Peyton Manning has enjoyed a career resurgence with the Denver Broncos over the last two seasons, and the receivers he has been surrounded with are a big reason why. One of those receivers could be on his way out, however. Eric Decker is an unrestricted free agent. After a 1,200-yard, 11-touchdown season in 2013, he is ready to cash in on a big payday.
Decker isn't alone. The spring of 2014 will offer plenty of options for teams in need of wide receivers, with the likes of Hakeem Nicks and Jeremy Maclin adding to the talent pool. Teams will be forced to decide whether to add wide receiver talent in free agency or to address the position in a really strong class of receivers in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Here are the best free agent options at the position this offseason.
1. Eric Decker (Denver Broncos)
Decker has been one of Manning's go-to receivers over the last two seasons. He has 24 touchdowns since Manning took over as the Broncos' quarterback, and has been among the league leaders in the category for three consecutive seasons. Denver may try to bring him back, but the market price could be too steep to handle. A report by Ian Rapoport just before the Super Bowl indicated that the veteran wideout plans to test free agency and that the Broncos "fear they may lose him."
2. Jeremy Maclin (Philadelphia Eagles)
Maclin was unable to play a single game during his contract year after tearing his ACL in the preseason. While he has put together a reasonably productive career, he still has untapped potential. In four seasons with the Eagles, he has caught 26 touchdowns, but doesn't have a single 1,000-yard season. His injury will probably bring down the price of his contract.
3. Hakeem Nicks (New York Giants)
Every year, it seems Nicks is dealing with an injury of some sort -- he hasn't once played a full 16-game season in his career. When healthy, Nicks has been a legitimate top-two wide receiver, but hasn't had a 1,000-yard season since 2011. He didn't find the end zone a single time in 2013, and had just three trips the previous year. With Victor Cruz firmly entrenched in the No. 1 spot and Rueben Randle showing promise, it's likely the Giants will choose to let the 26-year-old hit the market.
For two straight seasons, Boldin has gone deep into the postseason. Last year, he was one of the most valuable members of the Super Bowl-champion Baltimore Ravens. This season, he posted the most receiving yards by a San Francisco 49er since Terrell Owens in 2002. The fact that Niners staff voted him to the Bill Walsh Award this season shows that he is wanted back in San Francisco, but team management will have to balance his contract requests against his advancing age (33).
While Jones' touchdown total decreased from 14 to three this past season, he still had another strong year for the Packers, compiling a career-high 817 yards. With Greg Jennings off to Minnesota and Randall Cobb injured for the majority of the year, Jones helped pick up the slack. If the Packers let him test the market, he could wind up getting paid more than he's worth. Jones has expressed interest in returning to the tundra, but also said he's "excited" to test the open market, according to Chris Wesseling of NFL.com.
6. Julian Edelman (New England Patriots)
While seemingly every other one of Tom Brady's targets in the passing game went down with an injury this season, Edelman played all 16 games for the Patriots and had his best season as a pro. He caught more than 100 passes for the first time in his career, and finished with his first 1,000-yard season. He is one of Brady's favorite targets, and the Patriots would be wise to keep him. The downside of his big year is that his price tag has gone up as a result.
The Steelers didn't let Sanders get away last offseason when the Patriots signed him to an offer sheet, but he is now an unrestricted free agent. He is coming off a strong year and is likely to get a decent deal if Pittsburgh allows him to hit the open market. With Antonio Brown as the only viable starter under contract at the moment, need alone will keep the Steelers interested, but if Sanders wants a significant pay hike he'll likely have to look elsewhere.
8. Riley Cooper (Philadelphia Eagles)
Not only could the Eagles be losing Maclin this season, Cooper could hit the road as well. After a controversial offseason, Cooper played well in Maclin's injury absence, posting career highs in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. He saw a spike in production after Nick Foles took over as the full-time quarterback, and seems to have developed a strong rapport with the emerging star, which will be one reason the Eagles should look into re-signing him. He was the beneficiary of an increase in targets, and he may get an increase in salary to match.
Tate entered the 2013 offseason as the Seahawks' No. 3 wide receiver, but injuries to Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice gave Golden Tate a last chance to prove himself worthy of the 2010 second-round pick the Seattle spent on him. He responded admirably, setting career highs in catches and yards. Whether he ends up back in Seattle may depend on Rice, who missed most of the season with an ACL tear. If Seattle decides to move on from Rice, they'll need a reliable No. 2 opposite the injury-prone Harvin.
10. Kenny Britt (Tennesee Titans)
Britt has long been a player with untapped potential, but injuries and attitude issues have held him back from making use of his immense talent. Once a first-round draft pick, he had just 11 receptions in 2013 and will almost certainly be walking out of Nashville this offseason. Given his talent, a team could hit big if they can get him in the right situation, but history says he's a bust waiting to happen.
Other notable names:
The No. 2 wide receiver in Carolina will hit the free agent market this season. LaFell is coming off three straight solid, if unspectacular seasons. He was more of a deep threat earlier in his career, but played the role of a possession receiver last season. He caught a career-high 49 passes, but his 12.8 yards per catch was the lowest since his rookie season. He should find a market among teams looking for experienced, complementary receivers.
McCluster brings value as a receiver and a return man. He set career highs with 53 receptions for 511 yards last season. He was also one of the top punt returners in the NFL, averaging 11.8 yards per return with a pair of touchdowns. Several teams in the market for a slot receiver could take a look at McCluster.
Manningham was limited to six games last season coming off a serious knee injury late in 2012. He returned to action briefly, but landed on injured reserve after suffering a setback. His health will be a major question in free agency. If healthy, he could be a solid addition for several teams.
Jones played a bigger role as a receiver last year, and finished with 37 receptions, the most he has had in a season since 2010. He is also an excellent return man. That extra value could be attractive for a team looking to add depth to the receiver group and add some explosion to special teams.