The construction of the Free Agent Big Board is in full swing. So far, we've looked at:
Today, we look at the receivers. Before looking ahead to this season, let's take a look at the free agents from last season. Here are the top 20 free agent wide receivers from last year, the amount they signed for, and how they performed in 2015 (grades courtesy of Walter Football, rating courtesy of PFF):
The top dogs didn't get a chance to test the free agent market as both Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas were franchise tagged. That left two strong receivers on the open market - Randall Cobb and Jeremy Maclin. The Green Bay Packers spent the money to keep a strong target around for Aaron Rodgers, but Chip Kelly's Philadelphia Eagles weren't really into talented receivers so they let Maclin head off to Kansas City.
One thing that presents itself in these numbers is how much of a role the quarterback played in the production of the receiver. We all know what the effect of Tony Romo's absence did for the Cowboys group, but other teams felt it too. The San Francisco 49ers were never able to get the contribution from Michael Crabtree so rather than re-sign him for $8 million, they gave that money to Torrey Smith. And Smith proceeded to have career lows in catches, yards, and touchdowns in the 49ers offense. Whereas Crabtree had a career high in targets and put up great numbers with David Carr as his quarterback. Then, you have players like James Jones and Ted Ginn Jr. who were cheap acquisitions, yet were able to be very production in their respective offenses. So while a talented receiver can bring a lot to the offense, if a team doesn't have a quarterback to stretch the field, his services are going to be diminished.
I call it the Laurent Robinson effect - completely, 100%, a product of his surroundings. Here are his career numbers.
Robinson went from a nobody, to a meaningful contributor, back to a nobody. He signed a 5-year/$32.5 million contract with Jacksonville in 2012, but was cut after just one season. He had a great season with Dallas, but he wasn't a great receiver. That's fool's gold.
So as teams sift through the dirt looking for a good find, what does the talent pool look like this year?
If there are teams that are looking to bring on a top receiving talent, then Alshon Jeffrey is going to hit the jackpot as he's the only guy in town that fits the bill. There are a few young receivers that had solid years who may break out if they get into a better offense. Marvin Jones, Travis Benjamin, and Kamar Aiken put up impressive numbers as they each had over 100 targets, but this season was the first time that has happened for them in their career. Is this type of performance sustainable?
For Dallas, the front office will not be spending any big money on free agent receivers. In fact, they could pass altogether. Some fans look at last year's performance as a cause for worry. When Bryant went down, Terrance Williams didn't step in and deliver WR1 level contribution. But the trio of Bryant-Williams-Beasley combined for 28 touchdowns in 2014 with a healthy Romo. And the Cowboys also have the young Brice Butler on their roster who could develop into a viable target for this offense.
So what type of receiver would the Cowboys be interested in?
If the Cowboys sign a free agent receiver, it's going to be a low cost player whose role will be minimal unless one of the top guys get injured.
If the Cowboys are going to surprise people by throwing money at a wide receiver, it's going to be for someone like Matthews. The Miami Dolphins selected him in the seventh round in 2012, but it wasn't until last season when Matthews started making plays. He had 43 catches for 662 yards and four touchdowns. He was the Dolphins number two receiver behind Jarvis Landry.
Prediction: Not likely. It took Matthews a long time to earn playing time in Miami. He's going to want to go someplace where he can see plenty of playing time. With the pieces the Cowboys have at receiver, it's going to be hard for him to see the field.
One of the reasons it took so long for Matthews to get his shot in Miami was the presence of Brandon Gibson. During his two-year stint with the Dolphins (2013-2014) he had more starts, catches, and yards that Matthews. Before that, Gibson played four seasons with the St. Louis Rams, including two seasons where he had 50+ catches and over 600 yards. He's not a primary option receiver, but he's good enough to add some nice depth to any receiving unit. Gibson signed with the New England Patriots last year, but a knee injury in August ended his season.
Prediction: Not likely. Gibson would be a great mid-season type addition if the Cowboys needed to rent-a-receiver, but he's not someone they would look to for a long-term role. He should have no problem finding a job.
This is a name that should be familiar to Cowboys fans as Holmes was on the Dallas roster in 2011 and 2012. The receiving unit in 2013 featured Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Miles Austin, Cole Beasley, and Dwayne Harris. That's a strong group and there just wasn't any room for Holmes. He then went to Oakland where he had a couple solid seasons playing alongside Darren McFadden and Brice Butler. But last season the Raiders upgraded their receiving group by drafting Amari Cooper and signing Crabtree so once again Holmes was just an afterthought.
Prediction: Longshot, but possible. I've always been impressed with his ability. Holmes could be a guy that is given a shot in camp to fight for a job. The Cowboys like what they have in Butler, but it could be another Raiders receiver that gives him a good run for his money for the last receiving spot.
The Cowboys will look to strengthen their receiving group as there are plenty of uncertainties outside the top three spots, but it might be hard to find what they want in free agency. A mid-to-late draft pick may be a more realistic option.
Are there any free agents receivers you'd like to see the Cowboys go after?