Free agency doesn't begin until March 12, but wide receivers on the market have already started to remove their names from the list with new deals.
Kansas City Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe made the first leap back with his old team, signing a five-year, $56 million deal earlier this week (via Mike Garafolo of USA Today). Bowe was the first domino to drop in an extensive list of quality WRs this year, but he won't be the last.
Wes Welker, Victor Cruz and Mike Wallace are the three biggest names that seem to keep popping up in headlines. Cruz is a restricted free agent and appears more than likely to return to the New York Giants, but the lack of a long-term deal after nearly three months of negotiation time is troubling.
The other big receivers on the market are unrestricted, and could be changing teams as soon as this time next week. We've got you covered with the latest rumors about where these playmakers will line up to catch the football next season.
The New England Patriots did not franchise Welker on Monday, meaning that he will not be retained by the same tag he was prior to the 2012 season. However, that does not appear to have ended his tenure with the team—not by a long shot.
According to Mike Giardi of Comcast Sports Net, the Pats and the talented wideout are closing in on a multi-year deal that would keep Welker with the team for quite some time. He notes that though there has been trouble in paradise over the last couple of seasons, both sides agree that neither is better without the other.
Welker has caught at least 86 passes in each of his last six regular seasons.
However, reports from NESN are also coming (via Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk) that Welker isn't a sure thing. The choice not to franchise him clears cap for a wide-receiver signing, and that could make St. Louis Rams slot man Danny Amendola a potential target. The market remains unclear for Welker, but it appears he and the Pats are at least talking about a new deal at the moment.
Cruz is a restricted free agent, meaning that the Giants would match any potential deal for the young stud that was under $50 million per season. Since that's ludicrous, there's a more than good chance the two sides can work out a deal soon.
However, head coach Tom Coughlin has been frustrated by the ongoing process, as noted by Tom Rock of New York Newsday:
Jenny Vrentas of the New Jersey Star-Ledger also noted that Coughlin has been upset that his team hasn't been able to comes to term with Cruz. Here's what he had to say on Tuesday:
"We want Victor to be a Giant until the end of his career, but obviously he and his people, his agents, they’ve got to make that call. It’s a little bit frustrating in that you’d like to have it done, that’s all." When asked if they can count on having Cruz in 2013, Coughlin said, "I think so."
Cruz is looking for a long-term deal with a high-dollar salary. The Giants have needs at other positions, and since the franchise tag deadline has come and gone, the only restriction they have left on his contract would be to match another deal. Stay tuned to see where the salsa will be danced next season.
Other Notable Free-Agent Wide Receivers
Brian Hartline is making a big splash this afternoon with the Miami Dolphins, in a move that will surely be a selling point for greedy agents everywhere.
After a season in which he totaled 1,083 yards and just one touchdown, Hartline will reportedly be making somewhere in the range of $6.5 million per season on a multi-year deal. It's a surprising move for both the Dolphins and the rest of the league, especially with the market for other receivers already believed to be in that range.
It's less surprising when you see his agent is Drew Rosenhaus, but $6.5 million opens the door for Cruz, Wallace and Greg Jennings to ask for huge dollar amounts. Alex Marvez of Fox Sports broke the story about Hartline's impending deal with the Fins.
Although the move would cut into the expected $38 million the Dolphins have in cap space, don't be surprised if they also make a move for Wallace. Marvez noted it in his piece, and ESPN's Adam Schefter did the same on Twitter:
On the Patriots' front, it appears that Welker is not the only option. We noted it early in this piece, but Paul Pabst reiterated it with this tweet about who Mike Florio thinks is headed to New England next Tuesday:
Elsewhere, all appears to be quiet on the Greg Jennings front.
The Green Bay Packers did not franchise their one-time star receiver, meaning he will likely hit free agency on March 12. As with all of these receivers, things can change very quickly.
Make sure you're keeping tabs on your favorite players, because they could have a new team—or return to last year's group—faster than you can blink.