The amount of talented pro-caliber wide receivers in this free agency pool is nothing short of incredible. It's been a long time since you've seen anywhere near this many top tier options on the market at any position that isn't kicker. The downside is that countless teams are hungry for WR talent. The deepest position available in free agency will also far and away have the most aggressive suitors.
Some options, although not very many relative to other years, are virtual locks to return to their teams. As with Drew Brees last time, I'm exercising the personal option to strike one ridiculous non-scenario from our list. Wes Welker will not be on the list despite his impending FA status. He may not even be the best grab in free agency, but there is absolutely no way the Patriots let Welker walk away, and we all know it.
When reading this consider that, like last week, the rankings are arbitrary and based on perception of market demand for the receiver. The Jets aren't going to have a lot of cash on hand, and other teams that lack decent WR's on their roster will aggressively pursue and eventually sign the top names on these lists. The Jets will very likely have to settle on a receiver somewhere in the middle of this pool to replace Plaxico Burress, who in spite of criticism was far closer to a number one receiver than Santonio Holmes was for the vast majority of the season. But in spite of the Jets weak signing/bargaining position, looking at this assembly of players, it is very reasonable to expect that the Jets get a decent receiver at an equally decent price. One benefit of not being a top bidder is that you don't overspend or buy into something that isn't what you think it is.
List after the jump. Feel free to comment about who you'd like to see in a Jets uniform.
The Top Twelve
#1: Vincent Jackson
After simultaneously trying to both keep and not pay VJ, the San Diego Chargers may finally be willing to commit to a long term contract with the consistently successful receiver. Jackson's ability and track record, even in both tumultuous seasons where the team played poorly or Jackson held out most of the year. Jackson may very well try to distance himself from San Diego and A.J. Smith. I expect when Welker gets signed or tagged, Vincent Jackson will get the most calls expressing interest.
#2: Marques Colston
The Saints receiver is a true field stretcher that I've always personally hoped would come to the Jets. Colston is erratic in performance and sometimes struggles with injuries, but he definitely has the talent if you have the cash. What's interesting here is that the Saints have shown that they don't necessarily need him to succeed, but many teams could clamor for Marques to join them for a hefty sum. If the Saints play hard ball, they may find their receiving corps thin.
#3: DeSean Jackson
Although I have always been more of a fan of Jeremy Maclin, Jackson is nothing to scoff at. Yes, DeSean has made his fair share of boneheaded mistakes, and his reputation with the Eagles and the NFL aren't all they could be. Jackson made about half a million dollars last year and for the first time in his career, Jackson is playing down to his contract.
This receiver has tremendous upside and can easily be a number one receiver for his team. He's probably commanding less salary at this point, and I think many receiver starved teams will court him, that being the reason for his placing so high on the list. For what it's worth, the Eagles intend to franchise Jackson if they do cannot agree on a contract, so any team that wants him will likely have to trade for him.
#4: Dwayne Bowe
The Kansas City Chiefs top receiver has done extremely well for himself considering the offense he plays for. Imagine what a big, physical receiver like Bowe could do for another team. In my mind, even though he's too expensive and not realistic, what better replacement could you get for Plaxico? Dwayne is a tall, field stretching, scoring thread. Basically everything Plax used to be. Just because he has such skill, I kind of hope Bowe gets a chance to play somewhere else. Bowe is probably my personal #1 and may very well draw the most interest out of any free agent receiver.
#5: Reggie Wayne
Just the fact that the FA pool is deep enough that one bad year without his starting QB could bump Reggie Wayne down this far on the list really says something. Put yourself in Wayne's shoes. The entire organization has been redone, and the potential hall of fame Quarterback is gone. After the last year, the Colts are likely to offer Wayne as little as they can. Personally speaking, I would run hard and far for greener pastures if I were able. I think Wayne will improve and find his old identity, but I wouldn't be surprised if he's never as successful as we was catching passes from Peyton Manning. Who would be? You also have to take into account that Wayne is getting fairly old for football.
#6: Brandon Lloyd
He's old, but Lloyd can actually still play. I was skeptical too, but the St. Louis Rams have proven Lloyd is an affordable asset to have. I have nothing against Lloyd, but I would prefer to avoid him simply because his much larger body of work is far less impressive than his recent performances. It's worth noting that Brandon Lloyd does have quite a bit of downfield ability, and he will likely be a significant price drop off from the previous options.
#7: Stevie Johnson
Much like D Jackson, Stevie has played out a contract that never really rewarded the player commensurate with what he brought to the team. Johnson would probably be a very good #2, and I especially like his quickness on short passes, but the Buffalo Bills will aggressively attempt to re-sign him, and even if they don't I'm not sure Stevie would be a good fit for the Jets. I wonder if Johnson will blame God if he doesn't pull down a long term contract this year.
#8: Mario Manningham
Manningham is third banana for the New York Giants, and as you know the Super Bowl has given Mario a ridiculous bump in market value. One catch in the biggest of games might literally be the difference in millions of dollars for Manningham. I really don't care for Manningham as a receiving option, and I would like to avoid him. With that said, he probably wouldn't be a terrible #2 receiver at all. I'm weary of overpaying, as many Jet fans rightfully are.
#9: Laurent Robinson
Robinson is another third option, coming from the Cowboys. Robinson excelled in relief of Dallas receivers throughout last season, and the Cowboys may not want to pay him what other teams may be willing to. I strongly prefer Robinson over Manningham and other receivers that sit at third on their teams depth charts. 2011-12 was really a breakout season for Robinson, and any team would be wise to grab him up.
#10: Pierre Garçon
Garçon is another Indianapolis receiver who may very well find himself on the outs this year. Pierre went the full season last year and dispelled ideas that he couldn't stay healthy or was just a backup caliber WR benefiting off Peyton Manning. Playing a full season, it appears Garçon can be reasonably expected to accrue around or just under 1,000 yards no matter who is under center. That's promising.
#11: Robert Meachem
Meachem is probably the most likely of Saints to make an exodus this offseason, as the team has several (very expensive) potential free agents preparing to test the market. Meachem preformed slightly better than Plaxico Burress last season while sharing yards with Colston, Lance Moore, and Darren Sproles; all of whom got more targets. Whether this is a testament to how great Brees is, or how far down on the totem pole Meachem is remains to be seen.
#12. Jerome Simpson
You probably know Jerome as the player for the Cincinnati Bengals who scored a forward leaping flip touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals, leaping over the last defender between himself and the end zone before landing on his feet, in one of the most prolific scores of the entire 2011-12 season. Simpson celebrated his breakout season by getting arrested on charges of trafficking marijuana, driving his value all the way down. Simpson went from a great buy to a character and suspension risk. If Simpson clears his criminal charges you may be looking at a great value.
Others to consider:
Braylon Edwards has to be mentioned because many of you simply will not stop talking about him. Edwards suffered a knee injury last year and never got back to form, and this was after Edwards crashed and burned testing the market. The 49ers eventually cut Braylon with no replacement during the playoffs after already paying him the bulk of a 1 year 1 million dollar contract. While he might be worth a veteran minimum one year deal, I think people need to accept the fact that he's just damaged goods.
Eddie Royal is a consistent #2 guy and a decent field stretcher who will very likely not come very expensive. Royal's place with the Broncos has fallen into disuse since Tim Tebow took over under center. I personally feel he could be a great value acquisition
Deion Branch. Meh.
Dark Horses and everyone else of note:
Roy Williams (CHI), Ted Ginn Jr. (SF) Josh Morgan (SF) Earl Doucet (ARI) Donnie Avery (TEN) Domenik Hixon (NYG) Harry Douglas (ATL) Roscoe Parrish (BUF) Donte' Stallworth (WAS) Steve Smith (PHI) Ruvell Martin (BUF) T.J. Houshmandzadeh (OAK) Derek Hagan (BUF) Anthony Gonzalez (IND) Jerricho Cotchery (PIT) Greg Camarillo (MIN) Andre Caldwell (CIN) Patrick Crayton (SD) Bryant Johnson (HOU) Bernard Berrian (MIN) Rashied Davis (DET) Mark Clayton (STL) Michael Clayton (NYG) Devin Thomas (NYG) Chaz Schilens (OAK) Maurice Stovall (DET)
Not included are Restricted Free Agents (RFA's) and a bunch of other guys I've never heard of.