Chicago Bears Free Agency: NFL Receivers, Who's Still Available?
Now that there is officially going to be a 2011 NFL season, it is time for the free agent frenzy to begin. Normally, the free agent period starts with a bang and then fizzles down and is drawn out over a couple months. This year, due to the length of the lockout, the free agent period will be condensed and all the action will take place within the next couple weeks. On Friday, NFL teams can begin signing veteran free agents, which is exactly what the Bears need to do.
Chicago has a number of positions that they need to address in free agency, including offensive line, defensive line, corner back, safety and wide receiver. The one position that the Bears have needed a big-play difference maker at for decades is at wide receiver. Two years ago, Chicago mortgaged its future and invested a lot into the supposed quarterback of the future in Jay Cutler.
The franchise QB is entering his third year with the Bears and, needless to say, his performance has been underwhelming. In my mind, this is the make-or-break year for Cutler; his last chance. That is why if the Bears truly want to see how good he can be, the organization needs to find a big NFL red-zone receiver to be his safety blanket and go-to guy in the end zone.
Jay Cutler found passing success in Denver with a big go-to receiver in Brandon Marshall. During their years as Broncos together, Cutler and the 6'4" Marshall had a tremendous connection and filled the stat sheet as an unstoppable QB-WR duo. However, that type of large go-to receiver is something Jay Cutler has never had in Chicago.
The Bears do have a couple of average receivers in Johnny Knox and Devin Hester, but at 6'0" and 5'11" respectively, they lack the size of other top receivers in the league. As two of the fastest receivers in the NFL, their ability to burn their way down the field is their most valuable asset. Unfortunately, that speed will never help them possess the necessary size in the red zone to win jump balls and present Cutler with the much needed big target.
That leaves Chicago's 6'5" tight end, Greg Olsen, as the Bears' primary red zone threat. The problem is that the entire NFL knows that fact and puts extra coverage on Olsen any time the Bears are near the end zone. In Cutler's first year as a Bear, he spied Olsen and forced the ball to him inside the 20 on a regular basis, which led to Cutler leading the NFL in red-zone interceptions. Last year, Jay did a better job of not focusing solely on Olsen and cut his red-zone interceptions down considerably; however, he was still not as productive as the Bears need him to be inside 20.
Therefore, the Bears need to hit the free agent market eying a big wide receiver target to take pressure off of Olsen and give Cutler multiple options inside the end zone. If the Bears can land a true No. 1-caliber receiver with the size to give Cutler a target who can win a jump balls and help bail him out of some situations, then the Bears' receiving core could really thrive. With a big No. 1, Knox could maximize his skills in his true position as a No. 2 receiver.
An alignment of Knox in the No. 2 spot would also allow Hester to thrive in the slot where he is the perfect fit for the Martz offensive scheme. With a receiving corps of a big target on one side, Knox on the other, Hester in the slot, Earl Bennett in the other slot and the Bears' spring signee 6'4" Canadian receiver Fantuz Flakes coming off the bench to add more size, the Bears would have a much more well-rounded receiving core than last year and could take pressure off the running game.
This article looks at the top 18 potentially available receivers and whether they would be a fit for the Chicago Bears. I have broken the receivers into three categories: too small, tweeners and bigs. Each category progresses from least desirable player to most desirable.
Too Small: Lance Moore
Lance Moore, WR, Saints. Age: 28 Height: 5'9" Weight: 190lbs
He is a terrific slot receiver and has done well for the Saints when healthy. Moore bounced back from an injury-plagued 2009 season to catch 66 balls for 763 yards and eight touchdowns in 2010. He brought down 14 catches for 153 yards and two touchdowns in an injury-riddled 2009 season following up a very strong 2008 campaign where he accumulated 79 catches for 982 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Overall, Moore is too injury prone and too small to be the difference maker the Bears need. His skill set is too similar to Hester and Bennett to even consider him a real option. He is a good player, but not what the doctor ordered.
*UPDATE* Saints have reached a five-year contract with Moore, according to ESPN.
Too Small: Santana Moss
Santana Moss, WR, Redskins. Age: 32 Height: 5'10" Weight: 209lbs
Santana Moss has been a very good receiver over the past few years as the No. 1 option for the Redskins. Last year, he caught 93 balls for 1,115 yards and six touchdowns. However, he is 32 years old, which is an age which usually marks the rapid decline of small speedy receivers. Moss has always been known for his speed and production though he is one of the small receivers in the NFL.
Moss is coming off of a streak of very good seasons. Preceding his outstanding 2010 campaign, he had 70 catches for 902 yards and three touchdowns in 2009 and 79 catches for 1,044 yards and six touchdowns in 2008.
Moss is a much more decorated and talented receiver than Moore. He does not possess the same injury concerns; however, at such a small size, he too lacks the attribute the Bears need most, size. Santana will be a welcome addition to a lot of NFL teams, but he wouldn't even be one of the top two fastest receivers on the Bears roster. He is an above average talent, but not the right fit for the Bears.
*UPDATE* Redskins and Moss have reached an agreement on a three-year deal worth $15 million, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
Too Small: Steve Breaston
Steve Breaston, WR, Cardinals. Age: 28 Height: 6'0" Weight: 189lbs
Breaston appears to be a wide receiver with the necessary tools to thrive in the NFL. However, he just cannot seem to stay healthy and his career at Arizona has been derailed too many times by injuries. When on the field, Breaston has shown flashes of being a difference maker, like in 2008 when he was the third head to a very successful passing game.
Breaston has put up decent numbers over the past three years, but he isn't the kind of red-zone target the Bears need. At his peak in 2008, he hauled in 77 catches for 1,006 yards and three touchdowns. Those numbers slipped in 2009 with 55 catches for 712 yards and three touchdowns and to 47 receptions for 718 yards and one touchdown in 2010.
Breaston has more size than Moss and Moore, but still lacks the size to be a true red-zone target and to win jump balls. Although he has more upside than Moore and has more tread left on his tires than Moss, he is undersized, unproven and is not the answer the Bears are looking for. Breaston would be a good No. 2 receiver if he could stay healthy, but we have two guys in Knox and Hester who can fill that role and who are already under contract.
Too Small: Steve Smith (Giants)
Steve Smith, WR, Giants. Age: 26 Height: 5'11" Weight: 192lbs
Like Moore, Smith is an outstanding possession receiver and could have a long NFL career ahead of him. During the Giants 2009 season, Smith had a break out year and caught 107 balls for 1,220 yards and seven touchdowns. Unfortunately, Smith followed up his stellar 2009 season with a string of injuries to his knee and pectoral and only manged 48 catches for 529 yards and three touchdowns in 2010.
Smith's 2009 season has shown what he is capable of with a full season of healthy football. He can be explosive at times and is not afraid to go over the middle and bail the quarterback out. The problem is that he lacks the size to bail Cutler out where it matters most...in the red zone. Smith is not a true end-zone threat and doesn't have the ability to go up and win a jump ball.
Like the other receivers in this category, Smith possesses a lot of desirable traits that make him a successful NFL wide receiver. Unfortunately, those traits are already accounted for by other current Bears and it wouldn't be worth Chicago paying Smith what he can command in free agency when the size just isn't there.
Too Small: Santonio Holmes
Santonio Holmes, WR, Jets. Age: 27 Height: 5'11" Weight: 192lbs
Santonio Holmes is an intriguing free agent option. He is a big play wide receiver and has shown a knack for making big plays in important games. He is only 5'11" but seems to play bigger than his size. In the 2010 campaign for the Jets where he only played 11 games, Holmes hauled in 52 catches for 746 yards and six touchdowns. Many of his catches, however, were critical catches in the fourth quarter or overtime when the game was on the line.
The Jets have a lot of decisions to make with their wide reviving core this year since three of their top four receivers are free agents (Homes, Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith). Holmes will likely be their top priority since he is young, is a proven commodity and has come through big for them. Over the past couple years, Holmes has shown a solid consistency in his game tallying 79 catches for 1,248 yards and five touchdowns in 2009, 55 catches for 821 yards, and five touchdowns in 2008 and 52 catches for 942 yards and eight touchdowns in 2007.
Out of this group of small receivers, Holmes is the most intriguing option because he seems to have the highest ceiling of the group. Though there have been some character issues going back to his days with the Steelers, those days appear to be behind him and only promise lies ahead. I don't expect the Bears to go after him due to the price the Jets are probably willing to pay for his services, but if there is one guy from this group the Bears should strongly consider, it would be Holmes.
* UPDATE * Holmes has agreed to a deal with the Jets. The deal is for five years and $50 million, with $24 million guaranteed, sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
Too Small: Steve Smith (Panthers)
Steve Smith, WR, Panthers, Age: 32 Height: 5'9" Weight: 185lbs
Although the Panthers' Steve Smith is not a free agent and is coming off one of the worst seasons of his career, I have included him on this list because there are a lot of rumblings that he has asked to be traded and Carolina may be entertaining the possibility.
Smith had one of his worst years as a pro in 2010 only catching 46 balls for 554 yards and two touchdowns. Those numbers follow a disappointing 2009 season which saw bring in 65 catches for 982 yards and seven touchdowns. The reason why I say 2009 was disappointing is only because Smith had not caught less than 78 passes or gained less than 1,000 yards over the prior six seasons (excluding the 2004 season, in which he missed 15 games).
Sure, Smith is small and does not fit the Bears' needs as I have stated with the other receivers in this group, but he is an absolute proven commodity and a clear-cut No. 1 receiver. Yes, he is 32, and yes, he has a lot of miles, but he is a dynamic player and a real game changer.
No, I don't expect the Bears to make a trade for Smith, but yes, I do think it would be worth investigating what it could cost. Smith has ties to Bears DE Peppers and to S Harris, so it is believed he would be open to playing for the Bears if the trade were to happen. Simply put, he is a great NFL wide receiver and would be a more than welcome addition to the Bears for the right price. Chances it happens: less than five percent.
*UPDATE* ESPN is reporting that Steve Smith told Panthers general manager Marty Hurney and head coach Ron Rivera, that he plans to remain with Carolina this season and beyond and that he plans to retire a Panther.
Tweeners: Legedu Naanee
Legedu Naanee, WR, Chargers. Age: 27 Height: 6'2" Weight: 220lbs
Legedu Naanee was the No. 2 option for Rivers last year when healthy due to the hold-out and suspension of San Diego's top receiver Vincent Jackson. Over the past two years, Naanee has shown to be a talented receiver, but hasn't played much because of various injuries and too much depth at receiver on the Bolts. He finished last season with 23 catches for 371 yards and one touchdown. In 2009, he hauled in 24 catches for 242 yards and two touchdowns.
Out of the three free-agent Charger receivers, Naanee has the weakest track record. He has decent size at 6'2" but doesn't seem to be the red-zone target the Bears need. Although he may come at a decent price, I don't think he is someone who will draw too much interest from Chicago. In short, too much risk for the upside.
Tweeners: Jacoby Jones
Jacoby Jones, WR, Texans. Age: 27 Height: 6'2" Weight: 210lbs
Jacoby Jones has been inconsistent throughout his career with Houston, but got hot at the right time and caught 22 balls for 287 yards and a touchdown in the Texans' final four games last year. Overall, Jones provided to be a decent No. 2 receiver behind all-world receiver Andre Johnson. He finished 2010 with 51 catches for 562 yards and three touchdowns. His 2009 season was not spectacular, but he did show a nose for the end zone finishing the year with six touchdowns on only 27 catches and 437 yards.
At 6'2", having the ability to make plays and score touchdowns, Jones wouldn't be a bad option for the Bears. Although he wouldn't be a clear cut No. 1 receiver, he could be a solid starter along side Knox and help form a very strong tandem.
The main problem is that Jones recently stated, “I will be a Texan” on Vandermeer and Lopez (Sports Radio 610 in Houston), which indicates his desire to return to his current team. Therefore, odds are that he will end up back with Houston and the Bears wouldn't have a shot even if they are interested. The Bears should do their homework, but don't expect him on the Chicago roster at the start of the season.
Tweeners: James Jones
James Jones, WR, Packers. Age: 27 Height: 6'1" Weight: 208lbs
James Jones has a ton of talent and potential, but is very inconsistent. He has a reputation for big drops in key situations and that continued last year for the Pack. He finished the year with a respectable clip of 50 receptions for 679 yards and five touchdowns. His 2009 was slightly worse with 32 receptions for 440 yards and five touchdowns although those numbers aren't bad for a guy who plays behind Donald Driver and Greg Jennings.
At 6'1", Jones doesn't have the size the Bears need for red zone help. Couple that with his penchant for dropping big catches and bonehead plays, he simply is just not worth the risk in Chicago.
Moreover, I have a general rule as a Bears fan: I never want the Bears to sign former Packers unless they are an undeniable talent and can't miss (ie. Cullen Jenkins who is a beast on the D-Line and someone the Bears could really use and should be doing their homework on this offseason). Simply put, the Bears would not have my support if they think of signing Jones.
Tweeners: Chad Ochocinco
Chad Ochocinco, WR, Bengals. Age 33 Height: 6'1" Weight: 192lbs
Chad Ochocinco is the first receiver on this list who really qualifies as one of the eccentric, over the top, ego driven receivers the NFL is known for. Sure, his best days are probably behind him, but he is still arguably better than anyone else on the Bears and there is nothing to supplement for experience.
His stats over the past three years: 67 catches for 831 yards and four touchdowns in 2010, 72 catches for 1,047 yards and nine touchdowns in 2009 and 53 catches for 540 yards and four touchdowns in 2008. Over a five-year span from 2003-2007, Ochocinco never had fewer than 87 catches, 1,274 yards and seven touchdowns. He is a dynamic talent when he is motivated and trying to turn heads. The big question is whether he still has the drive to do so.
Although he is not a free agent and someone the Bears should really be focusing on right now, odds are that he will probably be traded or cut by the Bengals this offseason since rumor has it that they don’t want to pay his $6 million salary for next year. Moreover, Ochocinco appears to be at odds with Bengals owner Mike Brown and head coach Marvin Lewis, which probably means he is a goner. That probably means that he is someone who should at least be on Chicago's radar.
If he became available for a fourth-round pick or later, or if he hits the open market, should the Bears consider him? I think maybe for a fifth-round pick or for a two-year contract at a couple million per year. Will it happen? Probably not. I would give it about a five percent chance at best, but it is still a potential option.
Tweeners: Mike Sims-Walker
Mike Sims-Walker, WR, Jaguars. Age: 26 Height: 6'2" Weight: 214lbs
Mike Sims-Walker is the guy in this category who is the most intriguing prospect. At 6'2", he isn't the big receiver the Bears need, but he isn't undersized. He actually possesses a decent nose for the end zone and is pretty good at going up and challenging for the jump balls.
Sims-Walker has struggled with leg injures the past two years, but has still managed to put up respectable numbers in the process even though the Jacksonville QB situation hasn't been reliable. He finished 2010 with seven touchdowns on only 43 receptions for 562 yards. He had a better year in 2009 ending the season with 63 catches for 869 yards and seven touchdowns.
Simply put, Sims-Walker is a young receiver with a lot of talent. Once he puts it all together for a full season, he has the makings of an all-pro. If Chicago pursued him, would he make a dynamic duo with Cutler? Potentially. And, would he succeed along side Knox and Hester? He should.
The question then remains, will the Bears make a play for him? I don't think so, but am hopeful. Sims-Walker probably has decent value throughout the NFL and will draw interest from a number of teams. I just don't see Chicago getting into a bidding war for his services even if they show interest.
Should they do their homework and give Sims-Walker serious consideration? Yes. Is he worth signing? That all depends on the price, but if he isn't asking for too much then he would look nice in navy and orange in 2011.
*UPDATE* ESPN is reporting that Sims-Walker has reached an agreement to join the St. Louis Rams.
Bigs: Terrell Owens
Terrell Owens, WR, Bengals. Age: 37 Height: 6'3" Weight: 224 lbs
Terrell Owens is the second receiver on this list who is a prototypical NFL ego maniac wide receiver. At 37 years of age, Owens has been around the block a couple times over, spending time in San Francisco, Philadelphia, Dallas, Buffalo and most recently Cincinnati. Owens is arguably one of the top 10 receivers to ever play the game and is probably in the top three for egos.
In 2010, Owens signed a one-year contract with the Bengals for $2 million base and potential bonuses. He teamed up with one of the NFL's other most outspoken wide receivers (Chad Ochocinco) and people wondered whether they could coexist. Owens proved all his naysayers wrong and showed that he can still perform at a very high level, catching 72 balls for 983 yards and nine touchdowns (outperformed Ochocinco for that matter).
However, he's such a headache that the Bengals don't even want him for a second season even at the extremely low price his services came at considering his production. Over the past couple years his production has been down but decent. Owens put up 55 catches for 829 yards and five touchdowns in 2009, 69 catches for 1,052 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2008, 81 catches for 1,355 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2007 and 85 catches for 1,180 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2006.
Owens has a rep of getting into it with the quarterbacks he plays with...see McNabb, Garcia and Romo. So, would he be the best fit for Cutler who has a rep of being a bit of a cry baby himself? I don't know, but the one thing that is true is that Owens has stayed relatively quiet and been a team player for Buffalo and Cincinnati over the past two years even though both teams weren't playoff contenders.
Owens certainly fits the low-cost high-reward category if he comes at a price similar to last year and if he duplicates the kind of production he had with Palmer and Cutler. Owens is a savvy veteran and knows how to make big catches and make himself available in the end zone.
The biggest concern now seems to be the fact that the 37-year-old Owens had surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in April. Will he be ready for the season? Will the surgery take away yet another step from the once explosive wide receiver? Is he still anywhere near the Hall of Fame-player he once was?
A lot of questions remain, but if the price is right, I think Chicago management would be smart to at least consider the possibility of bringing in Owens for a physical and talking about a one-year deal with a team option for a second year. Though I am not a huge fan of Owens, he certainly could bring a lot to the Bears passing game and possibly be a difference maker.
Bigs: Randy Moss
Randy Moss is yet another sure fire Hall of Fame wide receiver with a penchant for drama and ego driven conduct. A couple years ago in 2007, Moss was breaking records with Tom Brady at the helm as he went on to grab 98 catches for 1,493 yards and an astounding 23 touchdowns.
However, his mind got the best of him in New England and he bounced around to three teams last year, having one of the worst seasons of his career by far. He put up only six catches for 80 yards and no touchdowns in eight games with the Titans, only 13 catches for 174 yards and two touchdowns in four games as a Viking and only nine catches for 139 yards and three touchdowns in four games with New England.
Before last year, when his ego wasn't causing problems, Moss put up 83 catches for 1,264 yards and 13 touchdowns 2009, 69 catches for 1,008 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2008 and the monster year referenced above in 2007.
Overall, Moss is probably not worth the risk based on his lack of focus and production last year but, then again, for a non-guaranteed one-year deal for the veteran minimum he might be worth a shot. Maybe somehow Moss gets rejuvenated by a shift back to the NFC north with a gun slinging quarterback in Cutler. Maybe he becomes the crafty veteran the Bears need to make big plays and catch touchdowns. Maybe he doesn't. But for a non-guaranteed short deal, he could be lightning in a bottle.
Whether this is just Moss' agent doing his job or whether it is true, his agent Joel Segal told NFL.com that Moss is in "freakish shape" after "working out, two-a-days, all spring and summer in West Virginia." If that is true, Chicago should consider bringing in the Hall of Fame-bound receiver and giving him a shot to be the big savvy veteran opposite Knox and Hester.
Bigs: Plaxico Burress
Plaxico Burress, WR, Giants. Age: 34 Height: 6'5" Weight: 232lbs
It has been a couple years since Plaxico has been a contributing member of the National Football League. Burress played his first four seasons with the Steelers putting up solid numbers. Then signed with the New York Giants, had a very productive first three years and even made the game-winning touchdown in Superbowl XLII. He accidentally shot himself on November 28, 2008 in a New York City nightclub, was indicted on August 3, 2009, entered a plea deal for a two-year prison sentence and two-year supervised release, was sentenced on September 22, 2009 and was released from prison on June 6, 2011.
Burress is now a member of the NFL free agent wide receiver class. He has been generating interest from teams around the NFL and has been linked to the Eagles, Jets, Steelers and Giants. Burress certainly would give the Bears the prototypical large receiver and would be a welcome red-zone target.
Though there may be concerns about his off-the-field issues, the Bears would be foolish not to give him a close look. Think about how Michael Vick worked out for the Eagles. The Bears could use his size and experience and it would probably come very cheap. Just like Owens and Moss, Burress is an undeniable talent and could be had at a price that could pay dollars on the penny.
In my book, Plaxico would certainly be worth Chicago's consideration. I hope they do their homework and at least talk to him about the potential of wearing orange and navy this season.
*UPDATE* ESPN is reporting that Burress has dwindled his choices down to his former teams, the Steelers and Giants and is likely to sign with one of them.
Bigs: Malcom Floyd
Malcom Floyd, WR, Chargers. Age: 29 Height: 6'5" Weight: 225 lbs
The second of three Charger free agent wide receivers who should be on Chicago's radar is Malcom Floyd. He has the size that the Bears need in the red zone at 6'5" and has shown flashes of being a productive receiver when healthy. Last year, Floyd caught 37 balls for 717 yards and six touchdowns at an amazing 19.4 yards-per-catch average, which certainly qualifies as a big play receiver.
However, Floyd's numbers weren't what they could have been on account that he only started nine games (suited up for 11), battled through injuries in the second half of the year and disappeared when Vincent Jackson returned to the lineup. He also only started nine games in 2009 though he was active for all 16 and hauled in 45 catches for 776 yards and one touchdown. In 2008, he appeared in 13 games and registered 27 catches for 465 yards and four touchdowns.
The question for Bears management is whether they believe he could succeed opposite Knox. Floyd probably doesn't have the talent to be a true No. 1 receiver, but in a tandem with Knox he would give the Bears the speed and size combo Cutler may need to take Chicago's passing games to new heights. Is he the long term answer? Probably not since his is 29 and still hasn't found a consistency even when catching passes from one of the leagues premier quarterbacks in Rivers. Could he be a solid pickup for the next two to three years? I think so.
Reports are that the Chargers probably don’t want to pay Floyd the amount he will command in free agency after paying to franchise Vincent Jackson. They would probably be better served re-signing Legedu Naanee, who would come at a much cheaper price tag. That means that the Bears could be buyers.
My fear is that if the price tag is too high for San Diego, is it too high for Chicago when they have many other needs? Maybe, but there is only one way to find out. The Bears need to do their homework and talk with Floyd's agent to see whether he is in their price range and could fill Chicago's need for a big wide receiver.
Bigs: Vincent Jackson
Vincent Jackson, WR, Chargers. Age: 28 Height: 6'5" Weight: 230lbs
Vincent Jackson is an undeniable talent and one of the top receivers in the NFL. He has the size at 6'5", the speed and the playmaking skills to immediately elevate the Bears' passing games to new heights. Jackson missed the first 12 games of the 2010 season because he held out, not wanting to sign the one-year restricted free agent tender the Bolts used on him, because he had to serve a three-game league suspension for being placed on the roster exempt list by San Diego and because he had to serve a three-game league suspension for pleading guilty to drunk driving.
Jackson was franchised this year by Chargers and was designated a “non-exclusive” franchise player, which means that he can negotiate with other teams. Should he receive an offer from another team, the Chargers can either match the new club’s offer or receive two first-round draft choices as compensation for his signing. Would the Bears be willing to pay the high price tag for his services and give up two first-round picks for this dynamic player? Probably not, since they had to give up two first-round picks for Cutler. Then again, there is a school of thought that since the Bears invested two first-round picks in a quarterback, they should be willing to invest a lot to get him a true No. 1 receiver who could help Cutler reach his potential. Think about a Brandon Marshall-type player on the Bears and how it could help the team.
Amazingly, Jackson has never caught more than 68 passes in a single season. However, with his size and physical talents he has managed to make the most of every catch. In 2009, he hauled in 68 catches for 1,167 yards and nine touchdowns, and in 2008 he recorded 59 catches for 1,098 yards and seven touchdowns.
Jackson would be the top player on this list as the best fit for the Bears because he is exactly the player Chicago needs in terms of a big physical red-zone player, but because of the franchise tag, it is very unlikely the Bears would be willing pay him the high dollars and give up two first-round picks to retain his services. It would be a great day in Chicago if Bears management went all in and gambled with Jackson, but I just don't see it happening. Maybe if it was only the big dollar long term contract, but not if costs money and draft picks.
If the Bolts don't sign him up to a long term deal and the Bears don't sign a long term solution at wide receiver this offseason, Jackson may still be a good fit for the Bears in 2012 when he hits the open market again.
*UPDATE* Jackson's agent says he will sign his non-exclusive franchise tag Friday as soon as he is allowed to do so.
Bigs: Roy Williams
Roy Williams, WR, Cowboys. Age: 29 Height: 6'3" Weight: 215
Roy Williams is a very interesting candidate. He is an enigma of sorts. After coming over to Dallas from Detroit in 2008, Williams' performance has been underwhelming. His initial failure to produce was attributed to TO's presence in Big D during the 2008 season. However, after Owens' departure, he continued to take a back seat, this time to Miles Austin. In 2010, Williams hauled in 37 catches for 530 yards and five touchdowns and in 2009 he registered 38 catches for 596 and seven touchdowns.
Williams is a big receiver and has shown flashes of being an elite receiver. The question is whether it is his talent or the system that helped him perform when he did fill the stat sheet. Will he ever resemble the player he showed he could be in Detroit in 2006 when he had over 80 catches, over 1,300 yards and seven touchdowns? Maybe.
Would he be able to regain that form with the Bears? He may. Some would argue he has his best chance of doing so in Chicago. Here's why. The 2006 Lion offensive coordinator was, you guessed it, none other than Bears' current offensive coordinator, Mike Martz. If Williams' performance in Detroit was attributable to Martz system and the strong-armed John Kitna, why wouldn't the Bears consider bringing him in? They have Martz's mind and Culter's arm. Only the Bears have more talent around him than the 2006 Lions had. (On another note, Kitna referred to the Lions as "God's team" and if Williams thrived on God's team one time around, why wouldn't he thrive on God's team again since the Bears are Ditka's team and Saturday Night Live taught us that Ditka is God, visa vi the Bears are God's team).
Williams was a salary cap casualty in Dallas due to the $5 million they saved by cutting the receiver who never lived up to expectations. Although his days as a Cowboy never panned out, he did show an ability to be a red-zone target, which is the Bears' biggest need. There is an old saying that you can't teach size and Williams does have that.
With a couple underwhelming years as his recent track record, there is concern. However, that same fact also means that Williams' services will probably be available at a decent price. For the money, Chicago management would be foolish not to at least consider this one-time standout wide receiver. A two-year contact with a team option for a third year sounds about right. Who knows, maybe Williams is the missing big receiver to a much improved Chicago receiving core.
*UPDATE* It appears that the Chicago Bears have signed their big receiver in Williams who has reportedly agreed to join the Bears. Now that they have their big will they stop trying to sign another receiver due to the departure of Olsen via trade? Would they consider a big guy (6'4") who hasn't thrived and hasn't been a bust since being drafted in the first round a half decade ago in former Falcon, Michael Jenkins? I would say that if the price is right they should strongly consider signing him as another big receiver to add to the Bears passing game, especially if they don't try to sign Zach Miller of the Raiders or Randy Moss.
Bigs: Braylon Edwards
Braylon Edwards, WR, Jets. Age: 28 Height: 6’3” Weight: 214
Braylon Edwards has a ton of talent and the raw tools to be an absolute difference maker. Edwards put together a string of very solid seasons to start his career in Cleveland. He managed a monster year in 2007 when he registered 80 catches for 1,289 yards and 16 touchdowns. The problem is that he peaked in '07 and declined steeply in 2008, grabbing only 55 catches for 873 yards and three touchdowns.
Edwards has always had a reputation and a penchant for dropping passes, easy ones at that. Apparently, his drops finally got the best of him as a Brown (or maybe it was getting into a fight with one-time Cleveland superstar/God on earth, LeBron James' friend) and they traded him to the Jets only four games into the 2009 season after registering 10 catches for 139 yards and zero touchdowns.
However, after his relocation to the Jets, his luck seemed to turn around. For the remaining eight games of the 2009 season as a Jet, Edwards hauled in 35 for catches for 531 yards and four touchdowns. In his first full season as a Jet last year, Edwards played second fiddle to Santonio Holmes and grabbed 53 catches for 904 yards and seven touchdowns. Most importantly, Edwards cut down his number of dropped passes drastically over the past year and a half with the Jets, which is what makes him an interesting option and a receiver worth gambling on.
Edwards is big, talented and can be a game breaker. The big question is still the dropped passes. He has been pretty good with cutting down the drops, but will that remain the case once he signs a big contract? Who knows, but for the skills he brings and the red-zone target he presents, the Bears would be doing the responsible thing investigating what it would take to sign him.
Odds are that Jets put their focus and money into re-signing Holmes and probably take a shot at re-signing Brad Smith (and no, I do not agree with rumblings that the Bears should sign Smith. Sure, if he comes cheap and the Bears bring in one of the big receivers on this list, I would be happy to have him for the triple threat of slot reviver, third string QB and return man, but only under those circumstances), which makes him potentially available.
If the Jets don't re-sign him, which they probably will not, then Chicago management needs to find out what he wants in terms of a contract and needs to consider adding him to the mix. Maybe Edwards could be that No. 1 receiver opposite of Knox and Hester who could put the Bears passing attack on the NFL map.
Bigs: Sidney Rice
Sidney Rice, WR, Vikings. Age: 25. Height: 6' 4" Weight: 202 lbs
The free agent prize at wide receiver (since, as noted before, Vincent Jackson doesn't really qualify) is the 25-year-old man from the purple gang up north, Sidney Rice. He is one of the league's top young receivers, is explosive and has shown flashes of greatness. The only problem is that he has been somewhat injury-prone.
From what has been circulating in the media, it looks like he will test free agency and determine his market value before considering re-signing with the Vikings. Why not? He is young, talented and the Viking quarterback situation is up in the air.
In his breakout year in 2009, Rice caught 83 balls for 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns. However, that was short lived and his only top-notch year. In an injury-riddled 2010 campaign, he only managed only 17 catches for 280 yards and two touchdowns. Is that something Chicago management should be concerned about? Sure is. But, is that enough to make it so that he is off limits? Not in the least. Every player is entitled to at least one reprieve after an injury-plagued season.
The question now becomes, what would it take to sign him? Is he looking for a giant deal? Probably. Would the Bears be willing to pony up? Maybe after last year's spending (which included stealing away a Viking in Taylor) and the amount of cap space Chicago has this year for signings. Wouldn't Chicago management love the opportunity to steal away a top notch receiver from Minnesota after they stole away Bernard Berrian a couple years back? Yup (but let's hope Rice fairs better on a new team than Berrian did after jetting Chicago).
The fact remains that Rice is young and talented and could be Cutler's side-kick for the next half decade if things pan out right. The Bears need to do their job, talk to Rice's agent and see to it that Rice is in navy and orange next year. He could be the Bears first all-pro receiver in a long time and would be the best fit for Chicago in my book.