Oakland Raiders' Top Free-Agency Targets at Wide Receiver

Brian Flores@@Raiders_TrackerContributor IIIJanuary 29, 2015

Oakland Raiders' Top Free-Agency Targets at Wide Receiver

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    Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

    The Oakland Raiders are heading into yet another offseason with more questions than answers. After a 3-13 season, the team is in the process of completely rebuilding its coaching staff. That's a big step in the right direction, but it won't mean much if the new coaches don't have the personnel on the field to turn things around.

    Last offseason, Oakland had more than $60 million to spend, but what the front office did with these funds was unimpressive to say the least. Rather than bring in real difference-makers, Reggie McKenzie instead opted to try to fill as many roster spots as possible with veterans who were clearly past their prime. The hope was to get high production at a discounted price.

    This paid off in some circumstances—Donald Penn, Charles Woodson—but the approach was a failure overall. 

    This upcoming offseason, the Raiders will once again have plenty of money to spend. According to ESPN.com's Bill Williamson, the Raiders should have at least $47 million. This time around, McKenzie has to spend to win.

    Oakland has plenty of areas that need improvement, but part of that money has to go toward adding a proven playmaker at wide receiver. The team is set at quarterback with Derek Carr. Now, it's a matter of getting him some real weapons.

    Here's a list of Oakland's top targets at the position.

Why a Wide Receiver?

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    The Raiders have searched desperately for a franchise quarterback since the retirement of Rich Gannon after the 2004 season. If you think this search hasn't been desperate, check out the quarterbacks who have taken regular-season snaps for Oakland since then:

    Rich MirerMarques TuiasosopoKerry CollinsAndrew Walter
    Aaron BrooksJosh McCownDaunte CulpepperJaMarcus Russell
    Bruce GradkowskiCharlie FryeJason CampbellCarson Palmer
    Kyle BollerTerrell PryorMatt FlynnMatt McGloin

    The Raiders finally found the answer to this problem in last year's draft when Derek Carr fell to them in the second round. It was an up-and-down year for the rookie, and he certainly struggled at times, but he also showed flashes of how good he can be. More importantly, these good signs weren't an accident. He has both the talent and the dedication to lead this franchise out of the NFL cellar.

    However, he can't do it alone. Oakland had an interesting receiving corps in 2014, but there wasn't a single true No. 1 receiver in the bunch, and that was frustratingly obvious week after week. The truth is that at times it was hard to say that the team even had a true No. 2 receiver.

    The NFL has become more and more of a quarterback league. The Raiders found their man in Carr. Now it's time to get him some real weapons, starting with a receiving option who can be a threat every play. This single addition will change the face of the entire offense.

    This offseason is especially deep at wide receiver. Oakland can't afford to miss out. The team has the money to get its man. Now, the Raiders just have to go out and do it.

Honorable Mentions

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    This offseason's crop of free-agent wide receivers will be especially deep. But with so many options, it can be easy to swing and miss. The Raiders have to get a true, reliable, every-down No. 1 option, and they can't settle for anything less.

    Here's a list of intriguing options that Oakland should pass on.

    Torrey Smith

    Smith is an interesting prospect. He's consistently shown the potential to carry the load as a No. 1 receiver, but he's never had to. In four seasons as a pro, he's had more than 50 receptions only once. 

    In general, he has proved to be opportunistic, managing to turn unimpressive reception totals into scores.

    SeasonReceptionsTDs
    2011507
    2012498
    2013654
    20144911

    However, the Raiders need to bring in someone who can be counted on for 80-85 catches or more in a season. Smith has never had to do that. Signing him would be in part based on the assumption that he can make that leap.

    Michael Crabtree

    The 2009 draft presented several exciting options at wide receiver, and Crabtree was identified by most as the best of the bunch. He was there when the Raiders picked seventh overall, but Al Davis instead opted for Darius Heyward-Bey.

    It seemed like a huge mistake at the time, but Crabtree hasn't really done much since. Aside from the 2012 season when he finished with 85 receptions for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns, he's never really looked the part of a reliable No. 1 option. He's also been slowed down by injuries, having played 16 games only twice in his six seasons.

    The Raiders aren't looking for depth at wide receiver. They're looking for a true No. 1, and Crabtree hasn't proved that he's that player.

    Kenny Britt

    At 6'3 and 223 pounds, Britt has the look of a go-to receiver. But he's never been able to live up to expectations. He has only 22 touchdown receptions in six seasons, and he's played a full season only twice.

    Britt has also proved to be a headache off the field, being involved in police-related incidents no fewer than nine times since entering the NFL. That's a problem that a rebuilding team doesn't need.

    Oakland can't afford to gamble. It needs a proven, reliable performer, something that Britt is not.

    Hakeem Nicks

    Nicks was once considered one of the NFL's top up-and-coming receivers. But he hasn't had an impressive season since 2011, and he's been living off that success since.

    The New York Giants finally decided to part ways with him after the 2013 season, and the Indianapolis Colts picked him up. With Andrew Luck throwing him the ball, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to resurrect his career. However, even with Reggie Wayne going down with an injury, Nicks finished with only 38 receptions. 

    At this point, he's no more than a complementary piece, and Oakland already has plenty of those.

4. Dez Bryant

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press
    2014 Regular-Season Stats
    Rec
    TDsYds
    88 (12th)16 (1st)1320 (8th)

    *Overall regular season rankings in parentheses

    Projected Salary: Six years, $100 million

    First, let's make one thing clear: Dez Bryant is the best wide receiver available, and he's arguably the best wide receiver in the league. So why isn't he ranked first on this list?

    One word: disruptive.

    For all of his playmaking ability, Bryant is regularly a problem. Sure, it might just be that he's really, really passionate. But that doesn't change the fact that his constant temper tantrums are a huge distraction. He showed plenty of that in 2014, and that was with a 12-4 Dallas Cowboys team that won its division and went to the playoffs.

    How's he going to act on a team in the middle of a massive rebuild where making the playoffs is a stretch?

    He's also likely to demand the highest price of any wide receiver. The Raiders have the money to spend, but this isn't a team that's a piece or two away from contention. It still has to leave some money to effectively plug other holes on the roster.

    Bryant would be a huge boost to both the offense and the team as a whole. But along with his performance, the team would also get the antics. Oakland would have to decide whether it's willing to live with the headache.

3. Randall Cobb

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    USA TODAY Sports
      2014 Regular-Season Stats
    RecTDsYds
    91 (t-9th)12 (t-12th)1287 (11th)

    *Overall regular season rankings in parentheses

    Projected Salary: Four years, $42 million

    Cobb has shown everything you want to see from a top wide receiver: crisp route running, good hands, the ability to create yards after the catch and a nose for the end zone. These are elements of his game that he's exhibited on a consistent basis for years.

    The problem is that he's never actually had to be a No. 1 wide receiver. With the Green Bay Packers, Cobb has actually officially been the No. 2 option behind Jordy Nelson. Cobb's stats are no less impressive, but the fact that the opposition's top cornerback has most often been on Nelson's side, not Cobb's, can't be ignored.

    Still, he's done more than enough in recent seasons to show he's ready for the responsibility. There also remains the connection between Packers players and McKenzie, who used to work in Green Bay's front office. That might make Cobb more willing to listen to an offer from Oakland.

    He's only 24 years old. This means he could command a high price as a No. 1 option, but Oakland has the money to spend. The price tag shouldn't be a problem, and it would be a great move for the Raiders to sign Cobb to a long-term deal that will keep him in Oakland as he enters his prime.

2. Jeremy Maclin

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press
    2014 Regular-Season Stats
    RecTDsYds
    85 (t-13th)10 (t-12)1318 (9th)

    *Overall regular season rankings in parentheses

     Projected Salary: Four years, $45 million

    For years, Maclin played in the shadow of DeSean Jackson. He then missed the entire 2013 season due to injury, and many questioned whether he would be able to bounce back and fill the void left by Jackson's departure.

    In 2014, Maclin's performance left no doubt of his abilities.

    He played all 16 games coming off his injury, and he was consistently productive despite the Philadelphia Eagles' unsettled quarterback situation. No matter who was throwing the ball, Maclin always found a way to get open, bring in the pass and find the end zone. He was given the No. 1 responsibility, and he proved that he's capable of doing the job on a regular basis.

    Maclin would give the Oakland offense something it completely lacks: a reliable receiving threat who can move the chains and score touchdowns. He's also relatively affordable. He'll cost Oakland somewhere around $10-11 million per season, but he's worth it.

1. Demaryius Thomas

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    USA TODAY Sports
     2014 Regular-Season Stats
    RecTDsYds
    111 (2nd)11 (t-10th)1619 (2nd)

    *Overall regular season rankings in parentheses

    Projected Salary: Five years, $75 million

    Of all the options available, Demaryius Thomas is the best one for Oakland. He's as productive as Cobb, and he's a proven No. 1 option. He's a playmaker on par with Bryant without the distractions. He's more consistent than Maclin and doesn't have the injury history.

    Some might think that Thomas' success is the result of playing in the Denver Broncos' pass-happy offense. But before he was catching passes from Peyton Manning, he spent 2011 catching passes from some guy named Tim Tebow. Denver specifically avoided passing that season, yet Thomas had 32 receptions (24 of which went for a first down) and four touchdowns and still averaged 17.2 yards per catch.

    Playing with Manning also highlighted an important element of Thomas' game that doesn't show up in the stats: He knows his place in the offense. His focus is to step onto the field and do his job. Bryant might be a better playmaker, but Thomas isn't far behind. He provides premier production without the headache.

    Since 2011, Thomas has averaged better than 14 yards per catch each season. He's the definition of a deep threat. In Thomas, Oakland would get one of the NFL's elite wide receivers.

    Yes, he's expensive. But at 27, he's just entering his prime. His addition would not only improve the passing game but the offense overall. He's that dangerous.

Conclusion

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    The Raiders finished 3-13 for good reason. But the difference between a playoff team and a team on the outside looking in isn't that great in the NFL. It often comes down to just a few plays here and there. Oakland's biggest problem in 2014 was when the team needed someone to make that play, no one stepped up to make it.

    In no area was this problem as glaring as at wide receiver. The Raiders have some interesting options at the position, but there's no true No. 1. Adding this single piece will make a world of difference for the development of Carr and for the progression of the offense as a whole.

    The team now finds itself in an opportune position. It has plenty of money to spend in a year where there are a lot of options to fill this need. It's now up to the front office to make it happen.

    Unless otherwise noted, all stats taken from ESPN.comContract projections for next season taken from Spotrac (h/t Bleacher Report's Alessandro Miglio).

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