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