It's time to play a game of word association. Ahem.
Now, what did you picture?
Perhaps you saw the balletic extension of his yellow-and-black clad legs, his gloved hands clutching a football against the No. 10 of his Steelers jersey and his board-straight body falling like timber from the point where his toes intersected with the Raymond James Stadium end-zone turf.
With that once-in-a-lifetime catch, Holmes earned the Super Bowl XLIII MVP trophy—which surely graces his mantle. Nobody can ever take that moment away from him, and no football fan will ever forget it.
Now, forget it.
Holmes was released by the New York Jets on Monday, March 10, with just hours to go before the expiration of the 2013 League Year—and the commencement of free agency. The Jets get $8.25 million in salary-cap space back, according to Jim Corbett of USA Today, and Holmes is free to seek his fortune.
Assuming your favorite NFL team has been paying attention since that magical Super Bowl catch, it won't be giving Holmes a fortune.
Going Long, Falling Short
Over Holmes' first four seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, he averaged 59 catches, 959 yards and five touchdowns, per Pro-Football Reference. His final season in the Steel City, Holmes hauled in 79 catches for a team-leading 1,248 yards.
Despite being traded to the Jets in 2010 after receiving a four-game substance-abuse suspension, Holmes still seemed to be on track for big things.
Though he missed those first four games of the 2010 season, Holmes still caught 52 passes for 746 yards and six touchdowns. He averaged a healthy 14.3 yards per reception, despite catching passes from Mark Sanchez—a man not known for his cannon arm.
At the time, I argued that Holmes could continue being a complementary deep threat well into his 30s, compiling 60-70 catches for 900-1,100 yards until he had some semi-impressive career numbers—and that one glorious Super Bowl moment could compel future generations to vote him into the Hall of Fame.
Yeah, that's not happening:
Pro Football Reference
Though Holmes kept up his deep-ball flair with a career-best average of 19.8 yards per catch in 2013, that's about the only club left in his bag. Averaging just 2.1 catches per game, he'd become all but a decoy in a Jets offense desperate for playmakers.
Making Do with What Remains
Forgetting about what Holmes was, or what he might have been, let's focus on what he is—and what he has to offer your favorite team.
Listed at 5'11", 192 pounds, Holmes has a lean speedster's built. He's not short, but he doesn't have dominant, big-target size. In the past, Holmes has played bigger, thanks to his surprising strength and outstanding leaping ability; he recorded a 38" vertical jump at his 2006 pro day, per NFLDraftScout.com.
When scouting Holmes for the 2013 B/R 1000 project, Bleacher Report NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller noted some of those qualities have faded with age.
"Holmes didn’t show the same strength when coming back to the ball," Miller said, "and more passes got through his hands and bounced off his pads." Miller ranked Holmes the 52nd-best receiver in the NFL last season, based on an admittedly small sample of just four games in 2012.
Due to a Lisfranc foot injury, Holmes missed the last 12 regular-season games of 2012, and he missed much of the Jets' 2013 training camp and preseason. In Week 4 of the 2013 season, Holmes suffered a hamstring injury that forced him to miss the next five games.
If you're scoring at home, Santonio Holmes had 146 catches and 16 TDs for #Jets, who paid him a shade over $25.5 million.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) March 10, 2014
"When healthy," Miller wrote, Holmes is "still quick enough to find separation from the defense and get into his breaks. He will pick up positive yards after the catch and can frustrate tacklers with nice open-field moves."
At age 30, how much healthier is he likely to be than he was the past two seasons—and how long will it be before his speed leaves him?
Further, what of his character issues? Holmes has repeatedly violated the NFL's substance-abuse policy; another strike and he could be suspended for an entire season. He also isn't the hardest worker or greatest locker-room presence; ESPN's Rich Cimini quoted an anonymous Jets official as saying he's a "pain in the a--."
A Flyer Worth a Flier
For all that Holmes doesn't have left to offer NFL teams, his speed will likely entice at least one team to show interest. The 2014 free-agent receiver class is filled with short- and intermediate-route specialists like Eric Decker, Julian Edelman, James Jones and Andre Roberts.
If your team needs a pure field-stretcher but can't afford to pay for a more sought-after young talent like Golden Tate or Emmanuel Sanders, Holmes should be available for much less than, say, Hakeem Nicks—a similarly talented player with similar baggage.
If your team is a young team in transition, like the Cleveland Browns, Holmes' risk of flaming out is probably greater than any potential reward.
If your team has a strong team identity with a strong head coach, like the New England Patriots, Holmes is a great fit as a low-budget reclamation project.