WR Julian Edelman is on the market.
Although the crop of wide receivers on the NFL free-agent market has been largely picked over, there are still a few talented options.
There were quite a few very good wideouts looking for new contracts this offseason. Mike Wallace, Wes Welker, Greg Jennings, Danny Amendola and Dwayne Bowe have all signed new, very lucrative deals. Teams were so desperate to lock up players that Brian Hartline earned a five-year, $30.8 million deal from the Miami Dolphins despite having one season in which he registered more than a thousand yards (h/t Adam H. Beasley of The Miami Herald).
As the influence of the passing game continues to grow, the demand for top-end wideouts will grow as well. You can have the best quarterback in the league, but he's gonna struggle if he doesn't have consistent targets who can carve up opposing secondaries.
Teams that lost out might feel dispirited because of the lack of talent now left on the market. The NFL draft might be a better time to get a starting receiver for the 2013 season.
For those still looking to add a receiver, these three guys are the cream of the crop.
The New England Patriots have cut Brandon Lloyd (h/t Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com). It never really came together for Lloyd in New England, as he recorded just 74 receptions for 911 yards and four touchdowns. He was brought in as a deep threat who could extend the secondary but never looked to be that kind of receiver.
Lloyd's entire career has seemingly been nothing but unfulfilled potential. Outside of 2010, when he had 1,448 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns, he's been a disappointment.
At this point, teams shouldn't be expecting much more than what he did with the Patriots last season. Maybe the problem with Lloyd is that people expect so much more from him when it just won't happen anymore. In reality, he can be a solid receiver, nothing more.
Of course, Rosenthal also wrote that Lloyd also had trouble fitting in to the Patriots off the field, so that could also be a problem for any prospective team. At the very least, you know you're getting somebody who can probably give you 70 receptions and roughly 900 yards.
Darrius Heyward-Bey has always been a victim of the Oakland Raiders drafting him with the seventh overall pick in the 2009 draft. That selection was a massive reach, and Heyward-Bey was never going to be worthy of the pick.
After a very strong 2011 season, expectations were beginning to rise in Oakland for what Heyward-Bey could do to follow up in 2012. Instead, his receptions dropped from 64 to 41 and receiving yards fell from 975 to 606. He actually caught one more touchdown pass (four in 2011, five in 2012).
Heyward-Bey's physical tools have never been in doubt. They're what tempted the Raiders to draft him in '09. He ran a 4.25-second 40 at the combine, so he's one of the fastest players in the league.
The problem is all of those tools are squandered because of how raw a receiver Heyward-Bey is. His route-running could use some major work.
Much like with Lloyd, a team should know exactly what it's getting by signing Heyward-Bey. While he could become a monster, don't be surprised if the wideout once again struggles against NFL defenses.
Julian Edelman only appeared in nine games in 2012, so his numbers are pretty paltry. He caught 21 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns. While he hasn't put up great stats, Edelman's skill as a receiver is there for all to see.
Let's not forget that he spent his college career constantly getting harassed in the pocket as quarterback of the Kent State Golden Flashes. Edelman has turned around and made himself a steady option for NFL offenses.
Of the three players listed, Edelman might be the safest bet. He's going to come fairly cheap and, should he stay healthy, put up respectable numbers.
Edelman also brings the added bonus of his play in the return game. Two of the last three years, he's averaged at least 15 yards per punt return, and in each of the last three years, he's scored a punt return touchdown.