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 player pages.

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

The crowd erupted as Joel Embiid stepped to the free throw line. They chanted a phrase Embiid has been repeating for the past two years, a fitting welcome to his NBA debut.

“That was great,” Embiid said after the Sixers' 103-97 loss to the Thunder on Wednesday in the season opener (see Instant Replay). “That’s my motto, 'Trust the process.'”

After two years of rehabbing foot injuries, Embiid has his first regular-season game behind him. Embiid scored a team-high 20 points, shooting 6 for 16 from the field, 1 for 3 from long range and 7 for 8 from the line. He also recorded seven rebounds, two blocks, four turnovers and four fouls in over 22 minutes. 

“The beginning I was nervous, but once you make that first shot, it just goes away,” he said. “The fans were so into the game that it was fun. I love having fun.”

Sixers head coach Brett Brown enjoyed watching Embiid on the court as much as the big man liked being on it. Brown has seen the 7-foot-2 center grow and develop during his rehab. Finally, he was able to utilize his versatile skills in a real game setting.

“I can't say this loud enough,” Brown said. “For the city to be rewarded with a player that we all understand has unique gifts, special gifts, for him to go through all the things he has been through and play like he did on opening night, the city deserves it. Most importantly, he deserves it.”

Now that Embiid has been cleared to play, he would like to do so for longer periods of time. He began the preseason at 12 minutes and was increased to 20 in segmented spurts for opening night. Even though he exceeded that limit by over two minutes, Embiid is itching to be cleared to play more extensively. 

“It sucks,” Embiid said. “I feel like I could have played more but you know you’ve got to trust the process, got to trust those guys. If I have my minute restriction at 20 minutes, I guess I’m going to go with that. But obviously I want to play more and more and I think it can help the team better. But they have a plan for me and I’ve got to follow it.”

Embiid has maintained he wants to be a clutch player. Brown looked to him toward the end of the game as the Thunder pulled ahead late in the final quarter. He drained a fadeaway jumper to tie the game at 97 apiece with 50.7 to go. 

Later trailing by four with 10 seconds left, the Sixers went to Embiid. While he was whistled for an offensive foul, Brown was glad to have a go-to unlike in years past. 

“You have a target,” Brown said. “We tried to get the ball to him a lot. … By and large, to have somebody like Joel, where the mystery is solved like, 'What do you do?' You get him the ball as much as you can.”

The more the Sixers found Embiid, the more the Thunder had to try to defend him. Thunder head coach Billy Donovan knew what his team was going up against. He watched Embiid as a high schooler and coached against him during his tenure at Florida. 

“He’s gifted and skilled,” Donovan said. “It was probably our guys' first time seeing him … I knew the talent, the gifts. The one thing with him is, he’s got great footwork. He’s hard to guard because he’s herky-jerky. He moves. He’s got a lot of [Hakeem] Olajuwon to him.”

Opening night had been two years in the making. Even though the Sixers didn't win, the significance of the evening didn't disappoint. 

"I thought this moment was going to be special," Embiid said, "and it was just great."

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

NEW ORLEANS -- Jusuf Nurkic scored 23 points, Will Barton added 22, and the Denver Nuggets survived a dominant performance by Anthony Davis to defeat the New Orleans Pelicans 107-102 in both teams' regular season opener Wednesday night.

Davis had 50 points, 16 rebounds, seven steals, five assists and four blocks. His production helped New Orleans trim a deficit as large as 14 late in the second quarter down to two points in the waning minutes. He simply didn't have enough help.

The rest of the Pelicans combined to shoot 21 of 58. Tim Frazier scored 15 for the Pelicans. E'Twaun Moore added 10 points, but missed a 3-point attempt that could have tied it with 24 seconds left.

Danilo Gallinari scored 15 for Denver and Wilson Chandler added 12 points (see full recap).

Celtics top Nets in Horford's home debut
BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas had 25 points and nine assists, Jae Crowder added 21 points and Al Horford pitched in 11 in his Boston debut on Wednesday night as the Celtics survived a late scare to beat the Brooklyn Nets 122-117 in their season opener.

Bojan Bogdanovic scored 21 for Brooklyn, including a 3-pointer to make it 120-117 with 47 seconds left after the Nets erased most of a 23-point deficit against the Boston bench. But he missed one with a chance to tie it after Joe Harris intercepted Thomas' cross-court pass, and the Celtics were able to hold on.

Justin Hamilton came off the bench to score 19 points and grab 10 rebounds for the Nets in coach Kenny Atkinson's debut (see full recap).

Turner's opening act leads Pacers past Mavs in OT
INDIANAPOLIS -- Myles Turner scored 30 points, tied his career high with 16 rebounds and made a 3-pointer with 1:18 left in overtime to start an 8-0 run that allowed the Indiana Pacers to close out a 130-121 victory Wednesday night over the Dallas Mavericks.

Three-time All-Star Paul George added 25 points, including another 3 with 55 seconds left to seal Indiana's fifth season-opening win in six years.

Deron Williams scored 25 points, while J.J. Barea and Dirk Nowitzki each added 22 as the Mavs lost their fifth straight in the series. They still haven't won in Indianapolis since February 2014.

Dallas didn't tie the score or take a lead until the fourth quarter, yet still forced overtime when Harrison Barnes' open 3-pointer made it 115-all with 2.3 seconds left.

Turner could have won it with a long buzzer-beating 3, but it bounced off the back of the rim (see full recap).