As always in free agency, there are plenty of wide receivers available, though somewhat inevitably, most fit the profile of a WR2 or lower.
Teams need to be wary of projecting some of these players to be their number one option in the passing game. The options range from ageing ex-WR1’s such as Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant; to slot guys like Adam Humphries and Cole Beasley; whilst including young players who never quite lived up to their billing including Phillip Dorsett, Breshad Perriman, Eli Rogers and Cordarrelle Patterson.
Disclaimer: matches have been made between teams based on need and cap space available, whilst also taking into account the type of receiver being profiled.
Best fits: Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, Washington Redskins
Tate’s midseason trade to Philadelphia didn’t really work out for player or franchise, though I’d consider his half season in the City of Brotherly Love as an aberration. In 3 out of his 4 seasons in Detroit when Tate completed a full regular season slate, he went for over 1,000 receiving yards. The former Seattle receiver has always had a reputation as a surehanded wideout and makes sense for teams as a number two receiver who should still be able to dominate against opposing teams, as long as he isn’t the focal point of the passing game.
Buffalo simply makes sense because Tate is the best receiver out there on the market and the Bills need to upgrade their wide receiving corps if Josh Allen is to live up to his status as a first-round draft pick. Undrafted free agent Robert Foster showed the ability to operate as the home run threat, averaging over 20 yards, and Zay Jones is probably best as the slot option. Tate could provide veteran insurance if the Bills aren’t confident in the ability of any of the top receivers in the draft to come in and make an immediate impact.
The Jets extended Quincy Enunwa’s contract and placed a second-round tender on speedster Robby Anderson. I can’t see many teams giving up that high a draft pick for Anderson, especially seen as his past legal issues may make availability a concern. The Jets future is all on the shoulders of young QB Sam Darnold so it’s important they add quality to their wide receiver room. Tate would certainly add that, and his surehandedness and experience could be a boon to the former USC signal caller.
Washington’s weapons in the passing game are quite simply a mess. Josh Doctson hasn’t turned into the player the franchise expected, whilst the offense was disrupted with the loss of Alex Smith last season. The team is trading for QB Case Keenum from the Broncos and could also look to add a rookie in the draft with Alex Smith out for the 2019 season. Whilst Washington doesn’t have the same cap room as other receiver needy teams, that might not preclude them from trying to upgrade the position.
Best fits: New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans, Cleveland Browns
Williams is an exciting potential addition for any prospective franchise. The guy is a legitimate home run threat, averaging over 15 yards in all 3 season he’s been in the league. In addition to that his longest receptions in both 2017 and 2018 were for 75 yards and for touchdowns. In 2016, with the Chargers missing Keenan Allen through injury, Williams picked up over 1,000 yards showing he isn’t just a one trick pony and can carry the load when necessary.
New England seriously needs wideout help. Their top option is Julian Edelman, who will operate primarily out of the slot, and behind the former Kent State QB, the cupboard is bare. The Patriots showed their ability to impose their will offensively behind a running game led by Sony Michel, but face the impending retirement of tight end Rob Gronkowski as well. That will further deplete Tom Brady’s options in the passing game, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Patriots add multiple receivers in free agency. Williams could put up Madden-style numbers off play action passes, with teams forced to focus on stopping Michel, Rex Burkhead and James White.
The Titans have their big bodied wide receiver in Corey Davis and have a couple of guys able to play the number 2 and slot role in Tajae Sharp and Taywan Taylor. Head coach Mike Vrabel will hope to have Dion Lewis more involved in the passing game out of the backfield this season and may want a playmaker who can take the top off defences. That may also enable Davis to become a 1,000-yard playmaker as well with teams forced to switch safety help to Williams’ side of the field.
Breshad Perriman managed to flash his ability as a speedster in Cleveland this past season, and Baker Mayfield has the arm to make those deep throws. However, the team let Perriman hit free agency this offseason, and could replace him with Williams. They have the cash to outbid their rivals and this move could allow Jarvis Landry to operate exclusively out of the slot, where he did most of his damage when in Miami. There have already been rumours about Williams being a target for John Dorsey, who has seen the impact Tyreek Hill has had as one of his picks in his previous role as GM of the Chiefs.
Best fits: San Francisco 49ers, Indianapolis Colts
Teams may look at the decline in Thomas’ production over the past couple of years and see it as indicative of an ageing wide receiver past his prime. Or they may see it as a product of working with a revolving door of wide receivers, which was further exacerbated by his trade to the Texans last season after 8 games. In 2017 Thomas was only 51 yards short of a sixth consecutive 1,000 yard receiving season, so a team may see the former Georgia Tech product as a low risk gamble.
Niners fans may be hoping for the team to add a little more star quality at the position this offseason, but Thomas could fit in a young receiver’s room where players like Dante Pettis and Kendrick Bourne, had excellent performances last year, though not on a consistent basis. Adding Thomas could give Jimmy Garoppolo a big bodied receiver on the perimeter, whilst also adding some veteran savvy to help develop the wideouts already on the roster.
The Colts already have two big pass catching weapons in tight end Eric Ebron (joint second for receiving touchdowns in the league) and wideout T.Y. Hilton (5 out of 7 seasons with over 1,000 receiving yards). The Ryan Grant signing didn’t really work out in Indy, so they could be looking for a player to diversify the offense. Whilst Hilton is able to burn defensive backs deep, Thomas could act as a possession receiver, and put up increased numbers with more focus on his teammate. I’d also expect Thomas to be fairly cheap, or even a one-year rental.
Best fits: Arizona Cardinals, Oakland Raiders
As a big bodied receiver, Funchess could be ideal for any team with concerns about accuracy at the QB position. This was part of the reason the Panthers initially surrounded Cam Newton with Funchess and fellow man-mountain Kelvin Benjamin. Nonetheless, Funchess hasn’t blossomed into a top tier NFL receiver and he may have to settle for a one year prove-it contract. No team is likely to sign him to be the solution to all their passing woes, but he may certainly attract some suitors looking to add a different option to their passing attack.
The Cardinals’ top two options in the passing game, Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald, are both suited primarily to a slot role. Obviously their plans depend on whether they are intending to keep Josh Rosen at QB or plan to move him on and take Oklahoma passer Kyler Murray with the number one overall pick. They definitely need to add players who can play on the perimeter and head coach Kliff Kingsbury might believe he can develop Funchess into an Alshon Jeffrey like option for whoever is under center for the franchise moving forward.
Finding potential landing spots for Funchess is tricky given his lack of consistent high-end production since being drafted. However, Raiders coach Jon Gruden has already shown he’s willing to take other team’s cast-off veterans and integrate them into his offense. Now he has Antonio Brown as the top passing option for Derek Carr, he could look to get younger at the number two receiver position and replace Jordy Nelson with Funchess. Teams like Oakland might see Funchess as a victim of the inconsistency in Carolina’s passing game of recent years and believe they can mould his size into a possession receiver, which would complement the role Brown will play for the Silver and Black.