NFL Free Agency 2011: Cleveland Browns' 5 Best Wide Receiver Options
NFL Free Agency 2011 has begun! For months the Cleveland Browns brass in Berea claimed they were content with the wide receiver position. With the lifting of the lockout and beginning to free agency in our midst, Browns president Mike Holmgren has changed his tune. He declared that wide receiver is one of the areas the team will address through the free-agent market.
Why the change?
Mr. Holmgren knows the importance of a big, physical, downfield threat in a west coast offense (WCO). The offense itself is reliant upon the use of such a player to draw coverages, both in man and zone schemes, in order to free up a slot receiver or running back out of the backfield.
Do the Browns currently have that on the roster?
Some would say yes.
Enter Greg Little. Little is a physical beast of a man, standing 6’3” and clocking in at 230 pounds. His size, strength and ability to break loose and gain significant yards after the catch (YAC), stemming from his freshman season playing tailback at North Carolina, are valuable assets in Cleveland's new WCO. However, Little hasn't played a snap of football in over a year and is a rookie coming into one of the worst passing games in the NFL.
Why are the Cleveland Browns looking to address wide receiver having spent a second-round pick on Greg Little and stating their comfort with their current wideout corps?
It’s simple: The Browns are sitting comfortably with cap space and could benefit significantly from other teams’ cap dilemmas. The crop of veteran receivers in this free-agency class is like none other before. Tom Heckert’s stating the Browns are looking to “win now” coupled with their inept passing game over the last two seasons could be an indicator they are ready to make a move at the wide receiver position.
Holmgren has made it known that a high baggage veteran receiver will not be on the shopping list. Given that, there a few options that the Browns can explore that are realistic, financially, and which will help in the transition to the WCO.
In the following slides, I’ll break down the top five wide receiver targets the Browns SHOULD be pursuing now that free agency has begun.
5. Mike Sims-Walker
At 6'2", 215 pounds, Mike Sims-Walker is a potential big-play wide receiver for any team that gambles on him.
Sims-Walker attributes a lack of production in 2010 (43 REC 562 YDS, 7 TDs) to a nagging high ankle sprain that he played through the entire season. His 2009 stat line of 63 receptions, 869 yards and seven touchdowns came with 30 more targets (111) than the 80 he received in 2010. In the right situation and offense, Sims-Walker can impress even further due to his substantial skill-set.
He has stated over the past couple months his desire to play for the Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins. This likely shows his desire to either play for a contender or stay in a warm climate (Miami) similar to his previous residence in Jacksonville.
Depending on his interest in signing with the Cleveland Browns and the interest he gathers around the league, reportedly none from Chicago OR Miami, Sims-Walker could be had for a moderate price and could be a potential big-play wide receiver to lead the Browns wideout corps.
4. Roy Williams
At 29 years of age, Williams still has four or five more potentially explosive seasons left in him. Although he hasn't reached his numbers from 2006 (82 REC, 1,300 YDS and 7 TDs), Williams could benefit from a change of scenery.
With a chip on his shoulder and much to prove after his dismissal from Dallas, Williams could surprise. At 6'3" and 215 pounds with good speed (not elite), he could flourish in the new WCO being installed in Cleveland.
He never lived up to the high expectations put on him in Dallas. In his first season, inconsistency, problems adjusting to the new offense and rapport problems with Tony Romo greatly contributed to a lackluster performance. The next year, 2010, wasn't much difference. Williams only recorded 37 grabs for 550 yards and five touchdowns.
At first glance, those numbers are not indicative of a true No. 1 receiver. The fact that he struggled last year should be attributed to the loss of Tony Romo, emergence of Dez Bryant and continued success of Miles Austin.
3. Steve Breaston
At 6'0", 190 pounds, free-agent wide receiver Steve Breaston is not going to overpower defenders. However, that won't stop him from blowing past, jumping over or running circles around them.
Injuries, quarterback inconsistency in 2010 and playing behind Larry Fitzgerald the past two seasons may have overshadowed the 27-year-old wide receiver from Ann Arbor.
Adding Breaston's speed, athleticism and ability to rack up yards after the catch (YAC) forces defenses to focus on both Little and Breaston and create significant matchup problems for potential slot receiver Mohammed Massaqoui.
Breaston immediately adds legitimacy to the Cleveland Browns passing attack and should be available for a moderate price. Picking him up won't break the bank and it fills a crucial need.
2. Malcom Floyd
The 29-year-old Malcom Floyd stands 6'5" and weighs in at nearly 230 pounds. He has consistently put up the numbers of a good number wide receiver in the NFL with less than three quarters of the targets.
Floyd's 19.4 (2010) and 17.2 (2009) average yards per reception over the past two seasons is remarkable.
A big, fast and reliable target like Floyd can do wonders for second-year quarterback Colt McCoy in stretching the field and in goal-line situations.
In 2009 and 2010, the Cleveland Browns were inept in the red zone, coming in near the bottom of the totem pole (27th) much like they did in many other offensive categories.
Adding a large, experienced target like Floyd can immediately address the red-zone woes of the Browns and can help solidify their wide receiver corps.
1. Sidney Rice
Sidney Rice is the consensus No. 1 wideout in the 2011 NFL free-agency class.
At 6'4", tremendous leaping ability, steady hands and lightning speed, Rice looks to be the complete package when evaluating a wide receiver for the west coast offense.
His prolific 2009 season, in which he racked up over 1,300 yards and found the end-zone eight times, has been played down as a result of the MVP-level season of Brett Favre.
Sidney Rice donning the orange and brown will legitimize the Browns offense and allow other pass catchers like rookie Greg Little and third year wideouts Brian Robiskie and Mohammed Massaquoi to find seams and openings created by the coverage focus on Rice.
How realistic is Rice? The Cleveland Browns have one of the biggest cap gaps in the NFL, have not expressed interest in many high-value targets and could be looking to splurge at a crucial position of need.