A weird NFL free agency cycle was always expected. With a weaker FA class, a huge dropoff in expected cap for the 2021 season, and an expected ballooning of the cap in the 2022 season and beyond as new TV deals are signed, contract structure and team-building approaches are both pretty polar. You have the New England Patriots, who have spent record-setting money on tons of weaponry, including multiple ex-Eagles in Jalen Mills and Nelson Agholor; and you have the Philadelphia Eagles, who have signed...Andrew Adams. And lost Marquise Goodwin...somehow?
Fortunately, in all of this weirdness, there are opportunities for the Eagles to make an impactful signing. Namely, in the WR class. No position is deeper in the NFL, and accordingly, the WR class is full of potential contributors. But with tons of Tier 2 WRs and no clear Tier 1 WR comprising the top of the class — Kenny Golladay, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Corey Davis, Curtis Samuel, Will Fuller, T.Y. Hilton — the league is being cautious with their contracts.
Just spoke to a free agent wide receiver to find out what’s going on with all the receivers still unsigned. He said “the WR market is really bad right now”— Dianna Russini (@diannaESPN) March 16, 2021
To this point, Davis and Samuel have both been signed to 3-year, $30-something million dollar deals — neither market-defining contracts, like Golladay is apparently hunting. Golladay has a deal on the table from the Bengals and is visiting the Giants, while Smith-Schuster is apparently headed to the Jets to potentially join Davis. But no deals have been struck yet, and as they wait, so the rest of the WR class waits.
If Golladay and Smith-Schuster end up taking deals around the value of Davis and Samuel, then that price tag will trickle down through the rest of the class, as veteran journeymen like Breshad Perriman, Sammy Watkins, Mohamed Sanu, and Danny Amendola look to fill gaps on competing teams. Such players won’t be of much interest to Philadelphia, who would rather play young, developing wide receivers over veterans who are beyond their prime.
Such players do indeed make it to the market. They aren’t great bets to be high-impact players, but they are potential role players who still have multiple years left of quality play left under their belts. For as cheap as the top of the WR free agent market seems to be, so will these dart throws become cheaper, thereby spiraling into the Eagles’ range of limited cap space.
I have three names I think make sense as Eagles free agent WR targets over the next week or so. They’re unlikely to sign these players — they’re unlikely to sign every player — but it’s becoming more likely as the WR market continues to roll at a slow pace.
Titans WR Kalif Raymond
The Eagles are trying to find a speed threat, if you can’t tell. With recent additions of DeSean Jackson and Marquise Goodwin and John Hightower and Quez Watkins all considered, the Eagles still could not connect on downfield shots this past season, even as their team speed has improved.
Kalif Raymond is another dart throw on that board. A Holy Cross track record holder who has clocked in at 21 MPH in league play, Raymond has gas to burn. Often used as a rotational deep threat for the Titans’ play-action concepts off of 13 personnel and other heavy sets, Raymond has caught six of his nine deep targets over the last few seasons, and his 20.8 yards/reception was third in the league last season for receivers with double-digit targets.
Raymond is also a punt and kick returner, which is big-time for the Eagles’ special teams units, which have been suffering over the last few seasons.
Bills WR Isaiah McKenzie
McKenzie (5-foot-8, 164 pounds) is a bit smaller than Raymond (5-foot-9, 183 pounds), but as been used as a returner on both punts and kicks, so he checks that box. Compared to Raymond, whose depth of target last season was a whopping 17.7 yards, McKenzie only saw 4.4 yards per target, as Buffalo already had better field stretchers in John Brown and Gabriel Davis.
So McKenzie is a gadget player, but he can take over the returner job, work well in a QB-run heavy offense with Jalen Hurts as a starter, and challenge Greg Ward for slot reps. For an Eagles team that has prioritized speed and space play in their WR room over the last offseason or two, McKenzie is a worthy low-price swing.
Jaguars WR Keelan Cole
Speaking of slot reps, if the Eagles just want to improve that position without following any tropes of special teams value or deep speed, then Keelan Cole is probably their best available option. Primary a slot for the Jags offense this past season, there’s no more room for Cole in Jacksonville with the drafting of Laviska Shenault and free agent signing of Marvin Jones over the last year.
I think Cole is a perfectly acceptable depth WR — certainly an improvement over Greg Ward — I just don’t know how much the league will chase that guy in this class. Most teams are fine on WR depth; but the Eagles aren’t. Cole would bring veteran steadiness and reliability to a team full of, at best, volatile targets.
If anyone gets priced out of the Eagles’ range, it’ll be Cole — but he’s a good add if accessible.