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2013 NFL free agents: Wes Welker, Dwayne Bowe lead loaded group of wide receivers

Wes Welker, Victor Cruz and Dwayne Bowe headline the 2013 wide receiver free-agent class, as the offseason gets underway.


It's hard to imagine Wes Walker catching passes from a quarterback other than Tom Brady, but that's exactly what could happen in 2013. Welker headlines the 2013 free-agent wide receiver free agent class, which is filled with receivers who showcase big-play ability -- such as Victor Cruz and Mike Wallace.

Here's a look at the top 10 free agent wide receivers this offseason.

1. Wes Welker -- After failing to reach an agreement on a long-term deal last offseason, the New England Patriots decided to place the franchise tag on Welker, making him an unrestricted free agent following the 2012 season. Many believed that Welker was being punished for failing to sign a long-term deal after the first two weeks of the season, when Welker had a diminished role.

Reports of Welker's demise and Bill Belichick's vengeance were greatly exaggerated. Welker finished the regular season with 118 receptions for 1,354 yards and six touchdowns.

2. Victor Cruz -- Cruz' free agency comes with a caveat: he's only a restricted free agent. It's likely the Giants will place a first-round tender on Cruz, meaning the Giants will receive a first-round draft pick if they decline to match another team's offer for Cruz.

The UMass-product had 86 receptions in 2012, for 1,092 yards and 10 touchdowns, and possesses big play ability that few wide receivers in the league can match.

3. Dwayne Bowe -- After six long years in Kansas City, Bowe is free to test the free-agent market as an unrestricted free agent. Though inconsistent, Bowe has displayed that he can play at an elite level. In three of his six seasons, Bowe has eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards, and had his career-year in 2010, when he hauled in 72 passes for 1,162 yards and 15 touchdowns.

4. Mike Wallace -- Wallace missed the majority of training camp for the Steelers this season, as he held out for a long-term contract extension. Wallace did not receive a long-term contract, and instead signed his one-year tender for more than $2 million.

Now an unrestricted free agent, it's likely that Wallace will be looking for a big payday. Wallace caught 64 passes for 836 yards and eight touchdowns in 2012, in Wallace's least-productive season since his rookie year. Still, Wallace possesses game-changing speed, and with a full training camp under his belt, should improve in 2013.

5. Danny Amendola -- Amendola battled various injuries throughout the 2012 season, and was limited to 11 games -- and even then, Amendola was rarely at full health. Still, Amendola hauled in 63 receptions (on 101 targets), for 666 yards and three touchdowns.

A slot receiver, Amendola showed plenty of promise in Week 2, when he caught 15 passes for 160 yards as the Rams defeated the Redskins. If the Patriots let Welker go, it wouldn't be a shock to see Amendola reunited with Josh McDaniels in New England.

6. Brian Hartline -- Hartline is coming off the best year of his career, and is entering his age 27 season in 2013 -- which seems like the perfect time to hit free agency. Working with rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill in Miami, Hartline caught 74 passes in 2012, for 1,083 yards and one touchdown. Hartline's 74 receptions nearly doubled his previous career high (43), and his 1,083 yards also constitute a career-high.

7. Greg Jennings -- Jennings has publicly stated throughout this year that he's not expecting the Packers to bring him back, and that he does not want to play out the 2013 season under the franchise tag.

Jennings played in just eight regular season games in 2012, thanks to a groin injury. Jennings finished the year with just 36 receptions on 62 targets, for 366 yards and four touchdowns. Jennings will enter his age 30 season next year, and has been declining each of the last two seasons -- even with Aaron Rodgers as his quarterback.

Still, Jennings should have no problem finding a new home if the Packers decide to let him go.

8. Brandon Gibson -- Gibson joins Rams teammate Danny Amendola on this list. Gibson caught 51 passes for 691 yards and five touchdowns for St. Louis in 2012. Gibson isn't likely to be a No. 1 or even a No. 2 receiver on any team, but will provide solid production, and offers decent size at 6'0.

Gibson's 691 yards and five touchdowns constitute career highs, and entering his age 26 season next year, he should continue to progress.

9. Emmanuel Sanders -- Sanders caught just 44 passes for 626 yards and a touchdown in 2012 as Pittsburgh's No. 3 receiver, but could see an increased role going forward. Sanders is only ticketed for restricted free agency, and the Steelers will likely only place a third-round tender on him.

If Pittsburgh retains Sanders, he could end up filling in for Mike Wallace, if Wallace departs. If that's the case, then Sanders will have a chance to prove if he can be a top-two wide receiver on a team with Super Bowl aspirations -- something that could lead to a big payday a year from now.

10. Domenik Hixon -- One year removed from a torn ACL, Hixon caught 39 passes for the Giants, racking up 567 yards and two touchdowns. Hixon opened the season as New York's No. 3 wide receiver, but missed three games during the season, battling a concussion and ankle injury.

Hixon will enter his age 29 season in 2013, and could be a bargain for a team looking to add wide receiver depth.

Honorable mentions: Brandon Stokley, Danario Alexander, Randy Moss, Joshua Cribbs, Julian Edelman.