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Feb 05

Breaking Down the 2014 WR Free Agent Market

On Monday Jason posted a list of the updated available salary cap space for all 32 teams. Though these numbers are not set in stone, they certainly provide a great benchmark as the offseason is now officially underway.

I wanted to take an early look at the WR free agent class for 2014. Just like any other position, it’s rare that the league’s most talented guys will be on this list. The logic behind this is simple—when a team has a Calvin Johnson or a Larry Fitzgerald, they make sure to lock him up before somebody else can. You can expect the Bengals to lock AJ Green in to an extension before his contract is up in 2014, and ditto for the Falcons and Julio Jones.

Looking at free agent WRs from the past two offseasons, Vincent Jackson is the one exception to this rule. A top 10 or 15 talent at the WR position, his situation was unique as he sat out much of the 2011 season because of a contract dispute.

 

2013 WR FA Class

2013 salary cap:$123 million; 2013 WR franchise tag amount:$10.5 million; 2013 WRs who received franchise tag:None

Dwayne Bowe= 5 years/$56 million/ $20 million guaranteed

Mike Wallace= 5 years/$60 million/$27 million guaranteed

Greg Jennings=5 years/$45 million/$17.8 million guaranteed

Danny Amendola=5 years/$28.5 million/$10 million guaranteed

Brian Hartline=5 years/$31 million/$12.5 million guaranteed

Wes Welker=2 years/$12 million

Victor Cruz (RFA)= 5 years/$43 million/$15.6 million guaranteed

The importance of guaranteed money and the way a contract is structured cannot be understated.  While Mike Wallace’s 5 year/$60 million deal topped last year’s free agent WR class in both total contract money and annual amount, he has a $15 million guaranteed base salary for 2014.  This means his 2014 cap hit will amount to $17.25 million; it also means the dead money amount associated with his deal will drastically decrease from 2014 to 2015. Unless Wallace improves on his 2013 season, the Dolphins will likely release him after 2014.

Greg Jennings is another example of a guy who will likely be cut after 2014 due to the structure of his contract. His cap hit is $11 million per season from 2015-2017, while the Vikings would absorb just $6 million in dead money if they cut him loose after 2014.

On the other hand, Dwayne Bowe’s base salaries are more evenly dispersed. So while his 2013 numbers in the Chiefs’ West Coast offense were not worth his contract amount, Bowe is more likely to earn the full amount of the deal he signed than both Wallace and Jennings.

 

2012 WR FA Class

2012 salary cap:$120.6 million; 2012 WR franchise tag:$9.5 million; 2012 WRs who received franchise tag: Bowe, Welker, DeSean Jackson

Vincent Jackson=5 years/$55.5 million/$26 million guaranteed

Pierre Garcon=5 years/$42.5 million/$13.1 million guaranteed

Marques Colston=5 years/$46 million/$17.7 million guaranteed

Reggie Wayne=3 years/$17.5 million/$7.5 million guaranteed

DeSean Jackson (after receiving franchise tag) =5 years/$48.8 million/$15 million guaranteed

The slight increase in the salary cap from 2012 to 2013 may have played a role in last year’s free agent WRs receiving more money on the open market. There was more talent in the 2012 free agent class of WRs, yet Mike Wallace and Dwayne Bowe both earned bigger deals than anybody in the 2012 class.

As I look at the 2014 WR UFAs, this list of the top 50 WR contracts provides a benchmark as to how WRs are valued in today’s game.  But as I said before, many of the top guys on this list never hit the open market.

 

2014 WR FA Class

2014 projected franchise tag amount for a WR is $11.5 million; franchise tags must be applied by March 3rd.

I don’t envision any UFA WR being slapped with the projected $11.5 million franchise tag, so all of the players listed should hit the open market. Here are some early predictions for the top 2014 free agent WRs (ranked in order of future value):

Eric Decker

His two-year-average with Peyton Manning at the helm: 86 receptions, 1176 yards and 12 TDs. His 2-year average before Peyton arrived: 25 receptions, 359 yards, 4.5 TD.

Is Decker a product of Peyton Manning or an elite NFL wideout?  The answer probably lies somewhere in between. The above numbers are a bit skewed, as Decker played only 140 snaps in his rookie year (2010) and scored 8 TDs with Tim Tebow throwing him the ball in 2011.

I recently heard Decker described as “a #2 WR that will be paid like a #1”—a statement I agree with. He’ll almost certainly be the highest paid FA WR in 2014. Working in his favor is his agent–the talented Todd France.  France negotiated Ray Rice’s 5 year/$35 million extension before the 2012 season—a deal that looks like a win for Rice after his down 2013. Look for France to get Decker top dollar in 2014, surpassing Mike Wallace’s deal in the process.

Contact Prediction: Free agents are often weary about playing in Cleveland, but I think the Browns will offer Decker the most money to play beside Josh Gordon. Browns for 5 years/$62 million ($25-$30 million guaranteed).

 

Jeremy Maclin

The Eagles’ 2009 first rounder caught an awful break when he tore his ACL on the first day of training camp, forcing him to miss the entire 2013 season as he entered his contract year.  If this injury didn’t occur, the Eagles would likely be in the process of locking Maclin up long-term right now.

Contact Prediction: I see Maclin resigning with Chip Kelly and the Eagles on a 1-year deal.  This makes sense for both team and player—the Eagles will probably be weary of Maclin’s health, while Maclin will likely want to reestablish his value and hit it big in 2015 free agency. Eagles for 1 year/$ 5 million

 

Hakeem Nicks

The oft-injured Nicks could not have had a worse contract year, failing to reach the endzone. But he is just 2 years removed from his 76 catch-1,192 yard-7 TD campaign where he helped carry the Giants to a Super Bowl victory (Nicks averaged 7-110-1 in the Giants’ four playoff wins).

Nicks turned 26 years old last month. While it’s conceivable he could also accept a 1-year pact to reestablish his value, it’s likely one team will take a chance and pay up.

Contact Prediction: I could see him going to Detroit, who lacks a legitimate threat opposite Calvin Johnson. Though their cap situation is a mess right now, Lions GM Martin Mayhew is in win-now modeLions for 3 years/$30 million ($13 million guaranteed).

 

Julian Edelman

Edelman is the biggest wild card at the WR position on the open market. Finally getting a chance to play a legitimate number of snaps, Edelman caught 121 balls for 1,221 yards and 7 TD (including the Pats’ two playoff games). Less than 6 feet tall, the fact that Edelman plays many of his snaps in the slot decreases his value.  However, his talent in the return game gives his value a boost.

The Pats aren’t flushed with cap space, and based on the history of how New England operates in the offseason it’s likely that Edelman ends up elsewhere.

Contact Prediction: A recent rumor listed Houston as a potential landing spot (Bill O’Brien was the former Patriots OC). Texans for 5 years/$25 million ($12 million guaranteed)

 

Anquan Boldin

Even at 33, Boldin proved his worth in San Francisco (85-1179-7 line). Entering his 12th season, you’d think Boldin would want to play for a contender in a situation that suits his skill set.

Contact Prediction: San Francisco’s roster is as talented as any in football and Boldin had a nice rapport with Colin Kaepernick. My guess is that he stays in the Bay area on a 2-year deal. 49ers for 2 years/$12 million

 

Golden Tate

Some front office execs will  be turned off by the 5’10 Tate, who lacks supreme size and speed for the WR position.

Others will see him as a precise route-runner with big-play ability.

Tate said yesterday that he’d be willing to take slightly less to stay in Seattle. But with Percy Harvin returning to full health and the Seahawks needing to lock up Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson in the near future, Tate’s time in Seattle is almost certainly done. He should receive a deal in the same range as Julian Edelman’s.

Contact Prediction: The Jets—who will have nothing at the WR position after they let Santonio Holmes walk—are a possible destination. Gang Green has over $20 million in projected cap space and a bunch of talent on defense, so signing a WR should be a priority. Jets for 5 years/$25 million ($12 million guaranteed)

 

James Jones

With Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Jarrett Boykin and plenty of holes to fill on defense, it’d surprise me if Green Bay made much of an attempt to resign the soon-to-be 30-year-old.

Jones signed a 3-year deal worth almost $10 million after the Packers 2010 Super Bowl run, as the market for Jones’ services was dry. Now 3 years older, Jone’ will have even less suitors, and he’ll surely get less than that this time around.

Contact Prediction: As I just mentioned, the Jets have next to nothing at the WR position, so they could conceivably bring in more than one wideout. Jets for 2 years/$6 million

 

Andrew Cohen
@ajcohen03
ajcohen3@gmail.com
 


 

 

  • JetOrange

    Nicks price seems a little high, could get a GM fired. Golden Tate seems reasonable and James Jones looks like a steal. After Cap cuts, any potential additions to the free agency WR group ?

    • dean jenkins

      If James Jones only gets a 2 yr $6M contract, he’s coming back to GB. No way Ted Thompson lets him walk that cheap when the Packers are $28M under the cap…

      • seenable

        That Jones projection seems crazy low to me as well. His 2012 season was too good.

        • TheeLidman

          In 7 yrs, playing with 2 top 5 QBs, he’s never lead his team in Yards or Receptions.

          • Andrew Cohen

            it may be a bit low, but jones is going on 30 and his numbers (like his 14 TD in 2012) are inflated because he had rodgers throwing him the ball–i don’t see much of a market developing for him

  • toad3527

    Doug Baldwin?

    • Ghoston

      Baldwin is a restricted free agent. No other teams will look at him.

  • AeroDave

    With the Browns having so many draft picks and the 2014 draft being so rich in WR talent, I can’t see Cleveland spending big on Decker (or any FA WR). Their money would be much better spent retaining/investing in their own players (Ward, Mack, and Haden) and upgrading the OL, DBs, and/or LBs through free agency.

    I could see Denver potentially franchising Decker if they can’t sign him long-term, though $11.5M is a lot. They can free up some cash when the rapidly declining Wes Welker gets cut or retires.

    I think Decker, Maclin, Boldin, Tate, and Edelman all return to their teams, though the Edelman-O’Brien connection is interesting.

    Detroit just can’t afford Nicks (or any moderate to high-priced FAs) with that mess of a salary cap. I could see Nicks going somewhere on a one-year deal to re-establish himself, though there are quite a number of teams that have the funds and positional need so I’m not sure who takes that chance on him (Colts? Patriots? Panthers? Redskins? Bills? Bucs?). I could see the Jets or Raiders throwing him a multi-year deal (but would he drop it?!).

  • TheeLidman

    I pray the NYJ don’t go after Golden Tate. I don’t like his size or speed, but more he was the #1 option and had 64 receptions and under 900 yds. If you look at his career numbers, his averages are no better than current NYJ, Jeremy Kerley. In fact, if it weren’t for injuries to Rice and Harvin, he’d be a 3rd down WR. Just look at how much you saw Tate, with a healthy Harvin on the field.

    I think Nicks gets more than you suspect. Yes, he’s had 2 down years, but he was also the #1 WR on a Super Bowl winner. In fact, if Cleveland is willing to pay big $, I think Nicks is more likely to that than Decker, especially after Decker’s disappearing act in the Super Bowl.

    • JetOrange

      I think you are right about Tate, great analysis

      • Andrew Cohen

        thank you–i also failed to mention the idzik connection (he was a part of the SEA front office that drafted tate in the 2nd round)

    • Anthony

      I’m not sure your argement makes much sense. If Jeremy Kerely is good, and Golden Tate is Jeremy Kerely, we should absolutely sign him.

      If the Jets had 2 Jeremy Kerelys, a David Nelson and a James Jones we could begin to have reliable, chain-moving, proven WR to give to Geno.

      There are like 7 #1 receivers in this league, and there are 32 teams. Of the #1 guys (Julio, Megatron, Fitz, Andre Johnson, Dez, AJ Green, Demerius), two of them were on a playoff team.

      Just give Geno some dudes that can catch balls.

      • TheeLidman

        Anthony,
        You’re right. If the NYJ simply want to improve the quality of the skill players, around Geno Smith, then signing Tate would appear to do that. First, I think Seattle would keep Tate for that money, and the market with be bigger for him. Oakland, Cleveland, Jax and Indy all look to have 30+mm of cap room and each of them need help at WR. I think Tate is likely to see something more like 6yr/$45mm, with $18mm guaranteed. For me, it’s the guarantee that you look at, and how much of it is front loaded. Now, if Tate gets that, what are they giving Kerley? Sure, they’re both good, but are either game breakers? Are either players the defense have to account for on every snap? Sure, if you can get Tate for $5mm/year, bring him in. I’d rather bring in a vet, Boldin, at say 2yr $15mm. A-we know he can make plays for you. B-we know he’s a pros pro and C-maybe his veteran presence can rub off on Stephen Hill.
        In fact, if James Jones can be had at $5mm, I think I’d prefer him as well. He’s a bigger WR. You look at the list of the top 20 WR in yards and receptions and the vast majority of them are 6’1″+/200lbs+. This idea of “let’s just get better” makes sense. However, in a cap sport, you also have to take a longer term view on how a guy fits what you want to do.
        Seattle won with defense, running the ball and play action passing. Alot of Tate’s ‘explosiveness’ came off of broken plays, rather than his ability to beat coverage. He’s really not a ‘slot’ guy, like Kerley. To win, consistently, on the outside you need size. If the NYJ had Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, sure I think you can get away with 2 of those guys, because there ability to make quick reads, and accurate throws doesn’t require the size of the ‘prototypical #1 WR’. The NYJ have Geno Smith. They need guys who have the ability to make plays for there QB. A guy who the QB can throw the ball to, when he’s covered, and be confident he’ll come up with it. James Jones has been that guy, Nicks has been that guy. I’m not sure Tate is that guy, that’s all. There may not be that guy in this FA class. I’d rather spend on impact guys, who fill needs: Orakpo, Byrd or Ward, Thurmond or Verner and then give 1yr deals to guys who have flashed the abillity, and been less consistent and have a lot to play for. A guy like Kenny Britt, or a guy like Maclin.
        Overpaying for FA kills teams. This year’s Seattle team is a abberation. They whiffed on S Rice and Z Miller (their highest cap hits). For all intensive purposes they whiffed on Percy Harvin. What saved them..what made them was their 2010/11 draft classes. The draft is inexact. Free Agency should be more exact. Don’t overpay, just because you have the money. In the end, you need to get what you pay for. Apologies for the verbosity.

        • Anthony

          Please lidman… short points.

          Again, your argument hits logical falsehoods in a few spots. I tried to read it all but it got kinda fuzzy in places.

          According to you, Geno Smith can’t reliably hit a small receiver, despite his best target being what you consider to be Golden Tate’s clone… Jeremy Kerely.

          Golden won’t be worth the imaginary money that you think he will be paid, but will be worth the money that Jason… who has kept track of contracts for more then a decade believes he will be worth. So the Jets should sign him if he goes for that.

          You want a receiver that Geno can “reliably” throw to when he’s covered, I think is your funniest point.

          I want Geno to just throw to the next target who is uncovered without worrying about if that guy can catch the ball. That’s the whole point of not having some magical #1 receiver and paying him out the aarse. That’s the point of signing Tate AND Jones. Probably draft a reciever or two as well.

    • Luv Free Curly Fries

      Looking at the raw numbers is a terrible idea when looking at a guy like Tate who plays in a system that only likes to throw the ball ~25 times a game and likes to spread the ball around to every TE/WR/HB. Of course he’s not gonna put up 1000+ YDs when he’s target less than almost every other WR on this list.

      I don’t have the exact numbers because I’m not a premium subscriber to PFF, but I know they’ve mentioned he was either #1 or near the top in broken tackles at the WR position this last year & 2012. Also, published just the other day : https://www.profootballfocus.com/blog/2014/02/06/signature-stats-yards-per-route-run-3/

      “What for the guys that are about to hit the open market? Well you’ve already seen the name of the ageless Anquan Boldin up in fourth spot overall so you know he led the way in that regard, with Eric Decker the next man up in 18th spot. Interestingly (especially if you’re this players agent) he’s only one spot ahead of Golden Tate. So while Decker ended up with nearly four hundred more yards, it’s worth noting that he needed to run almost two hundred more routes to do so.”

      Instead of looking at raw numbers look at the rate stats and tape on how a player is used.

      • TheeLidman

        LFCF..you certainly could be right. Seattle’s philosophy certainly appeared to be run first, play strong defense and special teams. As I say below, their phenomonal drafting allowed them to do that. The NYJ have a good defense, but not a dominating one. They need to score points. They need to improve on offense. Is it possible the reason Seattle didn’t throw more was because they were limited on offense? Why did Seattle bring in Harvin this year? Sidney Rice didn’t have a great year last year (50 catches/798 yards), and came into this year with a cap number of $9.7mm. Seattle could have cut him, and saved $6.1mm, in cap space (not an insignicant amount). They didn’t, and they had Tate on their roster.
        Again, if you can get Tate on a reasonable deal, a deal based on what he’s done, not what you project him to do (like Miami did with Wallace-they paid him on what they thought he ‘could’ do, not what he’d done), great..get him and I’ll root hard for him. To me he looks like a 3rd WR. When Seattle has to pay all their stars, and isn’t as dominant on D, and they need guys to ‘make plays’, none of his tape tells me he is a guy who creates for himself..that’s all.

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  • cjfarls

    Who does Denver go after if they let Decker walk?
    While I can see them not breaking the bank for Decker given the huge number of guys needing raises in 2015, DEN will not go into Peyton Manning’s potentially last season with a rookie or Andre Caldwell as the number 3 (and starting outside) receiver…
    Jones? Tate? I could see either being a nice compliment to DT and Welker, and cheaper than Decker.

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  • Chris

    Sorry but wtf is rep-ore? No offense, but don’t use fancy words if you have no clue how to spell them…I also assume you mean FAs are wary of Cleveland (suppose only the poor Browns who are already there can be weary of it)

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  • NW86

    No offense, but I think the numbers for Decker and Nicks are way too high. Then after predicting such high numbers for them, you predict less than half as much for Edelman?
    Also, you didn’t mention Emmanuel Sanders at all. I don’t think there are any top-notch WR’s on the FA list this year, but several “good” ones. I would guess Decker, Nicks, Edelman, and Sanders all get in the neighborhood of $8M/yr and $15M guaranteed.

  • Brent Ames

    Your assessment on Golden Tate going to the Jets is WAY off. If you think he’s getting paid 5/25/12 guaranteed, it’s a sure thing Seattle pays him that to stay and Golden takes it. Before I continue on Tate, it’s already known that the Jets are interested in Jeremy Maclin and Emmaunuel Sanders. Plus, Tate has stated that he REALLY wants to stay in Seattle and will take less money to stay there. While Tate doesn’t have “Harvin speed”, he regularly gets behind defenses and makes big plays. He was also 2nd in the entire NFL in YAC per reception, so whoever here said Tate “can’t create for himself” is an idiot who doesn’t actually watch tape. On top of that, he’s one of the NFL’s best punt returners on a team that forces a lot of punts. Seattle will EASILY be able to pay him, especially after cutting Sidney Rice.

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  • Brent Ames

    If Detroit is in “win-now” mode, why wouldn’t they make a run at Boldin, especially with Jim Caldwell as the head coach?

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