2012 NFL Free Agency: Each Wide Receiver's Odds of Signing with the Bears
Everyone knows this offseason is one of the deepest in recent memory for top wide receivers.
Everyone also knows that the Chicago Bears need to strike hard in the free-agent market for receivers.
But there's a difference between what the team wants/needs and what the team has a realistic chance of accomplishing.
Signing a free-agent wide receiver is more than just an issue of having enough cap space. Other factors come into play, and while everyone wants Dwayne Bowe to join the Bears, the question arises: How likely will Bowe—and other receivers—actually sign with the Bears?
The following is my list of top free-agent receivers and their odds of becoming a Bear in 2012, in the order of expected probability.
Brandon Lloyd: No Chance
Lloyd actually did play for Lovie Smith before, in 2008.
In one of the mysteries of life, and another indictment of Smith, Lloyd apparently fell out of favor with Smith when Lloyd didn't return from injury fast enough.
Despite early success (including a six-catch, 124-yard, one-TD performance against Tampa Bay), Smith benched Lloyd the rest of the year.
Because of that experience, there is zero chance Lloyd will return to Chicago to play for Smith again.
That is unfortunate since Lloyd has shown to be a high-quality receiver.
The Bears could have used him then, and they can use him now.
Too bad they won't have the chance.
Wes Welker: No Chance
Despite a dalliance with the Bears before he eventually went undrafted, Wes Welker will not be coming to Chicago.
Since then, under Belichick's coaching, Welker teamed with Tom Brady to become arguably the most elite QB-WR tandem in that span.
Welker wants to return to the Patriots. And unlike other free agents who parrot the same line, Welker means it.
Though Welker and the Patriots are not close at this time, Welker will eventually re-sign.
With an elite quarterback in Brady and their familiarity with each other, his current status as the team's No. 1 wideout, the earned favor of the head coach and the repeated opportunity to return to the Super Bowl every year, Welker has no compelling reason to go anywhere else—Chicago included.
DeSean Jackson: No Chance
Even if they didn't, the Bears organization claims they want only character guys in the locker room.
While the truth of that claim could be debated, if the Bears are going to be consistent with that claim, they would have to eliminate Jackson from the shopping list because the only thing equal to the size of his game-breaking talent is his game-breaking ego.
His head-scratching antics, which included missing a team meeting this year, are not what the Bears want to worry about.
Thankfully, it appears Philadelphia will make the decision about Jackson for the Bears.
Laurent Robinson: 10 Percent Chance
Robinson had 54 receptions, 858 yards and 11 touchdowns despite often being the third receiver in Dallas.
Despite his breakout success this year, astute observers already knew he had that kind of potential when he was in St. Louis.
However, don't expect the speedster with a knack for the ball to make a tour with a new team.
He clearly enjoys playing for Dallas and his chemistry with quarterback Tony Romo is obvious.
Can a team like the Bears hope to reel Robinson away with the lure of more money and status as the No. 1 WR?
Not according to a cbsdfw.com report, where he said, "This is where I want to be. It doesn’t matter if I’m the No. 1, 2 or 3. Money doesn’t drive me to play this game. I play because I like to have fun. I think I have a good fit here with the Cowboys.”
The feeling is mutual from Dallas owner Jerry Jones and head coach Jason Garrett. These are not empty words since the Cowboys know that receivers Miles Austin and Dez Bryant have missed games due to injuries. Additionally, Bryant has been inconsistent.
The Cowboys cannot negotiate early with Robinson due to his "minimum salary benefit" deal last year. But when they do begin talks, expect Robinson to remain in Dallas.
Mike Wallace: 25 Percent Chance
Wallace is unique among free-agent receivers because he is a restricted free agent.
That means any team that signs him would need to give up their first-round pick.
Wallace is easily worth a first-round pick with his elite speed, game-breaking skills and being a known commodity.
The problem for the Bears lies in the fact that the team needs so much help at the position that it needs to sign two key free-agent wide receivers and still use its first-round draft choice to pick yet another receiver—if it wants to be a serious Super Bowl contender rather than just a playoff contender.
So while Wallace would be a sight for sore eyes on the Chicago lakefront, it wouldn't help the team if the Bears had no first-round selection to go along with him.
Furthermore, Bears GM Phil Emery has stated he wants to build the team through the draft, so it's unlikely he would give up his tenure's first pick when he could try to lure a couple unrestricted free agents.
Dwayne Bowe: 25 Percent Chance
Forget about the Bears. Bowe is at the top of every team's wish list.
He hauled in 81 balls for 1,159 yards from the likes of Tyler Palko in 2011.
The 27-year-old is a big-bodied receiver with excellent hands and is a force in the red zone. Throw in a fantastic work ethic and no wonder every team is interested in his services.
Based on quarterback and overall team competitiveness, the Bears have some leverage when compared to other teams interested in the Kansas City wideout. But sometimes it's not that simple.
Furthermore, there's the issue of the franchise tag.
The Chiefs could use it on top cornerback Brandon Carr since stud cornerbacks are harder to find than stud receivers.
But Kansas City is aware of the value Bowe brings to the Chiefs offense, and recent reports state that Bowe is likely to get the tag over Carr.
As much as it pains me to say it, the reality is that Bowe doesn't look to be going anywhere.
Steve Johnson: 50 Percent Chance
Whatever you want to call him, you can also call him a 50-50 shot at being a Bear.
Contract talks aren't progressing at this point. Initially, it was thought that the franchise tag would be too expensive for the Bills. But Buffalo GM Buddy Nix earlier today said he has not ruled out using the tag on Johnson.
If the Bills do tag Johnson, the wide receiver said he would "definitely be open to that because I'd have another season in Buffalo."
But one possible interpretation of not ruling out a tag could also mean "it's unlikely but it's still an option."
So the 25-year-old receiver who put up back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons despite mediocre Ryan Fitzpatrick (and others) at quarterback could still be an option to come to the Windy City.
Marques Colston: 50 Percent Chance
The New Orleans Saints don't have a ton of cap space. And they have quite a few players scheduled to hit free agency this year.
The biggest names among their in-house free agents are quarterback Drew Brees, receiver Marques Colston and guard Carl Nicks.
The Saints could sign Brees and tag Colston.
Or they could have difficulty giving Brees the money he wants initially, forcing them to tag Brees. That would leave Colston free to negotiate with other teams—like the Bears.
Then there's Nicks. The premier guard is also a priority for the Saints.
If New Orleans can work out the deal with Brees quickly, they could tag Nicks instead of Colston, since many view Colston as more replaceable than Nicks.
But at the current pace of negotiations with Brees, the Saints may be forced to use the tag on Brees instead of Nicks.
What's more, Colston has said he's not giving the Saints a hometown discount.
Add it all up and this could be the perfect storm to allow Colston to hit the open market.
If he does, given his injury history, the Bears would be wise to account for that in their contract offer. But in any event, Colston would be a premium addition to the Bears' receiving group.
Add another dynamic free-agent receiver and a top receiver in the draft, and the Bears will be on their way to the Super Bowl.
Vincent Jackson: 75 Percent Chance
If the tag is off, the Bears will be highly interested.
At the NFL scouting combine Thursday, Lovie Smith said, "A quarterback doesn't have to have that ball right in the perfect spot every time if you have a big body to throw to. Most guys would tell you they would like to have big receivers, but as much as anything you would like to have good receivers that can do something with the ball."
Smith appeared to simultaneously indict the 6'3" Roy Williams while welcoming the 6'5" Vincent Jackson.
If the Bears do pursue Jackson, they would be wise not to go beyond a three-year deal since Jackson will be approaching the age of 30 during the 2012 regular season and has already played seven seasons.
Bears GM Phil Emery may have much experience as a scout but we'll see how good he is as a salesman.
Even with a Jackson signing, the Bears would need to follow that up with another free-agent receiver signing to be considered legit Super Bowl contenders.
Robert Meachem: 75 Percent Chance
Meachem has size similar to Bowe but minus the impressive resume.
He caught only 40 passes in 2011 for the Saints. And while that would rank him higher than any 2011 Bears wide receiver, there is still an element of risk involved with the soon-to-be 28-year-old.
Was his production limited because Brees likes to distribute the targets around?
Or was his production limited because Brees felt he wasn't that good of a receiver?
Even Saints fans admit that Meachem is replaceable since he "disappeared" in many games.
So a game-changer he does not appear to be.
In fact, he could just be a glorified Johnny Knox. That is, a decent No. 2 WR or a strong No. 3 WR. Definitely not a legit No. 1.
Meachem is not young anymore but he still has enough upside potential to make him an attractive option for the Bears' effort to address the receiver hole. And if the marquee names aren't coming to the Windy City, we have a good chance of seeing the Bears in hot pursuit of Meachem.
Reggie Wayne: 85 Percent Chance
Reggie Wayne is the perfect Bears free-agent wide receiver—at the right price.
He's coming off his worst season since 2003—but his receptions (75), receiving yards (960) and touchdowns (four) were nevertheless all better than any Bears receiver in 2011.
And Wayne's production was with skank at quarterback in the form of Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky.
Imagine what he could do with Cutler.
Though Wayne will be 34 and playing in his 12th season during the 2012 regular season, standout wide receivers can still prosper very late in their careers.
Isaac Bruce had his last 1,000-yard season in his 16th season.
Jerry Rice has his last 1,000-yard season in his 17th season.
The Colts are tight in cap space, so the Bears could offer a short-term signing—say two years—at a fair-market value that the Colts would be reluctant to match.
Considering Wayne's age and down 2011 season, the Bears have a little more leverage than they would with other free-agent receivers.
Baltimore, however, has no cap space.
And while Minnesota has some cap room, they don't have as good a quarterback.
Mario Manningham: 85 Percent Chance
Manningham was one of the three key receivers for the Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
But contract talks between Manningham and the Giants have stalled, making it unlikely that the cap-strapped Giants would be able to match any free-agent offers.
The 25-year-old receiver mentioned that while playing with Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning is a plus, "there are a lot of good quarterbacks in this league. I just want the ball more, that’s all.”
Welcome to Chicago, Mario.
Jay Cutler may even personally pick you up at the airport.
Manningham's stock is high after proving he can produce in the playoffs and at the game's biggest stage with his clutch catch on the game-winning drive in the waning minutes.
While Manningham may not be a true No. 1 wideout, pairing him with, say, Reggie Wayne, and a top receiver in the draft like Michael Floyd would immediately make the Bears Super Bowl contenders for 2012.