(CBS Local/CBS Boston) The NFL’s new league year begins on Wednesday, March 13th, and teams can begin officially signing free agents at that point. (They can negotiate beginning on March 11th.) As with every year, there are some big names hitting the market, so over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at the top free agents available at each position, while trying to pair them with the teams that need them the most.
There is one big caveat in play with the wide receiver market this year. Antonio Brown, who is under contract for three more years, is likely to be moved at some point over the next few months. The teams in play for his services will likely keep space open in order to bring him in, so it could slow market development until he’s moved. But that said, there are a couple of interesting options available at the top of the wide receiver market.
Randall Cobb, WR, Green Bay Packers
We start with Cobb who struggled with injuries last season, but even prior to last year, his production had continuously declined since his career-high year in 2014. That was the only year in his career in which he has surpassed 1,000 yards receiving. After being an explosive threat in the first four years of his career (14+ yards per reception 2011-2014), Cobb’s yards per catch numbers have dropped to right around 10 on average over the last four years. That is still very strong, but he hasn’t shown as much ability to stretch the field recently.
That all comes with a big caveat, which is Mike McCarthy’s playbook and play calling. Plenty have come out to say that the coach’s offense was too vanilla, which could have made it harder for Cobb to get open. The fact that Aaron Rodgers has been hurt on and off for the past several years could play into that drop-off too. Either way, teams looking for receiver help could do worse than bringing in Cobb. The Colts, Texans, Jets, and 49ers all immediately come to mind as teams that could use a weapon to help their quarterbacks out.
Donte Moncrief, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
Moncrief had the second-best season of his career this past year in Jacksonville, hauling in 48 passes for 668 yards and three touchdowns. His catch rate (53.9%) is concerning, but he’s still a young receiver at 25 years old who averaged over 13.9 yards per catch last year in a Jaguars offense not known for their aerial prowess. His age is his biggest advantage over the other two big names on this list, as he still has several more “prime” years available to any team interested.
Word is one of those teams is the New York Jets, who, as we said above, could certainly use more receiving options for young quarterback Sam Darnold. In this case, with his youth and the Jets ability to pair him with Darnold, New York makes the most sense of anyone.
Golden Tate, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
Tate never really found the right fit within Philadelphia’s offense. He had his moments certainly, particularly the game-winning two-point conversion in the Wild Card round that knocked out the Bears. But Doug Pederson and company never really found the best way to work him in. That said, he still put up 74 catches for 795 yards and seven touchdowns combined between the Eagles and Lions this year.
Tate, at age 30, definitely seems to have some good years left, and durability has never really been a big issue for him. In terms of fits, Tate himself has already weighed in on that front. While you may scoff at the idea of the Patriots adding him, they do need wide receiver help, and they also have the cap space (around $21 million) to make it happen. Tate would fit perfectly into the quick-hitting offense that Brady likes to run, and the potential pairing of the two is honestly a bit scary. Tate already has a connection there as former Detroit Lions teammate Kyle Van Noy is on the roster and has apparently told the receiver good things about the Pats organization.
Devin Funchess, WR, Carolina Panthers
Funchess is in the same category as Moncrief in terms of young receivers that teams could take a chance on, hoping that a change of scenery will produce even better results. His numbers dropped last year across the board from his career-best year in 2017, but that is also a result of fewer targets (79 vs. 111). Just 24 years old (he’ll be 25 by the season opener), he could still fulfill the promise he showed coming out of college. But he did not grade out well in Football Outsiders‘ metrics among wide receivers, ranking 61st out of 84 players who had a minimum of 50 targets.
As a big-bodied receiver (6’4″ 225 lbs), he presents as a possession receiver and red-zone option, but his catch rate of 56% is concerning for a possession guy. Maybe in a new environment he can live up to those expectations. Funchess, for his part, has maintained that he wants to stay in Carolina. If he were to leave, the same grouping of teams apply. Colts, Jets, Texans, 49ers or, potentially the Jaguars, who may have a need if Moncrief leaves in free agency.