Jan 18, 2015; Seattle, WA, USA; Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb (18) celebrates his first quarter touchdown catch with Jody Nelson against the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
3. Raiders Add Another Receiver
The Wide Receiver position is one of the most highly-valued offensive positions in the league. Along with a top-flight QB, quality pass protector and quality pass rusher, the go-to wide receiver is one of the most in-demand positions in all of football. As such, very few top wideouts ever make it to the open market, and generally teams tend to address this position in the draft.
Reggie McKenzie very well could address this position in the draft, maybe as early as with the fourth overall pick, where some draft analysts have the Raiders taking Alabama WR Amari Cooper. But despite the value of a good wideout, this year’s free agency class, combined with the glut of very good rookie receiver talent coming up in the draft, may have created a perfect scenario for McKenzie to find a potential quality starter at a relatively low price tag in the open market for 2015.
Last year, the wideout class of the open free agency market was relatively underwhelming, although late in the offseason (four weeks into the free agent singing period) the Eagles made a splash by releasing Desean Jackson, who was eventually signed by Washington.
Eric Decker headlined the group after putting up good numbers with Peyton Manning in Denver, signing a five year deal worth roughly $36M. The Raiders signed wideout James Jones out of this class to a three year deal on the cheap, and Jones turned around and became the #1 receiver on the team after a season-ending injury to Rod Streater, catching 77 passes and 6 TD’s.
The 2015 class of potential free agent wide receivers is much stronger than 2014: the list is headlined by Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas, and includes Randall Cobb, Torrey Smith and Jeremy Maclin. While it stands to reason that some of these players may be re-signed by their teams before March 1st (Bryant, Smith), others seem destined for free agency (Thomas, Cobb). This creates a buyers market for free-agent wideouts, with only one or two names really able to command a massive deal, while others may have to settle. This is an opportunity for the thrifty Reggie McKenzie, who will likely bypass the more expensive names on the list – like Demaryius Thomas – in search of a deal.
One name that may be too good a chance to pass up for McKenzie, despite a potential sizeable price tag, is Randall Cobb, whom he drafted to the Green Bay Packers in 2011. Cobb was the Packers top receiver in 2012, alongside James Jones (who led the team and the league in receiving TD’s that year): the two combined for 144 receptions, 1,738 receiving yards and 22 TD’s. Cobb was hurt much of 2013, but bounced back for 2014, finishing as the team’s second-leading receiver with 91 receptions for 1,287 yards and 12 TD’s.
Despite his success, Cobb may not be able to parlay that into a massive extension in Green Bay, who already have Jordy Nelson (the team’s top receiver) and emerging rookie Devante Adams (who was Derek Carr’s primary target at Fresno State) under contract. The Packers under Ted Thompson aren’t known for holding on to expensive wideouts, as proven by their willingness to part with Greg Jennings after the 2012 season and James Jones after the 2013 season. Cobb might be the top name on the market if he isn’t re-signed, but likely won’t command a much bigger deal than the one Eric Decker got last year, somewhere in the range of five years and $35M.
His familiarity with McKenzie could grease the wheels on any sort of talks, and he could instantly become a valuable target for Derek Carr, and fit in nicely with James Jones and a returning Rod Streater – and any rookie WR McKenzie may decide to draft as well. Cobb, who turns 25 this year, is also young enough to be a long-term solution for the Raiders at the position, although his small size and injury history may necessitate an insurance policy for the position.
Other names are out there as well. Jeremy Maclin of the Eagles, Michael Crabtree of the 49ers, and Kenny Britt of the Rams may all be headed to free agency. Of the three, Maclin will probably attract the most interest and the most money, as he has led his team in receptions in three of the last four years. The speedy, sure-handed Maclin is a consistent if not overly flashy player with great speed and decent size (6’0″, 200 lbs.) who also brings some value as a kick returner if needed.
Crabtree, once the tenth overall pick in the 2009 draft, has been wildly inconsistent in San Francisco. He caught 85 passes for over 1100 yards in 2012 and put up some bigtime playoff performances, but he also was victimized by Richard Sherman in the 2013 playoffs after spending most of the year injured, and finished second on the team in receptions to 35-year old Anquan Boldin in 2014. He may be available cheap and be a good get if the Raiders also intend to draft a premier wideout.
Kenny Britt is one of the most troubled players in the league, having had a rash of off-the-field incidents involving the police, some of them quite serious. He has also only played two seasons in which he was available for all sixteen games, and he has never caught more than 50 passes in a season. But at 6’3″ and 215 lbs., with blazing speed and incredible athleticism, Britt is an electrifying player and commands respect from opposing defenses.
He is also, like Maclin, able to return kickoffs, something he did in his rookie year in Tennessee. Because of his off-field troubles and pretty underwhelming stats, he could be available for a bargain, potentially even on a one-year deal, and could bring a lot of good upside without a lot of cap space risk.
Next: Safety High on Priority List