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Previewing 2020 free agents: Wide Receivers

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Trying to take the next step in re-building the offense

Carolina Panthers v Detroit Lions Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

NFL Trade Rumors includes 43 Unrestricted Free Agent wide receivers on their 2020 free agency list. Obviously, this is far too many players to consider in an article like this one, so I needed a way to pare down the list.

In a recent article previewing free agent tight ends, the approach was easy. I believe that the Redskins need to find a starting tight end who can contribute to the team for a number of years, so I looked at the top free agents expected to be available in 2020 and ignored the rest.

I have a bit of a different view of the approach needed when assessing free agent wide receivers that the Redskins could target this off-season. First of all, top tier wide receivers are a lot more expensive than top tier tight ends, so, from a salary cap standpoint, the top free agents may not be attractive.

Secondly, Terry McLaurin appears to be the real deal — a player capable of being the WR1 for years to come. Steven Sims appears to be a capable slot receiver, and Kelvin Harmon is a quality receiver as well. Unlike the more desperate need for a starting tight end, the Redskins need to complement their young corps of 2nd-year receivers with a player who can offer experience while upgrading the overall talent of the group.

In my mind, the Redskins need to be looking for an experienced receiver, and he could be someone approaching the end of his career. Ideally, he would line up opposite Terry McLaurin, pushing Kelvin Harmon down to WR4 in 2020, or filling a role as mentor to the group.

I think two approaches are possible. One is a ‘swing for the fences’ type of signing, where the Redskins commit a lot of money to get a very capable receiver who is likely to become the unquestioned leader in the wide receiver room and a top producer on the field immediately and for 4 or 5 years to come. The second approach is to sign a solid receiver who will contribute in 2020, but who may be only a 1-3 year supplement to the current corps of receivers — a guy who will shortly make way for a young developing receiver who comes via the draft.

In my mind, I’m not favoring one type over the other, but I have a picture in my mind of the profile for the player I’m targeting: probably 26-33 years old, experienced, capable, and not a slot receiving specialist. He’s had some success, but he’ll be available to sign in March.

This last issue is important. Bottom of the roster players become available all the time, but better players come available only when there is an issue with the player or the franchise.

I would want to prioritize players who are coming available because they don’t fit with their current team (they’re too old, the team has a new offensive scheme) or because the team will part with them reluctantly (usually a salary cap issue).

With this in mind, I set about whittling the long list of upcoming free agent receivers down a bit. I didn’t use a powerful database; instead, I “eyeballed” the list, looking for players that seemed to be the right type of guy. I dismissed a number of players out of hand. For example, I didn’t consider Jamison Crowder because he’s primarily a slot receiver and I’m looking for a guy to line up outside. I likewise went past 23-year-old Terry Godwin, who was drafted by the Panthers in the 7th round of the ‘19 draft, but cut at the end of preseason.

Each time I saw a name I was interested in, I used PFF as the first option for screening players out. Basically, I only considered players who had an overall offensive grade of 60 or higher from PFF for 2019. My thinking was that this was an axe, not a scalpel, and that a player who couldn’t score 60 with PFF wasn’t likely to be the guy the Redskins would be looking for anyway.

My exercise left me with 12 names.

This is still too many for a preview article, but it was small enough to go a bit further in my analysis.

I added 2019 snap counts and targets, with my bias being that more snaps and targets = better.

I also looked at the projected 2020 cap space of the teams in question (using Over The Cap as the resource), and took into account whether each team had an identifiable starting quarterback under contract right now. For teams like Dallas that have no quarterback signed at the moment, I adjusted the estimated available salary cap downward by $30m. My thinking is that teams that have plenty of cap space can afford to hold on to productive players - likely re-signing those players prior to the start of free agency on 18 March.

I put the data for the 12 free agents into a table, organized by adjusted available cap space:

  • While I felt pretty good about Tajae Sharpe, Pharoh Cooper and Isaiah McKenzie as the quality of player I was looking for, Cooper and McKenzie play for teams that have substantial cap space and a positive future. Sharpe’s team, the Titans, have less cap space, but they are playing for the AFC Championship this weekend. I suspect they will want to hold onto Shape, and I can’t think of a reason why he would want to leave.
  • Inman had the double-whammy of having some of the lowest ratings in my matrix and playing for the team with the third-most cap space.
  • Of the players on teams with limited cap space, Seth Roberts had the lowest ratings, and, again, was on a playoff team in 2019 that may want to keep him.
  • Laquon Treadwell plays on the team with the worst cap position in the NFL and he has good PFF grades for 2019, but the grades are on a very small sample size because he missed most of the season with injury. His PFF grades for his first three years (2016-18) were all in the low-50s. I decided to pass on him for now.

Click here to read: An early look at the top 100 veteran free agents of 2020

Click here for more Redskins 2020 Free Agency coverage and profiles


This sort of selection is, by its nature, somewhat subjective, but I tried not to be simply arbitrary. Here are the six wide receivers that I ended up with (no consideration for expected contract cost in selection process):

  1. Amari Cooper, Cowboys
  2. Emmanuel Sanders, 49ers
  3. Breshad Perriman, Buccaneers
  4. Devin Funchess, Colts
  5. Phillip Dorsett, Patriots
  6. Demaryius Thomas, Jets

For reference, here is the top of the list of NFL wide receivers, in order of annual average salary, as per OverTheCap:

Here is the current expected Redskins depth chart for the 2020 season based on current players under contract (I am assuming that Paul Richardson will be cut):

  1. Terry McLaurin
  2. Steven Sims Jr.
  3. Kelvin Harmon
  4. Trey Quinn
  5. Cam Sims
  6. Darvin Kidsy

Free agency begins in earnest, with teams able to negotiate with player’s agents, on 16 March, and players can sign new contracts from 4pm on 18 March.

Amari Cooper, Cowboys

Minnesota Vikings v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Amari Cooper has four 1,000-yard seasons, achieved with two different teams in a (so far) five-year career. His sole sub-1,000 yard season was 2017 when he reportedly struggled with, but played through, an ankle injury. He has been generally quite durable, having played in all 16 games in three seasons, and never less than 14 in any single season.

It’s easy to dismiss Cooper’s achievements given that he has played for the past two seasons with the hated Dallas Cowboys, yet, he has been, individually, one of the more successful and consistent receivers in the league for most of his career.

2019 (Cowboys)

  • 15th in receptions
  • 7th in yards
  • 7th in TDs
  • 10th in PFF grade

2018 (Raiders/Cowboys)

  • 19th in receptions
  • 18th in yards
  • 13th in TDs
  • 29th in PFF grade

2016 (Raiders)

  • 15th in receptions
  • 8th in yards
  • 27th in TDs
  • 29th in PFF grade

2015 (rookie season)

  • 23rd in receptions
  • 17th in yards
  • 23rd in TDs

While Cooper doesn’t really belong in the same tier as players like Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins or Michael Thomas, he likely belongs to the the second-tier group below them. Cooper can’t simply take over a game and destroy the defense, but he is a talented route-runner with 4.42 speed who should be a strong complement to any wide receiver group, and a useful weapon for any strong-armed quarterback.

Cooper is just 25 years old, and entering his 6th season in the NFL. He is 6’1” and 225 pounds. NFL Draft Rumors has him rated 5th overall, and the #1 ranked wide receiver, in their top-100 list of 2020 Free Agents.

What is “market value” for Amari Cooper?

I went to Spotrac for guidance on that question.

Their answer is that Hooper should command about $19.7m per year, on a 5 year deal worth about $98.5m.

As you can see, they used the contracts of Brandin Cooks, Michael Thomas, Mike Evans and Julio Jones for guidance on the contract value.

I think Amari Cooper would be a great fit with the Redskins 2020 receiving group (or that of nearly any NFL team, for that matter), and would likely enhance Scott Turner’s ability to attack defenses. He has generally proven to be a healthy player with 4 strong seasons out of 5, with his ‘bad’ season 3 years removed.

The Cowboys would probably like to keep him, especially after having traded away a 1st round pick for him, but with Dak Prescott not currently under contract, Dallas — and the new head coach, Mike McCarthy — may decide that Michael Gallup, Randall Cobb and a rookie draft pick will be a better use of resources than paying Amari Cooper to play 4 or 5 more years for the Cowboys.

Of course, the Redskins need to be cap-aware as well, but with Dwayne Haskins, Terry McLaurin, Kelvin Harmon and Bryce Love all on rookie contracts for the next three seasons, and with Derrius Guice and Steven Sims further minimizing the investment in offensive skill positions, the front office and Ron Rivera might feel that Washington is in a position to devote significant salary cap resources to Cooper in order to give Turner and Haskins a powerful weapon as part of the offensive attack for the next 4 to 5 seasons.

Don’t forget - Jack Del Rio was the head coach of the Oakland Raiders from 2015-17, so he was part of the group that drafted Amari Cooper, who put up 2,700 yards and 18 TDs in those three seasons with Del Rio. His voice could be very instrumental in determining the view of Cooper in the Redskins player personnel planning meetings in the coming weeks.

Emmanuel Sanders, 49ers/Broncos

San Francisco 49ers v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Emmanuel Sanders is not the player he was in his three most productive seasons, which came from 2014-16 with the Denver Broncos; however, he showed this year — which saw a mid-season trade from Denver to San Francisco — that he is still a productive receiver who can contribute strongly to an offensive attack. He played in 17 games (missing bye weeks with both teams that he played for), and, playing nearly 900 offensive snaps in the 2019 season, the current 32-year old demonstrated that he still has durability and some tread left on the tires. He had 66 receptions for 869 yards and 5 touchdowns, averaging over 13 yards per reception. He had 11 catches over 20 yards, 3 of which went for 40+, and he did all that without fumbling.

Sanders is no longer as productive nor as young as Amari Cooper, but he also shouldn’t demand as much cap space as the Cowboys receiver. Sanders should, though, be able to provide veteran leadership to a young receiver group. Sanders has been with a well-run Steelers organization, been on a super bowl winning team (Super Bowl 50), and is a 2-time pro-bowl selection (2014 & 16).

Sanders is not big at 5’11” and 180 pounds, but he has proven himself resilient in a ten-year career in which he has played in 144 regular season games.

What is “market value” for Emmanuel Sanders?

Sanders’ most recent contract was a 3-year extension that he signed with the Broncos in 2017 that paid him an average of $11m per year. Given his age, and his production since signing that extension, what kind of contract is he likely to be able to command now?

I went to Spotrac for guidance on that question.

Their answer is that Sanders should command about $10.0m per year, on a 2 year deal worth about $20m.

As you can see, they used the contracts of Larry Fitzgerald, DeSean Jackson, Golden Tate and Julio Jones for guidance on the contract value.

NFL Trade Rumors has Sanders ranked #24 overall, and #3 among wide receivers, on their top-100 veteran free agents of 2020 list.

Signing Sanders would be a move by the Redskins to add veteran leadership to the wide receiver group for just a season or two while the young players the team currently has on the roster (and any new ones they draft) mature. And, while Sanders wouldn’t be a “budget” signing, he would likely take up only about half the cap space that Amari Cooper would, and won’t require a long-term commitment of salary cap resources.

Breshad Perriman, Buccaneers

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

I’ve always had a higher opinion of Breshad Perriman than nearly everyone else, aside from perhaps his mother and the guy who drafted him. I can’t expect that too many people will be excited to see his name on this list of potential free agent targets, but I’ve always felt like Perriman is a good receiver who just needed the right situation in which to excel. As a former first-round selection of the Ravens, Perriman’s career can only be viewed, to date, as a ‘bust’. As a free agent receiver entering his 6th year in the league, however, Perriman might be perceived as an intriguing low-cost addition to a roster in need of a solid #2 receiver.

In an explosive Tampa Bay offense this season, Perriman was the #3 guy behind Chris Godwin and Mike Evans, and, in 14 games, managed to post 645 yards (46 yprg) at an average of 17.9 yards per catch.

The 26-year-old, 6’2”, 215 pound receiver ran a 4.24 40-yard dash at the combine, and has displayed solid route running skills and hands in a 5-year career that has seen him play for three different teams. NFL Trade Rumors ranks him 74th on their list of the top-100 free agents of 2020.

Perriman’s most recent contract was a 1-year deal with the Buccaneers for $4m. I would guess that, following a pretty good season, he’d be looking for a longer deal, say, 3 years, and a bit more money.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see him hoping to leave Tampa Bay, where he is locked in as the third guy on the depth chart, and go somewhere where he can be featured more in the passing attack — someplace like Washington. My best guess at what it would take to sign him is a 3-year contract worth $15-$18m total value ($5m-$6m per year). A contract like this could fit very comfortably with the Redskins current roster and salary cap situation.

I don’t think that Perriman will be signed for less than this contract, though, depending on how he is perceived following his year in Tampa Bay, I think he could potentially command more. One factor that would mitigate against him commanding a high-value deal is the reported strength and depth of the receiver position in this year’s draft class.

As a budget option, Perriman could provide a seasoned receiver with all the measurables and a first-round pedigree to complement the current group of hard-working receivers.

Devin Funchess, Colts/Panthers

Atlanta Falcons v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Funchess was a second-round pick of the Carolina Panthers in 2015. He was allowed to play out his contract with Carolina. In 2019, he signed a one-year, $10m deal with the Colts that had $7m in guarantees.

He broke his collarbone in the first game of the season, was placed on IR and was never re-activated, meaning that the Colts got 3 receptions and 32 yards for their $7m.

The 25-year-old Funchess has always been intriguing for his youth and size. He is 6’4” and 225 pounds, making him a big target (for comparison, Cam Sims is 6’5”, 215 lbs).

Perhaps the key reason to include him on the list of potential Redskins veteran free agent targets is the familiarity that head coacth Ron Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner should have with him. Rivera, after all, was his coach for the first four years of Funchess’ career.

Until this season, Funchess had been durable, missing only 3 games in his first four seasons, but he was generally unspectacular in a Panthers offense that was built around Cam Newton. In 2015, Funchess was 2nd in targets and receptions behind Ted Ginn Jr. In 2016, with Travis Benjamin’s return from an ACL tear, Funchess fell to #3 in targets and receptions.

In 2017, Funchess took over as the top target among the Carolina receivers with 109 targets and 63 receptions, but the offensive focus had shifted. Christian McCaffrey had 112 targets and 86 receptions. In Funchess’ final season with the Panthers, the balance swung even more towards McCaffrey, and Funchess decided to leave for Indianapolis looking for a home in a high-powered passing offense led by Andrew Luck. That didn’t work out so well.

Coming off a lost season in Indy, I suspect that Funchess may find a very soft market for his skills. If Rivera and Turner look at the offense and feel like Haskins, throwing to McLaurin, Sims, Harmon and Funchess sounds like a strong and productive attack, the Redskins may be one of only a few teams with the confidence in Funchess to give him a contract longer than a year, with significant dollars or guarantees.

It could turn out that a reunion with Rivera and Scott Turner is the best situation that Devin Funchess can hope for. If so, Redskins fans will be hoping that he shows the kind of pre-Christian McCaffrey form he did in 2017 when Funchess was in the top-25 in receptions and yards in the NFL.

Phillip Dorsett, Patriots

Miami Dolphins v New England Patriots Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Phillip Dorsett is #99 on the NFL Trade Rumors top-100 veteran free agents list.

In New England this year, he was #3 in targets, receptions and yards behind Julian Edelman and Mohammed Sanu; he was fourth behind Edelman, Josh Gordon and Chris Hogan a year earlier.

Dorsett’s most productive year came in 2016 with the Indianapolis Colts when he caught 33 passes for 528 yards. Still, in 2019 he scored an incredible 5 touchdowns on just 29 receptions, with 6 catches going for over 20 yards. He also moved the chains for 17 first downs in 2019. He did the same in 2018, and actually notched 20 first downs in 2016. For his career, in fact, Dorsett has gotten 72 first downs on 124 career catches — a rate of 58%.

With a career avg per reception of 13.2 yards, and his reliability as a chain-mover, Dorsett adds an element to an offense that goes beyond raw stats for receptions and yards, and might prove extremely valuable to a Redskins offense that ranked dead last on 3rd-down conversions in 2019.

After two seasons with the Colts, Dorsett was traded to the Patriots, where he played the past three seasons.

He did so on a very economical contract. Dorsett was paid $2.6m in 2019, with just $500,000 guaranteed.

Of course, he picked up a super bowl ring along the way, but with the Patriots’ championship window starting to close, Dorsett may be ready to go in search of a few more dollars in his contract.

Dorsett is already 27 years old, and he is not a big guy — just 5’10” and 185 pounds. A first-round selection by the Colts in 2015, Dorsett is another guy on my list who has underperformed his draft status, but who could potentially enhance the Redskins’ wide receiver room.

I imagine that Dorsett will likely command a two to three year contract, at $2.5-$3.5m per year. I could see the Redskins inking him to a deal of, say, 3 years, $10m.

Dorsett’s value to the team would be his veteran savvy and his familiarity with “the Patriot Way”. While that may not be the same as the “Rivera Way”, it’s likely to have much in common, and Dorsett is the type of player with enough experience, including a championship ring, to be influential in the Redskins locker room.

Demaryius Thomas, Jets/(Patriots)/Broncos

New York Giants v New York Jets Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

I won a lot of fantasy football games with Demaryius Thomas on my teams. He had five consecutive seasons of over 1,000 yards with the Broncos — with 4 of them over 1,300. At some point during the 2020 season, Thomas should break the career 10,000 yard mark, which would move him into the top-50 in receiving yards all-time.

Thomas is likely to enter his 12th NFL season with a chip on his shoulder. After signing with the Patriots in free agency a year ago, he was cut at the end of training camp, only to be re-signed two days later. He saw only 7 offensive snaps for the Patriots (all in Week 2) before being traded to the Jets in Week 5.

I believe Thomas will be looking for a situation in 2020 where he can (i) play, (ii) contrbute, and (iii) have fun.

The Redskins just might be able to offer the right situation to Thomas — a locker room where the 5-time pro-bowler, 2-time all pro, and super bowl champion can mentor a young group of talented and motivated receivers.

Thomas was reportedly signed to a one-year $3m contract by the Patriots last season, but ended up playing for the Jets. One has to think that taking on the role of elder statesman on a young Redskins team hitting the ‘reset’ button under Ron Rivera could be very appealing at this point, and that a contract that mirrors the one he signed last season would be very appealing to the Redskins front office.

A Demaryius Thomas signing would likely be a low-cost one-year bridge to the future aimed more at providing leadership to a young group of receivers than securing a top-tier player on a long-term contract, but Thomas is the kind of player who could happily finish out his potential Hall-of-Fame career in Washington, helping the team and its fans to hit re-start in conjunction with the start of the Ron Rivera era.

Poll

What should the Redskins do at the wide receiver position this off-season?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    Stand pat with the current group — maybe add a late round draft pick or UDFA
    (92 votes)
  • 8%
    Try to upgrade the unit by drafting a receiver in the first three rounds of the draft.
    (83 votes)
  • 26%
    Try to upgrade the unit by adding a top-tier veteran receiver signed in free agency.
    (254 votes)
  • 53%
    Supplement the current unit with a low-cost veteran free agent and/or mid-to-late round draft pick.
    (520 votes)
  • 1%
    I have a different plan
    (17 votes)
966 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Of the players highlighted in this article, when you take into consideration history, talent, age, likely contract, and so on, which one would you most want the Redskins front office to prioritize if they signed a veteran free agent WR this off season?

This poll is closed

  • 20%
    Amari Cooper (Dallas)
    (209 votes)
  • 19%
    Emmanuel Sanders (San Fran)
    (196 votes)
  • 19%
    Breshad Perriman (Tampa Bay)
    (198 votes)
  • 24%
    Devin Funchess (Indy/Carolina)
    (245 votes)
  • 3%
    Phillip Dorsett (New England)
    (36 votes)
  • 13%
    Demaryius Thomas (Jets)
    (134 votes)
1018 votes total Vote Now