As usual, 2013 turned out to be a good year for free agent wide receivers, at least for the handful of players at the top of the market. The new contract for New York Giants and wide receiver Victor Cruz finally agreed to a new deal this week. Cruz was the last of the marquee free agent wide receivers, albeit a restricted free agent, to sign a deal.
Here's a look at how Cruz and the upper echelon of free agent receivers fared this year as well as a look ahead at the leading receivers up for a contract extension or free agency in 2014.
Five years, $60 million, $27 million guaranteed
Wallace signed a huge deal after playing the 2012 season as a restricted free agent with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He hit the open market this year, and the Dolphins got a deal done fast. The move gives second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill a playmaker to work with, joining Brian Hartline as the team's 1-2 combination. It's a lot of money, but Wallace will be the No. 1 receiver for a team with playoff aspirations.
Five years, $45 million, $17.8 million guaranteed
The Green Bay Packers let Jennings walk, due to cap concerns and an abundance of young talent at the position. Jennings spent a little more time than expected on the open market, but the Vikings, who have a young quarterback in Christian Ponder, elected to add Jennings after trading away Percy Harvin to the Seattle Seahawks.
Five years, $56 million, $26 million guaranteed
Bowe was set to be one of the top names on the market, and the Chiefs would have suffered if Bowe left for another team. The Chiefs moved to keep their top free agents this year, including Bowe and offensive tackle Brandon Albert. The move insures that the team's new quarterback, Alex Smith, has a top receiver catching his passes.
Victor Cruz, New York Giants
Six years, $45.78 million, $14.13 million guaranteed
Cruz was probably the biggest contract story of this off-season. He was a restricted free agent, and there were whispers that other teams might try to steal him away. At one point he reportedly told the Giants that he wouldn't take anything less than $9 million per season. That number was considered high. Cruz has been the Giants' leading receiver for the last two seasons, amassing more than 2,600 yards and a dozen touchdowns. Now, he has the contract match.
Two years, $12 million, $6 million guaranteed
Welker's contract with the Broncos was notable for several reasons. For starters, it is a relatively modest deal for a player who has caught at least 111 passes in five of his last six seasons, even if he is 32 years old. Perhaps even more surprisingly, however, was how dysfunctional the New England Patriots looked during the breakup. Tom Brady was rumored to be upset at the front office, while owner Robert Kraft blamed Welker's agents for misrepresenting their client's market value. According to Kraft, the Broncos' deal is worth less than what the Pats were offering. Whatever the case, Welker will be joining Peyton Manning in Denver, where he should once again be heavily targeted.
An early look at 2014...
The 2013 class of free agents had top-end first receiver talent, but the 2014 class is intriguing because of its depth at the second receiver spot. Teams looking for a complementary player, not necessarily needing to be a true no.1 can find excellent talent, potentially at cheaper prices than this year's crop.
Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants
Cruz's contract will make re-signing Nicks a tricky proposition for the Giants. Nicks arguably deserves as large or larger a contract as his slot-receiving counterpart, given the potential game-breaking impact of a true outside receiver. With so much money tied up in Cruz, however, the Giants may be skittish about handing out another hefty deal to a wide receiver, especially if he wants Mike Wallace money. His injury history won't help his cause. Nicks' contract negotiations have the potential to be one of the most contentious story lines of the 2014 off-season.
Entering his 11th NFL season, Boldin will have opportunities to prove he's still a top-flight receiver in San Fran. Traded in the off-season due to Baltimore's cap constraints, by the time this season is over Boldin will be 33-years old.
He finished last year with 921 receiving yards, and could eclipse 1,000 paired with Colin Kaepernick, and without Michael Crabtree to take his targets. His age will be a factor in how much longer plays, but a big year in 2013 would go a long way to extended his career.
Alexander was a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing season in San Diego. The Chargers elected to keep him on a one-year deal, but they could have a lot of competition in the open market next year if the 24-year-old can match his numbers from 2012 ... and stay healthy. He's had five surgeries on his knees since his senior season in college, and has yet to complete a full 16-game season.
Totaling 658 yards and 7 touchdowns in just 10 games, it wasn't just the production Alexander got, but how he got it. Averaging an impressive 17.8 yards per reception, he became Philip Rivers' deep threat and end zone target. As teams continue to lean on big-armed quarterbacks, they're looking for second and third receivers who can stretch the field vertically. With a strong potential to eclipse 1,000 yards this year, there's a chance Alexander could become the most coveted receiver in free agency due to his age and production.
James Jones, Green Bay Packers
Jones has been a stalwart for the Packers over the last six seasons, but Green Bay knows better than any team when it's time to say goodbye. Greg Jennings left for Minnesota this year, despite being one of Aaron Rodgers' favorite targets. Jones might not be far behind.
Always good for 600-700 yards, Jones broke out this year with a career-high 784 yards, and doubled his highest touchdown total with 14 -- both in his first year as a full-time starter. At 29-years old there's room left on a 3-4 year deal to contribute at a high level.
A Super Bowl that saw Jones contribute 56 receiving yards and a touchdown, while adding another on a 108-yard kickoff return caused fans to pause and wonder why he was so readily available. Now he'll need to make the most of a one-year deal, and there will be plenty of opportunity -- as a receiving corps lacking Anquan Boldin is ripe to give him opportunities.
The 28-year-old finds himself in a similar situation to James Jones, but without the signature breakout season. If he can have a 700+ yard year, while adding to his touchdown total it will push him from third receiver status, and sell a lacking team on the idea of Jones as a 16-game starter.