December 23, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace (17) runs after a pass reception as Cincinnati Bengals outside linebacker Manny Lawson (left) defends during the third quarter at Heinz Field. The Cincinnati Bengals won 13-10. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Although the NFL season isn’t over, unfortunately the Seahawks’ season is over so now is the time to talk about the off-season, even if the off-season isn’t officially upon us. The Seahawks have done an excellent job of building through the draft and that appears to be essential to their philosophy but that doesn’t mean that free agency should be ignored. John Schneider and Co. have dabbled in free agency over the past couple years with the signing of players like Sidney Rice, Zach Miller and Robert Gallery, and frankly results have been mixed. Seattle has money to spend and is hoping to find some pieces to supplement the strong, young core of this team. One area of interest is the wide receiver position where there is a plethora of starting-quality options at a position where the Seahawks could use some help. Sidney Rice, Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin are all capable receivers but Russell Wilson could definitely use another weapon or two to take this passing offense to the next level. In this article I’ll outline some of the top free agent wide receivers that could be Seattle’s if they are willing to spend a pretty penny. In no particular order here are the top wide receivers available in free agency this year:
Dwayne Bowe: The big-bodied Bowe has been a very steady performer in some fairly terrible passing offenses in Kansas City with 1,000 yard seasons in 3 of the last 5 years, and 801 yards last year. Though Bowe is a bigger wide out he still has the ability to challenge a defense down the field. He has 13.8 yards per reception for his career, much of which has been spent in tandem with the noodle-armed Matt Cassel. Bowe is also a threat in the red zone as demonstrated by his 15 TD season in 2010 and has been able to consistently find pay dirt in the past (39 TD in 6 seasons). I think that Bowe would bring an element of physicality to the Seahawks receiving core that is currently lacking but he is not without his warts. There are plenty of whispers (some of them of the none-too-quiet variety) about work ethic and attitude issues with Bowe and he has a tendency to drop the ball, posting the 9th highest drop rate in the NFL between 2009 and 2011. Additionally, Bowe will turn 29 early in the 2013 season so if you sign him to a lengthy deal you are counting on him producing into his thirties, not impossible but not the safest bet either. Buying the decline years of a player, no matter how good he is, is always a dicey proposition. Still I think the Seahawks might be interested in Bowe because his skill set is unique to their receiving group and Pete Carroll thinks he can get anyone to buy in.
Danny Amendola: Danny Amendola is intriguing because he’s clearly a productive and useful player but he can’t seem to stay on the field, playing in 12 games over the last two seasons. Amendola was on pace for an 1,000 yard season this year with the Rams but ultimately had injuries befall him and ended up with only 666 yards. Amendola caught 5.7 balls a game this year which would have been 91 catches if he had played the whole season. Therein lies the rub. You can have absolutely beautiful rate stats but it doesn’t really matter unless you can pile up the gross numbers by staying on the field. Health is a skill in this league and Amendola’s 5 11 183 pound frame doesn’t scream durability. Someone will take a chance on Amendola’s elite quickness and ability to get open out of the slot but I’d rather it not be the Seahawks. As satisfying as it would be to take a quality player off a division rival I’d rather see the Rams resign Amendola (which I suspect they will given his chemistry with Sam Bradford) and live with the consequences. Amendola will be 28 in 2013 so age is not really a concern as slot receivers not relying on pure speed have potential to age gracefully, like Bobby Engram did. Even still, I think an investment in Amendola is one that ends in heartbreak, although it would be hard to be too disappointed if Seattle signed him because he is a really fine player.
Wes Welker: Wes Welker is a very interesting case. Looking at numbers alone makes one salivate at the prospect of adding a player like Wes Welker. Who wouldn’t want a receiver who has had 110+ catches in 5 of the last 6 years, leading the league thrice during that span? I bet a receiver with 7459 yards over the past six seasons also sounds fairly tempting. Also it isn’t as if Welker has slowed down at all recently, setting a career high with 1569 yards in 2011 and a still-fantastic 1354 yards in 2012. So what’s the hold up? The first one is arguably the most important number of all which is age. Welker will be 32 this year and although his style of play lends itself to a more generous aging curve 32 is pretty dangerous place to start a long term contract. Welker is a special player and he may yet have five or six productive years left in him but I’m not sure that’s something I want to bet tens of millions of dollars on. The second more profound question mark surrounding Wes Welker is what he is capable of outside of the New England offense and without Tom Brady. I’m not saying Welker doesn’t have a universally useful skill set, every team could use a ball catching machine out of the slot, but Welker didn’t show much in Miami before coming to New England and the concern is he’s sort of just a guy outside that system. I think both concerns are valid and I would steer clear of Welker, especially given that I still think Doug Baldwin can be a weapon out of the slot despite something of a lost 2012 season.
Mike Wallace: Of all the receivers mentioned so far Mike Wallace is both the fastest and the youngest. That’s a pretty good start in my book. Wallace is an absolute burner and he is only turning 27 this year so a free agent contract with Wallace stands to buy some of his peak years making it easier to be comfortable with a fairly generous term like 5 or 6 years. Mike Wallace is coming off a rough year, much of which can be attributed to Charlie Batchitude and also to a prolonged holdout going into the season. Clearly Mike Wallace wants to be paid, but he deserves to be paid. Over the last three years Wallace has put up 3286 yards receiving and 26 touchdowns. Although he is primarily a speed receiver the other parts of his game are growing as well. He has gone from 2.6 catches a game in his rookie year to 4.3 last year demonstrating an ability to contribute on short and intermediate patterns. Wallace has also been durable playing in 63 of a possible 64 games in his career. In short I’m a fan. I think now might be the time to buy a low (relatively speaking, this will still be a hefty contract) on Wallace. A wide receiving core featuring Wallace, Rice and Tate would be lethal down the field, giving opposing defensive backs nightmares. Wallace would look good in Seahawks colors.
Brian Hartline: Hartline, like Wallace, will be 27 this year and unlike Wallace is coming off an 1,000 yard season. While productive, Hartline lacks elite size and speed and can sometimes have trouble creating separation from quality defensive backs. While his numbers are slightly inflated by one massive game this season in which he went for well over 200 yards, Hartline is for real. I suspect that Miami will try and resign their de facto number one receiver who profiles as more of a #2 on a quality team. Honestly, that’s fine with me. There isn’t a great deal to hate about Hartline and he is coming off a good year but he’s not an impact talent in my book. Free agents, especially ones coming off good years, come at a premium cost and when you are paying a premium cost you best be sure you are getting a premium talent. Hartline is an appealing age and coming off a quality season but I’d rather sit out on the bidding which figures to exceed his value. I think both Rice and Tate are better players so I see no reason to add Hartline at an exorbitant cost.
Greg Jennings: Jennings is coming off a tough season where he fought through some difficult injuries and by all accounts the emergence of James Jones and Randall Cobb in Green Bay indicate he’s made his last Lambeau Leap. With 2 Pro Bowl berths and three 1,000 yard seasons to his name (and 2 more 900 yard seasons) Jennings is an accomplished and intriguing free agent option. Greg Jennings reminds me of Darrell Jackson at his peak, not the fastest but not slow, not the biggest but not small and able to simply get the job down. Jennings will be 30 this year so I would be hesitant to give him the sort of long term deal he’s likely asking for. I think Jennings would make a fine addition to the Seahawks but for me it depends on the price, if his age and recent injury concerns depress his value enough then pouncing on Jennings would be a prudent move but if the market sees him as a marquee #1 receiver I would back off. Also given the Sidney Rice is the resident injury risk the Seahawks might want someone more reliable if they are going to spend big in free agency. The market for Jennings is going to be very interesting, and one the Seahawks should keep tabs on.
This year’s free agency pool has some pretty impressive talent at the WR position. All the receivers listed here figure to play prominent roles on whatever team they end up on but enough of them carry red flags that we can expect a couple of busts. If the Seahawks are in the mood for big-ticket shopping at this position I’d recommend Bowe or Wallace but neither is cheap or risk free. However, if the Seahawks want to move up the ladder for great team to championship team they are going to have to take some risks. Luckily that’s never been a problem for this front office.