches for 810 yards and 4 touchdowns. In 2016 he had 68 catches for 1002 yards and 5 TDs in 15 games, a career year in a contract year. But he’ll be 29 right after the season starts, and has played 16 games in a season just three times in his eight year career.
A 1st round pick in 2012 for the Cardinals, Floyd had a 65 catch, 1041 yard 5 touchdown season in 2013, then regressed in 2014, in 2015 he was overtaken on the depth chart by John Brown. He was released during the 2016 season after a DUI arrest. The Eagles had an opportunity to claim him off waivers this season and didn’t, so it would be surprising if they were to sign him.
Garcon led the league in receptions in 2013, then had the worst two year production of his career in 2014 and 2015. He bounced back in a major way in 2016 with the second best season of his career with 79 receptions and 1041 yards. So it seems he’s got something left in the tank. He could immediately fill the need of a dependable chain mover, for his career he has converted 108 of his 127 catches on third down for a first down or touchdown. But Garcon will be 31 when the season starts. He makes sense on a short term deal and paired with a complimentary speedster.
Ted Ginn, Jr.
It’s a near certainty that the Eagles will add a home run threat receiver. Last offseason they brought in Chris Givens and TJ Graham, who didn’t work out. They claimed Bryce Treggs off waivers, but barely played him. Last week they added another raw speedster in Dom Williams. They may search for a low cost option for a low usage player again, but if so they would do well to look in places other than the clearance aisle.
Ted Ginn, Jr. might be that guy. He’ll be 32 when the season starts but he’s still got wheels, his 13.9 yards per catch was the 4th best of his career and the same as his career average. And he is coming off a 2 year, $4.2 million contract in Carolina, so he won’t cost much. But Ginn, who has been the primary punt and kick returner on his team since 2010, may prefer signing with a team that will keep him in those roles.
Another low cost speed option, Goodwin was an Olympian in 2012, competing in the long jump, and was a Combine standout in 2013 with a 4.27 40 yard dash and 11’ broad jump. To complete the baseball analogy of a home run hitter, he either knocks it out of the park or strikes out. A 3rd round pick by the Bills, in 2013, he caught just 17 passes in his rookie season, but three of them went for touchdowns. In 2014, he played in 10 games but was hampered by injuries and caught just one pass, though it was for 42 yards. He missed all but two games in 2015 with a rib injury. In 2015 he was finally healthy, appearing in 15 games and starting 9, catching 29 passes for 431 yards (14.9 per catch) and 3 TDs, making him the Bills second most productive receiver (due to Sammy Watkins missing half the season), and he’s just 26.
Another bargain bin option, Holmes is a big receiver (6’5”) who could help in the red zone, 9 of his 14 career receptions in the red zone were for a TD. But after starting 14 games in 2014, he immediately fell to 4th on the Raiders depth chart behind Michael Crabtree, Amari Cooper and Seth Roberts in 2015. In 2013 he was suspended for 4 games for PED violation, another failure and he will be suspended for 10 games.
Another long jumping speedster on the Bills, 6’4” Hunter spent time with three teams in the span of a month in 2016: he was cut at the end of the preseason by the Titans, who drafted him in the 2nd round in 2013, claimed off waivers by the Dolphins, who then waived him three weeks later, the Bills claimed him and played him in 12 games. He demonstrated his deep threat abilities with just 10 catches for 189 yards and 4 TDs. For his career he has 78 catches for 16.7 yards per catch and 12 TDs.
After seeing Marvin Jones and Mohammed Sanu take big pay days last year to leave the Bengals, LaFell took a one year, $1.1M contract on a team with nothing on their WR depth chart and a chance to turn it into a payday. Mission possibly accomplished, as he had the second best season of his career, but heads into better buyer’s market in free agency. Since his rookie year, LaFell has mostly been a quietly solid player, averaging 51 catches a year for 14.0 yards a catch. He’s been a pretty good player on third down, converting 70 of his 82 third down receptions for a first down or touchdown. But he’s 30 and one reason the Patriots moved on from him after 2015 is he had six drops.
Another collegiate track star who will be a free agent this year, Wheaton drew Antonio Brown comparisons before he was drafted to be a teammate of Antonio Brown in Pittsburgh. He hasn’t lived up to the expectations. He started 19 of 32 games in 2014 and 2015, and even when given opportunities he hasn’t been a big play WR, in 2014 he started 11 games and caught 53 passes, but only for 12.2 yards per catch. He plummeted down the depth chart this season before being put on IR with a shoulder injury in November, he appeared in only 3 games.
Eagles fans should be familiar with the Williams (even if Cowboys security isn’t), he has 23 catches and 4 touchdowns against them in 8 games. Of the deep threat receivers scheduled to hit the market, he’s one of the more experienced, starting 44 games in his last three seasons, with a 15.5 yards per catch rate to go with it. But he’s coming off a 13.5 yards per catch season, his first below 16 yards, and had one of the worst drop rates in 2015 with four drops to 52 catches. A big play Cowboys receiver opposite a top tier WR hitting free agency should stir up memories of Alvin Harper to some. And his situational awareness could improve.
A potential low risk signing, Wilson has averaged 16.9 yards per reception over the last two seasons with the Bears. But that’s on just 37 catches in 14 games, he’s missed 18 games breaking his left foot three times. Ouch. If he’s not re-signed by the Bears, he should be available in the discount bin of free agency.
In his four years in Buffalo, Woods has had two different head coaches, three different play callers and three different QBs. Some stability would do him well. During that time he’s started 48 of his 57 games, and has averaged 51 catches for 613 yards, numbers that don’t blow anyone away but would make him easily the second most productive WR on the Eagles the past two seasons. And he’ll be 25 when the season starts, it’s reasonable to think he could improve a little over the next few seasons. At the very least he’s an upgrade for the Eagles, and they’d have him in the prime seasons of his career.
Wright had a big second season in 2013 for the Titans, catching 94 passes for 1079 yards. It was a fluke season. He dropped to 57 catches for 715 yards in 14 games in 2014, and over the past two seasons has combined for 65 catches for 824 yards, missing 11 games. His playing time has decreased year by year since 2014, and was benched for missing a meeting this season.
With Quincy Enunwa and Robby Anderson getting significant playing time during the season, the Jets may decide to go full blown rebuild and move on from one or both of their veteran WRs. Eric Decker is recovering from a torn rotator cuff and won’t be back until July, but Marshall has one year left on his contract with a manageable $7.5M cap hit. He’s coming off his least productive season, but also one for a team that started three different QBs and fired their offensive coordinator. He might be available for a late round pick.
The Eagles had interest in Smith before the trade deadline, but nothing materialized. Whoever takes over the 49ers might change course and decide that having players who can actually play is better than getting rid of them, but with a $9.6M cap hit next year, they might also part ways with him.