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.

NHL Notes: Rangers' Kevin Hayes out 2-3 weeks with lower-body injury

NHL Notes: Rangers' Kevin Hayes out 2-3 weeks with lower-body injury

NEW YORK -- New York Rangers forward Kevin Hayes will miss two to three weeks with a lower-body injury.

The team announced the timeline Monday after Hayes underwent an MRI in the morning. Hayes left the Rangers' game Sunday against the Detroit Red Wings during the second period.

Hayes had seven points in his previous six games and is third on the team in points with 35. The 24-year-old has 13 goals and 22 assists in 47 games this season.

His injury is a major blow to New York, which holds the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. The silver lining for the Rangers is that Hayes will miss fewer games because of the upcoming All-Star break.

Senators sign Zack Smith to 4-year, $13 million extension
OTTAWA, Ontario -- The Ottawa Senators have signed forward Zack Smith to a four-year contract extension worth $13 million.

The Senators said that the extension goes through the 2020-21 season and carries an annual average value of $3.25 million.

Smith, 28, has 11 goals and 11 assists in 43 games this season and is averaging a career-high 16 minutes, 13 seconds per game.

He set career highs with 25 goals and 36 points in 2015-16. He has 75 goals and 61 assists in 443 games, all with the Senators.

Smith was Ottawa's third-round pick (79th overall) in the 2008 draft.

Stay or Go Part 8: Ryan Mathews to Steven Means

Stay or Go Part 8: Ryan Mathews to Steven Means

In the eighth of our 12-part offseason series examining the future of the Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster in 2017. We go alphabetically — Part 8 is Mathews to Means.

Ryan Mathews
Cap hit: $5M

Roob: The Eagles have to get better, younger, faster, healthier, more durable and more reliable at running back. I love the way Mathews runs when he’s healthy. The guy runs hard and he runs physical and he's aggressive. Then he always gets hurt. Mathews actually has the third-highest per-carry average among running backs in Eagles history, but they just can’t rely on him anymore. How can you count on a running back who misses significant time every year? Time to move on. Factor in the cap savings — $4 million if the Eagles release him — and it’s a no-brainer.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: The Eagles can save $4 million in cap room to cut the running back who needed serious neck surgery after his season was ended in the Giants' game. Mathews played pretty well in his two seasons with the Eagles, but, as has been the case during his career, health was an issue. And now he’s 29 and will turn 30 early into next season. Time to move on. 

Verdict: GOES

Jordan Matthews
Cap hit: $1.57M

Roob: Matthews is going into Year 4 and I’d still like to see him make a jump and become a 1,200-yard type of receiver. Maybe it will happen with another year under his belt with Carson Wentz. Matthews has the 11th-most catches in NFL history by a player in his first three seasons — 225, or 75 per year — but his 2,673 yards are 50th most. Matthews is as hard a worker and as committed a player as you’ll see. He'll get the most out of his ability. I’d just like to see him take his game up one more level, and I think he will.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: It’s a shame the Eagles don’t have any legitimate threats at their outside receiver positions, because if they did, so much of the burden wouldn’t fall on Matthews. No, he’s not a great receiver, but he’s a very good one who has been solid in his first three years in the league. In his first three seasons, Matthews has 225 catches for 2,673 yards and 19 touchdowns. There have been just 10 receivers in the league to put up those numbers or better: Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Demaryius Thomas, Odell Beckham Jr., DeAndre Hopkins, Emmanuel Sanders, Doug Baldwin, Mike Evans, Randall Cobb and Brandon Marshall. Matthews isn’t going anywhere and it’s time to think about an extension. 

Verdict: STAYS

Alex McCalister
Cap hit: $557K

Roob: McCalister, a seventh-round defensive end, spent the year on injured reserve but considering the Eagles’ lack of pass-rush potency, he’ll definitely get a look this summer. McCalister had 17½ sacks at Florida, so he’s got that going for him. Still a long shot.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: This is tough because McCalister was a seventh-round draft pick who was placed on IR with a injury that didn’t appear to be serious. The last year was a redshirt season for the defensive end who has some pass-rush ability but needed to work on packing more muscle onto his frame. Haven’t seen enough to think he sticks. 

Verdict: GOES

Leodis McKelvin
Cap hit: $3.45M

Roob: The Eagles have to do better than McKelvin. He made a few plays, gave up a lot more, and as far as I’m concerned, the Eagles should hang onto Jalen Mills and get rid of all their other corners. Not to mention the $3.2 million in cap savings the Eagles would gain if McKelvin is released. See ya.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: The Eagles can save $3.2 million by cutting McKelvin, which will probably happen. If it doesn’t, it’ll be because the Eagles think his lingering hamstring issue played a big role in his play and because defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz goes to bat for him. Ultimately, I think McKelvin’s days in Philly are over. 

Verdict: GOES

Rodney McLeod
Cap hit: $5.6M

Roob: McLeod played really well most of the season, tailed off the last few weeks, and goes into next year a question mark because of that inconsistency. When he’s right, McLeod is a sure tackler, willing run supporter, big hitter and capable in coverage. But those last few weeks raised some eyebrows. There were times you just wondered what he was doing out there. If the Eagles can have the first-10-games McLeod for a full season, they’re fine. But he has to be consistent. He’ll be here through 2017 but after that is anybody’s guess. Another mixed year will likely spell the end here for McLeod.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: There were a few plays that showed questionable effort from McLeod this season, which was shocking based on his past. He was an undrafted rookie who worked his way into the league and into a contract with the Eagles. This ended up being a pretty good signing; he had a nice season. He’s under contract through 2020 and the Eagles hope he hasn’t yet fulfilled his potential. He and Malcolm Jenkins should only get better after more time playing together. 

Verdict: STAYS

Steven Means
Cap hit: $690K

Roob: Means, a veteran journeyman defensive end, played only 36 snaps all year. He did pick up one sack against the Vikings, but as far as his future? Most likely, he won’t be back.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Means did everything in his power last training camp to make the 2016 roster. He flashed every day and in the preseason games. But in 2016, he didn’t get to play very much and was clearly buried on the depth chart behind Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry and Marcus Smith. The Eagles need to upgrade at the defensive end spot, which might be bad news for Means if more bodies come in. But for now, he's a good depth piece. 

Verdict: STAYS