1. Eric Decker, 26
Here is the downside to the success of the Denver Broncos and the record-setting Peyton Manning: They have made a superstar out of a receiver who might have been a reserve elsewhere.
Mike Klis of the Denver Post reports re-signing Decker will be the Broncos' No. 1 priority this winter. It will get tougher by the game this postseason. Decker is a No. 2 or 3 receiver with a No. 1's numbers. Klis suggests Decker can command $40 million, with $8 million in the first year.
Still, we can't see Decker or the Broncos wanting anything other than a return.
2. Jeremy Maclin, 25
He might be the most interesting case of this offseason, coming off surgery to repair a torn ACL in his right knee. When healthy, Maclin has the potential to be a top-10 receiver in the league. The injury will keep him from earning that kind of paycheck.
He might be best off signing a one-year deal to return to Philadelphia, where a potent Chip Kelly attack can help him prove he's healthy and put up some big statistics.
Maclin is worth a lot more than he will get this winter.
3. Julian Edelman, 27
A breakthrough at age 27 is not uncommon in the world of sports. Seeing an undersized former college quarterback finish with the 44th-highest single-season reception total in NFL history (105) is pretty rare.
Tom Brady loves his "Jules," as he calls him, but Edelman is unlikely to be wanted or needed anywhere but New England. Expect him to return at something less than Danny Amendola money, even if he deserves more after the season he had.
4. Hakeem Nicks, 25
He might have cost himself more money than any other player this season. The New York Giants have viewed Nicks as a No. 1 receiver, even over the consistently explosive Victor Cruz, but Nicks has been nothing more than a huge broken-down disappointment.
"I still consider myself one of the top receivers in this league and I’m going to go out and prove it," Nicks told Paul Schwartz of the New York Post.
Nicks is a physical target, but he had issues with drops this season to go along with his endless health issues with his legs. Hands and legs are two bad things to have questions about heading into free agency for a wide receiver, no matter how talented Nicks had looked.
5. Anquan Boldin, 33
He is coming off one of the best seasons of his career, and it is not over yet. Another strong postseason will give him plenty of bargaining power, despite his age. Boldin is durable and reliable, something that cannot be said for most pending NFL free agents. He has earned the right to decide where he finishes his career after being forced to go to San Francisco via trade last winter.
6. James Jones, 29
There have been other times Jones was close to leaving Green Bay, but they have stayed together each of his seven years in the league. You can argue Jones is better with the Packers than he would be with anyone else, and you likely would be right.
The problem is Jones might seek starter money without the starter statistics. Despite playing with one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, Jones hasn't had 65 catches or 1,000 yards in any one season.
Ignoring his 14 touchdown receptions in 2012 when Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings were banged up, Jones has done nothing to warrant starter money. He is a product of the system and almost certain to disappoint if he leaves the cozy situation he has with Aaron Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy.
7. Kenny Britt, 25
We agree Britt was unduly ostracized in Tennessee this year, getting shuffled all the way to the bottom of the depth chart when he was likely the most capable veteran receiver on the roster. As unfair as it was, it was the right thing for the Titans. They needed to develop their young receiver talent.
Britt vowed to Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean to have a rebound year in 2014:
I am going to be a No. 1 receiver somewhere else if I am not here next year, and that is guaranteed. I am definitely going to be a receiver that makes plays on Sundays and makes something happen for a team.
Britt is talented enough to start for someone. In the right situation, he can be a 65-catch, 1,000-yard receiver. He is healthier and younger than many of the others on this list.
8. Golden Tate, 25
He saved his best week for last, reeling in season highs of eight passes for 129 yards in Week 17. He might have to share targets with Percy Harvin (hip) in the postseason, but you have to consider Tate closer to the Seahawks' best receiving option than the unhealthy Harvin or overachieving Doug Baldwin, who is also a restricted free agent.
9. Riley Cooper, 26
His preseason racial slur controversy almost punched his ticket out of town, but he earned his way back onto the roster and had a season that earned him a nice paycheck. This is the second Philadelphia Eagle on this list, and we suspect the Eagles will want both back for 2014. Cooper is a solid No. 3 receiver on a contender, but likely little more.
10. Emmanuel Sanders, 26
He enjoyed the best season of his career, but despite being No. 2 for the Pittsburgh Steelers, he posted No. 3 receiver numbers (67-740-6). He might be capable of bigger numbers in another situation, but the Steelers figure to retain him as the alternative to Antonio Brown, who became a legit No. 1.
Best of the Rest
11. Ted Ginn, 28
No one will ever confuse Ginn with a true starting receiver, but his speed and return skills should help him earn a nice paycheck in the NFL.
12. Danario Alexander, 25
He was looking capable of becoming a No. 1 receiver for Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers late in 2012, but a preseason knee injury knocked him out all of 2013. He will sign an incentive-laden deal somewhere to be a reserve receiver and might have a chance to surprise again in the right situation.
13. Dexter McCluster, 25
This is an explosive player who can play as a slot receiver and a return man, which will make him an intriguing option to teams. He is not a starting-caliber receiver or running back, though, so it hurts his ability to make serious money on the market. Expect the Kansas City Chiefs to bring him back.
14. Jacoby Jones, 29
Jones is one of the game's better return men, but the fact he has proved incapable of being a productive regular at wide receiver should hurt his free-agent value. He will make more money than he deserves, regardless, because he is a dynamic return man—facts that likely punch his ticket out of Baltimore.
15. Doug Baldwin, 25 (restricted free agent)
His 2011 and 2013 numbers are similar and make him third-receiver-worthy. Barring a huge surprise performance this postseason, Baldwin will be back with the Seattle Seahawks in that role.
16. Damian Williams, 25
He once looked capable of becoming an NFL starter, but that won't happen with the young talent the Tennessee Titans have at the position. Williams would be better off signing on as roster depth with a team with a solid veteran quarterback. In the right situation, Williams have be a huge value relative to his price tag.
17. Jerome Simpson, 27
He is more talented than productive and he had some huge weeks this season. No one should consider him anything more than a reserve option, though.
18. Jacoby Ford, 26
He is too small to be considered anything more than a return man. That is his No. 1 asset to a team this winter.
19. Mario Manningham, 27
He is proof knee reconstruction isn't an exact science, winding back up on injured reserve this season. He has never been more than a reserve.
20. Tiquan Underwood, 26
He enjoyed some moments in the second half of the season, but he is nothing more than roster depth at this point.
21. Darrius Heyward-Bey, 26
He is fast and can block well, two features you want in a receiver. The fact he has been thoroughly outplayed by Da'Rick Rogers and LaVon Brazill this season makes him a non-factor on the market.
22. Jerricho Cotchery, 31
He posted a career-best 10 touchdown receptions, but his place on this list suggest those were merely a function of being overlooked by defenses in the red zone. He should be overlooked by teams in free agency, too, especially at his advanced age.
23. Santana Moss, 34
He is closer to retirement than being anything more than a reserve receiver for the Washington Redskins.
24. Andrew Hawkins, 27 (restricted free agent)
The undersized slot man will need to re-carve a niche in Cincinnati because of the young receivers the Bengals have, but Hawkins has had some productive moments in the NFL.
25. Robert Meachem, 29
He has already made a career full of money, without the production. He is lucky the New Orleans Saints even wanted him this season.