Once free agency finally begins, who among the crop of potential free-agent wide receivers would interest teams most?
Michael Lombardi: Jackson fits the bill
To add a veteran wide receiver to my team, the first thing I would have to know is what type of receiver I want. The vertical outside-the-numbers route runner, or the shift-inside runner. Building a wide receiver corps is like building a basketball team, you must have a group of players who work well on the field. Therefore, the most important piece and hardest to find is the outside wide receiver with the big body, who is capable of running inside routes, (slants for example) and capable of being a huge factor in the red zone. My choice would be Vincent Jackson of the Chargers. He has the size and speed I want, and the ability to make big plays. Plus his age means he can fulfill the contract.
Pat Kirwan: The Rice is right
Honestly, it doesn't look like a great crop of wide receivers to hit the open market. That could change if Steve Smith and/or Chad Ochocinco were to enter the pool or, even more importantly, if Sidney Rice qualified for free agency. Rice would easily be my No. 1 guy, and Santonio Holmes would be second. As for the players on the list, I think Braylon Edwards would be the guy I would go after if I was desperate for a wide out. I wouldn't overpay him, but he does bring big-play potential and a deep threat.
Bucky Brooks: Jackson is a rare talent
I would set my sights on Vincent Jackson. He has blossomed into a legitimate No. 1 receiver, yet still possesses the ability to function as the vertical threat in the passing game. His rare size/speed combination makes him a hard guard for any cornerback, and it is easy to build a game plan around his skill set. Although he is regarded as a bit of a character risk based on his string of alcohol-related incidents, he is a Pro Bowl talent with all of the skills to handle the pressure of being a No. 1 receiver in any offense.
Elliot Harrison: The right Steve Smith
Steve Smith ... as in the Giants' Steve Smith. His production the past couple of years has been better than any other free agent's. He's averaged more than 70 catches since 2008, and that's despite losing seven games last year to injury. He's also only 26. Here's the catch, so to speak: Even if Smith becomes an unrestricted free agent when there is a new CBA, it's doubtful the G-Men will let him walk, although he's coming off microfracture surgery. He's been running in the pool for a month and hopes to be ready by training camp, if there is one. Basically, this wouldn't be a Sidney Rice 2010 situation, in which the Vikings waited half the year to get their receiver back. If New York doesn't sign him, perhaps the Chiefs should roll the dice.
Jason La Canfora: On the Mark
If we're playing under 2010 rules, then there will be several "name" players available ... but almost all would come with some severe baggage and almost all would be one-year stopgap measures.
Mark Clayton, however, is younger and more stable than pretty much everyone else in the bunch. He was an explosive downfield threat for Sam Bradford in the quarterback's rookie season, and though Clayton is coming off a season-ending injury, I like his chances to make plays. The former first-round pick of the Ravens has talent but has been dogged by inconsistency. But he seemed to grasp the importance of the situation last season and could be a late-bloomer a la Brandon Lloyd. I expect the Rams to push very hard to re-sign him when free agency begins, and I expect him to remain there.
Unofficial list of free agents
With the rules for the 2011 league year still to be determined, Jason La Canfora compiled a list of potential free agents based on if the NFL operates under 2010 rules. **More ...**
Clayton is the guy I'd target.
Charles Davis: V-Jax is No. 1 option
If I need a wide receiver, the free agent that appeals most to me is Vincent Jackson. The credentials are evident, love his size/speed/hands, and he's only a six-year veteran. He's a No. 1 receiver to build around.
Vic Carucci: Focus on Edwards
Braylon Edwards. He brings some off-field baggage and isn't exactly the model of consistency on the field. However, when Edwards is focused and playing at his best, he can be a dynamic force. He has risen to the occasion for the Jets with incredible catches in the postseason. Edwards also has the versatility to stretch the field and make plays underneath.
Steve Wyche: Choice depends on free-agency rules
This all depends on the new rules. If unrestricted free-agency rules apply to players with four seasons of experience, I'd prefer Santonio Holmes or Sidney Rice, with an edge to Holmes because of his clutch play and Rice's injury history. If unrestricted free agency stays at six seasons of experience, Rice and Holmes wouldn't be available and we're looking at a different market of players. Two players that would interest me would be Santana Moss and Brad Smith. Smith's versatility is something that can't be overlooked. While he's not a No. 1 wideout, he is an exceptional return man and also provides options from the Wildcat formation or as someone who can run gimmick plays -- he was a collegiate quarterback.