Need for playmakers has receivers going fast this offseason

In the week since teams began their shopping spree for proven talent, one clear trend is that wide receivers are in high demand.

Most clubs in need of receiver help decided to go out and get it rather than wait for next month's draft.

Certainly, those teams could still draft receivers, but the sense of urgency to find a proven commodity in this pass-driven league is obvious.

As Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland told reporters during the NFL Scouting Combine, "Every offense needs big playmakers."

The Dolphins are still in the market for one, but the Detroit Lions were so determined to get theirs that on the eve of the free-agency signing period they dispatched offensive coordinator Scott Linehan to Seattle to meet with Seahawks free-agent receiver Nate Burleson, whom Linehan coached when he was offensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings. Hours later, Burleson was a Lion.

A more recent example came Wednesday when the Cincinnati Bengals gave 29-year-old Antonio Bryant, slowed by knee problems with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season after a big 2008 campaign, a reported four-year contract worth $28 million to be a complement to Chad Ochocinco.

Earlier in the week, the Pittsburgh Steelers added depth at the position (while also helping their special teams) by signing former San Francisco 49er Arnaz Battle and bringing back Antwaan Randle El.

After the Lions signed Burleson to a five-year contract worth $25 million (including $11 million guaranteed), the Baltimore Ravens landed perhaps the best receiver available by trading with the Arizona Cardinals for Anquan Boldin, and then gave him a three-year contract extension worth $25 million in new money (including $10 million guaranteed).

The Lions are convinced Burleson can do plenty to help prevent opponents from consistently employing coverages to eliminate their No. 1 receiver, Calvin Johnson, from the game. Linehan saw Burleson effectively play that role for Randy Moss in Minnesota.

Boldin isn't a burner, but at 29 he still offers plenty of game-breaking ability, something the Ravens sorely lacked. He has overcome injuries to average more than 81 receptions over the last three seasons. And with Baltimore re-signing steady Derrick Mason, the team now has one of the more formidable receiving duos in the NFL.

The Houston Texans made sure they didn't lose a crucial part of their explosive passing game by re-signing Kevin Walter, who has developed into a chain-moving force on third down, to a reported five-year, $21.5-million contract (including $8 million guaranteed).

The Philadelphia Eagles also saw the value of keeping their own by signing Jason Avant, a restricted free agent, to a reported five-year deal worth $18 million (including $8 million guaranteed). Ditto for the Kansas City Chiefs, who re-signed Chris Chambers to a three-year, $12-million agreement (including $6 million guaranteed). On top of that, Chiefs coach Todd Haleyis also reuniting with former Arizona receiver Jerheme Urban, whom Haley coached as offensive coordinator for the Cardinals.

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The Dolphins made one of the bigger splashes in free agency with the signing of former Arizona Cardinals inside linebacker Karlos Dansby. However, they haven't found a wideout, either because the price wasn't right or they wanted to avoid bringing a "diva receiver" into the fold.

That leaves Miami likely counting on the draft to find one, although it's risky because few receivers make an impact as rookies and Dolphins executive vice president of football operations Bill Parcells has never selected a receiver in the first two rounds of a draft he has overseen.

The current college crop offers good depth, but there are some significant question marks surrounding the two highest-rated receivers. Dez Bryant of Oklahoma State received a season-ending suspension from the NCAA last October, and didn't run at the combine because of a hamstring injury. Demaryius Thomas of Georgia Tech is recovering from a broken foot.

The Seattle Seahawks kicked the tires on Denver Broncos restricted free-agent receiver Brandon Marshall, but so far have apparently been unwilling to make a contract offer that, if unmatched by the Broncos, could cost them the No. 6 overall pick of the draft. There has been speculation that the teams might work out a trade that would cost the Seahawks less in draft-choice compensation, but it remains to be seen if such a deal can get done.

Another restricted free agent, Miles Austin of the Dallas Cowboys, is highly talented, but seemingly not enough for another club to risk giving up first- and third-round draft picks if the Cowboys didn't match a contract offer for him. New York Jets receiver Braylon Edwards has the same restricted status, although his inconsistency prevents him from attracting much interest.

The signings of Burleson, Walter, Chambers, Bryant, and Mason have left the receiver pickings in the unrestricted market slim.

After the Bengals chose Bryant over him, Terrell Owens is still available. But at 36, he might be viewed as too old to have a meaningful impact, even at a much lower salary than the $6.5 million he received from the Buffalo Bills last season.

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