Every year, NFL free agency provides us with a talented crop of players ready and willing to change addresses if needed. Usually, there is always one group which stands above the rest in available skill, and this year the wide receiver position is at the top.
While the quarterback market is barren and the running backs are mediocre after DeMarco Murray, the receivers boast a pair of players who were named to the 2015 NFL Pro Bowl. In this day and age of pass-heavy offenses, these men are at a constant premium, with general managers consistently looking for a game-breaker on the outside.
So which teams will be expected to dive into the market head-first come March 10? The Kansas City Chiefs were the first team since 1950 to go an entire season without a receiver scoring a touchdown, so they top the list. The Seattle Seahawks and Oakland Raiders are also in the mix, along with the Carolina Panthers, Minnesota Vikings and New York Jets.
Below is a list of available free agent receivers:
1. Jeremy Maclin (Philadelphia Eagles)
Maclin took a major chance after tearing his ACL during training camp in 2013. When the Eagles offered him a long-term deal with less money coming off the injury, Maclin balked and bet on himself. The move paid off handsomely, with Maclin hauling in 85 passes for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns, all career highs.
The question with Maclin is whether he can repeat those numbers, especially the yardage. Only 26 years old, Maclin could reasonably have his best years ahead, but he had never produced a 1,000-yard season before. Still, Maclin is a terrific route runner and can take the tops off defenses. He's going to get paid somewhere around $10 million per year.
Update: Maclin signed a five-year, $55 million deal with Kansas City.
2. Randall Cobb (Green Bay Packers)
Cobb is the Swiss Army knife of this group. With Green Bay, Cobb lined up in the slot, outside and occasionally in the backfield alongside Aaron Rodgers. He can also return punts, giving him even more value to a team looking to add an explosive talent. Cobb is one of the youngest players hitting free agency at 24 years old, not turning 25 until August.
A second-round pick out of Kentucky in 2011, Cobb had a good first three years before becoming a consistent force in 2014. Cobb caught 91 passes for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns, shattering all his previous career highs. It will bear watching if teams trend a bit lightly on Cobb because Rodgers is his quarterback, and he has only enjoyed one Pro Bowl-caliber campaign. Still, the talent is undeniable.
Update: Cobb signed a four-year, $40 million deal to stay in Green Bay.
3. Michael Crabtree (San Francisco 49ers)
Crabtree is not on the level of the four aforementioned players, but he still provides a nice option to teams hoping to upgrade at receiver. With the 49ers currently over the projected salary cap, Crabtree will be tough to fit into their future plans. Once thought a major steal by San Francisco with the 10th overall pick in the 2009 draft, Crabtree has been merely good, not great.
In six seasons, Crabtree has totaled over 800 yards twice and 1,000 yards once. In 2014, Crabtree could never get into a rhythm with quarterback Colin Kaepernick, leading to a down season of just 698 yards and four touchdowns. The prior campaign, Crabtree was working back from an Achilles injury and produced 284 yards in five games. Crabtree could be had at a good value considering his recent struggles.
4. Torrey Smith (Baltimore Ravens)
Smith isn't a top receiver, but he would be a very nice complementary piece for an offense. He's a downfield threat that constantly stretches a defense and has a knack for generating defensive pass interference penalties. Smith is also still very young; he turned 26 in late January.
Still, there's a reason Smith isn't higher on the list. For all he does as a deep threat, Smith hasn't developed into a complete receiver. His route running and ball skills must improve in order to become more than a less-expensive version of Mike Wallace.
Update: Smith signed a five-year, $40 million deal with San Francisco.
5. Cecil Shorts III (Jacksonville Jaguars)
Shorts is underrated because he has played on miserable teams in Jacksonville. Though the receiver does have great size (6'0", 202), he can play on the boundary as well as in the slot. He also hits free agency at a young 27 with plenty of quality years ahead.
However, Shorts must overcome injury concerns in order to land a big deal. He hasn't played in all 16 games once during his four-year NFL career. He also isn't much of a touchdown producer, scoring three or less times in all but one season.
Other notable names
Wes Welker (Denver Broncos)
Welker is aging rapidly and has a concussion history. Yet, Welker is a pro with great hands and one of the best route runners in the game.
Nate Washington (Tennessee Titans)
At 31 years old, Washington could be a bargain to the right team. Despite playing with Jake Locker, Charlie Whitehurst and Zach Mettenberger, Washington had 647 yards in 2014.
Reggie Wayne (Indianapolis Colts)
Wayne might retire after going through a lackluster year following his torn ACL. If he presses on, expect Wayne to get a short-term deal and become a second option.
Kenny Britt (St. Louis Rams)
Britt's career looked over after the Titans let him walk, but the former Rutgers star played well under Jeff Fisher in St. Louis. Britt is a big-bodied receiver who can contribute as a second banana.
Update: The Rams signed Britt to a two-year contract.