Sizing Up the Free Agent Wide Receivers

Sizing Up the Free Agent Wide Receivers

As we head into the NFL Scouting Combine, where the Eagles will meet with Drew Rosenhaus in a last-ditch effort to negotiate a new contract for DeSean Jackson, there are some who feel the team should not place the franchise tag on Jackson if an agreement can't be reached -- or at all.

Jackson is carrying some baggage right now. He's coming off a down year, his attitude has been increasingly called into question, and nobody is sure how a 5-10, 175 lbs. receiver will hold up as time marches forward. Meanwhile, there is a crowded field of free agent receivers, including quite a few Pro Bowlers, who the Eagles could pursue if they only decided to let DJacc walk.

Whether or not that would be wise is the source of some debate, but we suppose you could start with who would be a candidate to replace him. After the jump, we rank 10 free agents who could take DeSean's place, how realistic it is they come to Philly, and whether or not it is actually an upgrade. Keep in mind, the rankings are specific to the Eagles and DeSean Jackson, so Wes Welker doesn't rate very high here. We explain.

1. Dwayne Bowe
A near certainty to be franchise tagged, Bowe is somewhat underrated despite being considered one of the top free agent wide receivers. His 2010 numbers were almost identical to this season, except he scored 15 touchdowns the year prior. He's managed to rack up nearly 5,000 yards and scored 36 touchdowns in his five-year career while playing without a decent or even competent quarterback much of the time. He has elite talent and size, but does not appear to be going anywhere just yet.

2. Mike Wallace
Wallace is only a restricted free agent, which means the Steelers can match any offer sheet. If they choose not to match, the team that signs Wallace trades their first round pick to Pittsburgh. While Wallace appears to be the better, safer option than Jackson, the Eagles can't afford to part with the 15th pick in the draft for a slight upgrade at wide receiver -- and there is even a chance Wallace gets hit with the franchise tag.

3. Marques Colston
It seems Colston always manages to fly under the radar when we talk about premier players, but if the Eagles were to go out and sign another wide receiver, he is my favorite (available) big name option. Colston averages more receptions, yards, and even touchdowns per season than Vincent Jackson, and he's been plain more consistent over his six-year career. What he lacks in explosive athleticism, he makes up for in size and hands. Some suggest his success could be a product of playing with Drew Brees, and he has lengthy history of injuries, but he's a guy I would be willing to take a chance on.

4. Vincent Jackson
The other Jackson draws an interesting parallel to the Philly version. Obviously, Vincent is a much bigger target, and therefore more versatile in the red zone. However, his career numbers are not significantly better. Vincent's single-season career high for receptions is 68; Desean's is 62. Vincent's career-high yards: 1,167; DeSean's: 1,156. Vincent's TD's: 9; DeSean's: 9. I still prefer his size, but he's older, and Rotoworld estimates he'll receive a five-year deal worth $55 million. That is an expensive, long-term commitment to a relatively minor upgrade over DJacc.

5. Steve Johnson
Our friends over at Bleeding Green Nation have stated that Jackson should be looking for a contract similar to whatever Johnson receives from Buffalo -- if he's retained. Like Jackson, Johnson has demonstrated a tendency to develop the dropsies, and his showboating antics often get him in trouble on the field. Johnson's not as much of a big-play threat though, which makes Jackson the more dynamic of the two. It's still a fair comparison on some levels, but the Birds would be better off with their own guy if Johnson reaches free agency. At least Jackson knows the system.

6. Wes Welker
Welker is an interesting case in that he obviously has far better numbers than Jackson, but in terms of pure talent, he's not on the same level. Welker has mostly made his living in New England lining up in the slot, or working short and intermediate routes all over the field. There's nothing wrong with that, and he's the best in the business at it, but Jackson is better for the Eagles' vertical version of the West Coast offense. Plus, observers believe the Patriots will franchise him.

7. Reggie Wayne
After a long and storied career, Wayne appears to be winding down. Last season's numbers can be pinned on poor play under center, but his yards per catch and touchdowns have been trending down for a few years now. He might have a few more productive seasons left in the tank, but no way he is a viable replacement for Jackson.

8. Brandon Lloyd
We're very surprised Lloyd has been rated as highly as he has. This is a player who has exactly one great season in a nine-year NFL career, and he recently expressed interest in once again playing for the only offensive coordinator who has been able to get the best out of him. That would be Josh McDaniels, who is back in New England, so Lloyd might as well be off the market. Regardless, he makes for a risky signing anyplace else.


9. Plaxico Burress
At this stage of his career, Burress appears to be just a situational player. That doesn't mean the Eagles couldn't sign him for a red zone target, where he really excelled with the Jets last season. However, he's certainly no replacement for what Jackson brings to the table.

10. Randy Moss
At one point, Moss was undoubtedly the best receiver in the league, and easily was the greatest deep threat of all time, but those days are behind Moss. He bounced between three teams in 2010, in part due to attitude problems, and sat out all of last season after he failed to put up any meaningful numbers in any situation.

DeSean Jackson
Strike Bowe and Wallace from the board, as they won't be available for a reasonable price (or at all), and the only two players who might be considered a clear-cut upgrade for the Eagles are Marques Colston and Vincent Jackson. Neither of them are elite, both of them surrounded by question marks.

The price tag isn't much better. VJax will land an expensive, long-term contract for production that doesn't far supersede DJacc. If one estimate is right, it will be more per year than DeSean earns on the franchise tag. Colston presumably will also make bank somewhere in the same neighborhood as DeSean, though it could be slightly more reasonable.

That probably doesn't change anybody's mind, as part of the discussion seems to be based on a backlash toward DeSean, but the one-year franchise tender still seems like the best way to go. Rather than pick over some other team's scraps, and pay huge money for moderate upgrades, they can keep their own guy for at least one more season, then draft and begin to mold their own replacement.

Player bios and stats screen caps courtesy of NFL.com player pages.

Eagles LB Myke Tavarres will join Colin Kaepernick, won't stand for national anthem

Eagles LB Myke Tavarres will join Colin Kaepernick, won't stand for national anthem

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick made headlines last week when he refused to stand for the national anthem during a preseason game, and an Eagles linebacker fighting for a roster spot says he'll do the same in their final preseason contest.

Kaepernick decided not to stand because of the divisive and violent racial issues that have been building in America. Tavarres has taken a similar stance, telling ESPN.com's Tim McManus on Monday that he nearly followed Kaepernick's lead by sitting out the anthem in Indianapolis.

"Oh, I thought about it. Believe me, I definitely thought about it," Tavarres told ESPN. "And usually I'm front and center on the line with the rest of the guys, and that's since pre-K all the way up. Saturday's game, I stepped back, I was in the background, and it didn't feel right to me at all, and so I will be taking a stand — or sitting down — for the fourth game.

"We've got an issue in this country in this day and age, and I feel like somebody needs to step up and we all need to step up. We've got that right. There's just a lot going on that people don't want to talk about, and I feel like us as athletes, we're looked at as role models. And I feel like with Colin Kaepernick, he's doing a great job for standing up in what he believes in, and most people may not like that, but that's his opinion, he's entitled to it, and I respect him for doing it."

According to the report, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz had players express their feelings about the topic during a meeting Monday and Tavarres was one of the players who spoke, along with team leader Malcolm Jenkins and cornerback Leodis McKelvin.

Jenkins discussed the topic with USA Today over the weekend.

"At some point, I think guys in multiple sports across the country, guys are starting to realize if we do want a change, it is something we need to get involved in at some point," Jenkins said.

“I have already done some things. I have spoken to the police commissioner of Philadelphia. We are trying to come up with some plans to do some stuff on the ground and get some work done. A lot of what is going on in the country is outrageous. I try to be careful. I ask myself what is the outcome that I want to see and how do I go about that?

"At the end of the day when it comes down to relationships of African Americans in this country right now, my entire family is black. I can sit on my stage and act like these things don’t apply to me but my two brothers, my dad, my mom, all of them are dealing with the same thing."

Tavarres, meanwhile, is not a lock to make the Eagles' final 53-man roster, but their lack of depth at backup linebacker has created an opportunity for him. Dave Zangaro had Tavarres on the practice squad in his roster projection Monday. 

"In this situation, I've really got nothing to lose," Tavarres told McManus. "I'm a rookie free agent, haven't signed any major contract, so there's not a lot of money on the line, I don't have any big endorsement deals on the line. Really what's at stake is my pride and what kind of man would I be and what kind of African-American would I be if I didn't stand my ground on this issue we have today?

"[It] needs to be done. Will there be backlash? Probably. I don't think anyone has bought my jersey yet, so I don't know if it's going to be burned, but it's a major issue and I'm definitely going to stand my ground for this one."

Sean Couturier excited to play for Team North America at World Cup after rehabbing all summer

Sean Couturier excited to play for Team North America at World Cup after rehabbing all summer

VOORHEES, N.J. -- The last time Sean Couturier played a meaningful game, he got drilled into the side boards by Washington’s Alex Ovechkin.
 
Couturier suffered an A/C sprain in his left shoulder during the second period of Game 1 against the Capitals and missed the remainder of the playoffs.
 
“Most of the summer was a lot of rehab, trying to strengthen that shoulder,” said the Flyers center, who is practicing at Skate Zone. “Now I feel good. I’m not gonna lie, it took me longer than I thought.”
 
The 23-year-old reported early. He’ll travel to Montreal on Sept. 4 for Team North America’s training camp and the upcoming World Cup of Hockey Tournament next month.
 
“I’m trying to skate as much as I can to get back in the rhythm,” Couturier said. “I think it’s going to be tough to get in the rhythm right away. We’re not used to playing that high level hockey in September, but every guy on every team is going to be like that.
 
“Once we get out there, the level is going to be pretty high right off the bat. I think it can help me personally be ready for the season and step right into game action.”

Eight Flyers will participate in the eight-team competition. The others: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Claude Giroux, Shayne Gostisbehere, Mark Streit, Radko Gudas, Jakub Voracek and Michal Neuvirth.
 
Team North America is comprised of age 23-and-under players.
 
“I don’t really listen too much to the hype and stuff in the summer, but we can definitely surprise some people,” Couturier predicted. “I don’t think there’s much attention for our team. Really no one knows what we’re gonna look like.
 
“We’re gonna try and surprise the world, basically and try to win the tournament. We’re not going there as tourists. We feel we have a good group and a lot of skill and speed and we’ll surprise some teams for sure.”
 
Couturier is a perfect North American because he has dual citizenship – U.S. and Canada. Though born in Phoenix, he spent nearly his entire childhood in Canada.
 
“For me, I’m dual citizenship, so that’s the way I see it,” Couturier said of playing favorites. “It’s a little different, but at the same time the mindset is more about trying to win the tournament. Once you’re out there and on a team you’re just trying to win and I think that’s what we’re looking forward to.”
 
This tournament offers Couturier a chance to test his shoulder competitively before pre-season NHL games start.
 
Obviously, the Flyers will open camp here without some of their best players.
 
“Everyone’s had a long summer, so I think everyone’s kind of looking forward to getting back into action,” Couturier said. “We’re lucky. We’re fortunate to get back into action earlier than we usually do. I’m just happy to be part of it and live the experience.
 
“I know a little what to expect international-wise – I went to the Worlds two years ago. This is going to be high level. No easy games.”
 
Loose pucks
Ten players, including Gostisbehere and free agent Russian forward Roman Lyubimov, who was signed in July, are also working out at Skate Zone, which is under major reconstruction. … Because of construction, the Phantoms dressing room no longer exists. The Flyers have a logistics problem of where the majority of their players are going to dress during camp. ... Construction won’t be completed until sometime this fall. … As part of the club’s 50th anniversary celebration, the Flyers have decorated walls throughout their dressing room area with steel plates from old newspaper pages, and other media, commemorating their two Stanley Cups plus other historic moments from the past. … Brayden Schenn, who will miss the first three games of the regular season on a suspension, will play in preseason.

Flyers' farm system ranked 6th in NHL by ESPN

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Flyers' farm system ranked 6th in NHL by ESPN

There's a lot of enthusiasm surrounding the future of Philly sports, although between the Phillies, Eagles and Sixers, the Flyers tend to go a little overlooked this time of year.

Maybe that shouldn't be the case. Not only are the Flyers coming off of a playoff season, unlike the other local teams, but their future might be as bright as any of the other three. Just look at their farm system, which is ranked sixth in the NHL by Corey Pronman for ESPN.com (Insider), up from number 10 last year.

It's hard to criticize the Flyers' system. Talented all-around centers? Check. Dynamic big defensemen? Check. Ridiculous goaltender depth? Check. Depth through their amateur and professional ranks? Check. Players with star upside? Check. They don't have an Auston Matthews-caliber player in the pipeline, but that player doesn't stay in your system longer than three months anyhow. Ron Hextall emphasizes patience in developing players, so I do expect this system to remain at a high level for another two seasons as the build continues.

The Flyers may not have an Auston Matthews-type, who happened to be first-overall pick in this year's NHL draft. Among the prospects they do have however are forward Travis Konecny, defensemen Ivan Provorov, Samuel Morin and Travis Sanehim and goaltender Anthony Stolarz, several of whom are already knocking on the door. This comes on the heels of what was considered another strong draft for the franchise in June as well.

And let's not forget, one of the Flyers' top prospects joined the club last season. Shayne Ghostisbehere isn't accounted for in these rankings for obvious reasons, but the fact of the matter is the dynamic blue-liner is only 23 and should be wearing orange and black for a long time.

Of course, Flyers fans already know the future is bright. Then again, seeing how their farm system is viewed relative to other teams around the league goes to show just what an outstanding job general manager Ron Hextall has done rebuilding the prospect pipeline.