We continue our Titans-centric look at the upcoming free agent class today with the wide receivers. If you missed the breakdown of the guards or inside linebackers you can check them out via the links below.
2018 NFL Free Agency: Evaluating the Guards
2018 NFL Free Agency: Evaluating the Inside Linebackers
Ah, wide receiver, every Titans fans’ favorite position. The Titans have needed help at wide receiver every season since they moved to Tennessee. The best season the Titans have ever had at the position was probably 2003 when Derrick Mason, Justin McCareins, and Drew Bennett were all playing well. We’ve had some moments since then, but Kenny Britt’s “break out game” against the Eagles and Kendall Wright’s 1,000 yard season back in 2013 proved to be nothing more than mirages in the Titans wide receiver desert. I think you can make a pretty strong argument that Nate Washington is the best receiver the Titans have had since Derrick Mason headed north to play for the Purple Browns.
Since Floyd Reese passed on Randy Moss to draft Kevin Dyson 16th overall in 1998, the team has drafted Tyrone Calico, Courtney Roby, Brandon Jones, Paul Williams, Kenny Britt, Damian Williams, Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter, Dorial Green-Beckham, Corey Davis, and Taywan Taylor in the top 3 rounds of the draft. Davis, and to a lesser extent Taylor, have shown flashes in their rookie year, but neither did enough for us to declare the Curse of Randy Moss dead. Maybe Randy getting his call to Canton will lift the curse? Please?
Cursed or not, the Titans may find themselves looking to upgrade at wide receiver once again in 2018. Corey Davis flashed enough ability in his rookie season to make me believe he’s a long term piece at the top of the wide receiver depth chart in Tennessee, but he will need to improve his consistency and timing with Mariota — both areas that will be aided by a fully healthy offseason program. Rishard Matthews has also proven to be a reliable starter in his two years in Tennessee.
After the top two, Tennessee has a lot of question marks. Taywan Taylor had a pretty rough rookie season. I agree with the argument that the coaches didn’t do a great job of playing to his strengths, but Taylor really struggled to make contested catches and had some rookie errors in route running. I still think Taylor is extremely talented. His short area quickness and burst are excellent and I could certainly see him excelling in Matt LaFleur’s offense, but I don’t know that his 2017 play was good enough that I would feel comfortable going in to 2018 with him penciled in as the starting slot receiver without much competition.
Eric Decker and Harry Douglas are both slated to become unrestricted free agents on March 14th so that leaves only one other receiver with significant experience on the roster: Tajae Sharpe. It’s easy to forget about Sharpe since he’s been out of sight, out of mind for the 2017 season while recovering from a tricky foot injury, but he was solid in a starting role during his rookie season. He should at least offer excellent depth at wide receiver if his foot is healed in 2018. I don’t think Sharpe fits as a full-time slot receiver so I don’t know that he ends up with a top 3 spot on the depth chart unless he unseats Rishard Matthews, but to me he’s perfectly suited to be an outstanding 4th or 5th wide receiver at this point in his career.
Special teams contributor Eric Weems and practice squad players Darius Jennings and Zach Paschal are the only other receivers currently under contract for 2018 which means the Titans likely need to at least add one or two depth players to the mix at this position to really feel good heading in to next season.
Luckily, there are a lot of free agent options at wide receiver to choose from this year. Not all of these may make it to the market, but some of them will and I would expect the Titans to have some interest in a few of them.
Eric Decker | Titans
Let’s start here since the team’s decision on Decker is going to color everything else that they do — or don’t do — at the wide receiver position. Most Titans fans are out on Decker and I can understand it. The case of the dropsies that he caught came at the worst possible time as the Titans were playing for their lives in Week 17 and the playoffs. However, in order to drop a wide open pass you first have to get wide open and Decker was doing a pretty good job of that late in the season. Three of his four best games as a Titan came in Week 15, Week 16, and the Divisional Round game against New England, and had he caught those wide open passes against Jacksonville and Kansas City, we could be talking about what a hot streak Decker finished on and how we have to bring him back. But he did drop those passes and that’s the lasting memory that we are left with.
Outside of that really bad stretch — which was magnified by the fact that every drop came on a 3rd down — Decker was arguably the most reliable receiver the Titans had in 2017. He often made tough catches and showed a knack for knowing exactly where the marker was on 3rd downs. He also graded out as the 2nd best blocking receiver in the NFL per PFF, a list he is almost always near the top of.
It’s also worth noting that Decker was coming off surgeries to both his rotator cuff and his hip during the offseason. While he was ready to go by the start of training camp, it’s not unusual for a player to be less than 100% despite being fully “cleared” for some time after major surgeries like that. Decker certainly qualifies as an older guy heading in to his age 31 season and he’s unlikely to ever be the 80 catch/1,000 yard/10 TD guy that he once was, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Decker put together a better season in 2018.
Another argument in Decker’s favor is what Matt LaFleur just did with a similar player in Cooper Kupp. (Yes I’m doing the thing where I compare a white wide receiver to another white wide receiver, sue me.) Kupp is almost 6 years younger and hasn’t gone through the surgeries and grueling NFL seasons that Decker has so he’s probably a slightly more explosive athlete at this point in their careers, but explosion is not really their game. Both guys are big, physical slot receivers who win with precise routes and a good understanding of leverage/angles rather than pure speed. Kupp put up a 62 catch, 859 yard, 5 touchdown rookie season playing the role that Decker would occupy in this offense. I could absolutely see the Titans duplicating that type of performance with Decker in 2018. To be fair, LaFleur has been a part of offenses that have won with all different types of slot receivers though — one of which we will get to shortly — so having a jumbo slot type guy isn’t necessarily a pre-requisite for this style, but I think it’s worth pointing out that we’ve already seen the blueprint for Decker’s game in this offense and it looked pretty good.
Spotrac Projection: None
Decker is on the wrong side of 30 and he’s coming off a pretty pedestrian season so it’s not likely that many NFL teams are going to be banging down his door when the tampering period opens on March 12th. That means the Titans could probably have Decker back on a relatively cheap deal. We all know that Nashville is his offseason home and that was a big part of his decision to sign here last year after he was released by the Jets so that could lend itself to a hometown discount. I did sense some frustration from Decker last season — frequently skipping out on post-game media availability, a relatively surly demeanor on the rare occasions when he did give interviews, and, of course, his wife’s Twitter outburst — but my guess is the coaching change may help his outlook on returning to the Titans for a second season.
Harry Douglas | Titans
Douglas is probably already shopping for homes in the Buffalo area after he heard Terry Robiskie got hired there as wide receivers coach. In all seriousness, I think Douglas was treated a bit unfairly by Titans fans over the past three years. He was OK on the field, but he was, by all accounts, outstanding in the locker room. We give Jon Robinson and Mike Mularkey the credit for turning around the culture for this team — and rightfully so — but the veteran leaders also deserve some credit and Douglas is a part of that.
Spotrac Projection: None
Douglas is more than likely done as a Titan though. His primary connection here was to the coaching staff and with Mularkey and Robiskie gone, it’s hard to see the upside in signing him back here outside of his role as a glorified receivers coach. Maybe Robiskie brings him to Buffalo or he could return to Atlanta as a backup. I just don’t see how he ends up back here.
Sammy Watkins | Rams
This has been a popular suggestion among Titans fans ever since we hired Matt LaFleur. It makes sense to some degree. Watkins is a special talent who has yet to really produce at the level that most expected from him as the 4th overall pick in 2014. There are several reasons for that. First, Watkins has dealt with several injuries since entering the league, the most serious of which was a Jones fracture in his foot that required surgery during the offseason prior to the 2016 season.
The rest of this story will sound familiar to Titans fans who have seen Kevin Dodd and Tajae Sharpe deal with similar situations. Watkins returned by the start of the 2016 regular season, but was still dealing with lingering soreness. He played the first two games, but then went on IR for 8 weeks to try to let the foot heal. After 8 weeks, he still was dealing with pain, but wanted to play through it to try to help his team. The foot was so painful that he was reportedly practicing in linemen cleats to try to help with comfort. After the 2016 season, he underwent a second surgery on the foot and then was traded to LA for a 2nd round pick and cornerback E.J. Gaines.
The trade occurred during training camp so Watkins was playing catch up trying to learn a new offense and adapt to catching passes from a new quarterback. He ended up staying healthy all season, but his production wasn’t there. Watkins finished with 39 catches for 593 yards, good for 4th on the team in both categories behind rookie Cooper Kupp, former Bills teammate Robert Woods, and running back Todd Gurley. He did pick up 8 touchdowns though, establishing himself as a go-to threat in the red zone for the Rams.
Spotrac Projection: 3 years, $18M
Spotrac bases their salary projections solely on production and age so this projection doesn’t reflect the fact that Watkins is still viewed as an immense talent in the NFL. I’m pretty confident that every team in the NFL would line up around the block to give him a 3 year, $18M deal. The Rams are reportedly considering whether to use the franchise tag on him or Lamarcus Joyner over the next few weeks, and the wide receiver franchise tag number is $16.2M this year. The fact that they are even considering tagging him tells me that Spotrac is way off on this one.
His free agency is going to be interesting to watch if he gets there. Watkins is a strong, physical receiver who also offers the speed to be a legit vertical threat and that is a rare combination that teams will pay for. However, the production doesn’t match the traits right now and when you throw in his injury history you have a pretty high risk signing. I could see teams trying to get him on a long term deal that is light on guarantees, but he may be better off going the Alshon Jeffery route and signing a one year prove it contract and trying to land the long term deal next offseason.
Where the Titans fit in to all this is interesting. I could see the Titans being interested, but their are some complications. There is a lot of overlap between Watkins skill set and Corey Davis’. Watkins probably has more long speed, while Davis is a little bit taller/longer, but both typically play the “X” role in the offense. That’s not a deal killer though. There are far worse things than trying to figure out how you’re going to fit Davis, Watkins, and Matthews all in to an offense that also has Delanie Walker, but it’s something to consider when you’re trying to decide how much you want to invest in Watkins. Another potential issue for Tennessee is the fact that Watkins didn’t have very flattering things to say about new Titans wide receivers coach Rob Moore who was his position coach in Buffalo during his rookie season.
“Now, we’re understanding how to run routes off any press, off any leverage, to where you won’t be covered,” Watkins told the Buffalo News. “We were kind of limited last year with certain things. It was, ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that.’ All” Moore “wanted to do was just tie-in what he knew and what he did in his career and just do that.”
I wouldn’t call that a deal killer either though. Watkins likely wasn’t too happy about the circumstances under which Doug Marrone and his coaching staff bailed on the Bills after the 2014 season. Moore was a part of that staff and some of those comments that Watkins made likely were rooted in a feeling of being abandoned by him as an extension of Marrone. The NFL is a business and adults should be able to get over stuff like this. After all, if Delanie Walker was willing to welcome Erik Walden in to the locker room with open arms after Walden headbutted a helmetless Walker after the whistle, surely Watkins and Moore could get past these comments. However, when you start to add these small things up and consider the fact that teams like the 49ers, who have nearly unlimited cap space to work with, will also be chasing Watkins if he hits the market, it becomes hard to see a realistic scenario where Watkins is wearing two-tone blue this fall. And that’s probably OK. He’s a big time injury risk and who knows if he will ever get back to being the player that he was prior to his foot surgery. I think Titans fans should consider this to be a pipe dream and avoid the disappointment when he ends up elsewhere.
Allen Robinson | Jaguars
I’ll keep this one short. The Jaguars are expected to give the franchise tag to Robinson if they don’t reach an agreement on a new deal prior to the deadline. He’s an outstanding talent, but I would expect him to remain in Jacksonville for at least one more year.
Jarvis Landry | Dolphins
Landry has been given the franchise tag by the Dolphins so that ends his 2018 free agency drama before it really even began. I didn’t want Landry in Tennessee anyway. He was going to be looking for crazy money for a guy who mostly just operates within a few yards of the line of scrimmage. Don’t get me wrong, Landry is a good player, but his skill set was never going to be worth the $14-15M per season deal he was reportedly looking for. And that’s before you account for the “knucklehead“ factor. This was a hard pass for me already, and I’m kind of glad that it ended so quickly.
THE TOP OF THE (REALISTIC) MARKET
Paul Richardson | Seahawks
Richardson is part of the small next tier of the receiver market. These guys have proven themselves as effective starters in the NFL, but have the potential to take the next step with more opportunity moving forward. They aren’t going to break the bank like the stars above, but there is a real chance that one of these guys proves to be the best signing of this free agent class when its all said and done.
Richardson’s game is all about speed — something the Titans could use an infusion of — but he was able to round out his game over the past four years in Seattle to the point that the Seahawks felt Jermaine Kearse was expendable prior to the start of last season. At just 6’-0” and 175 pounds, he’s a guy who reminds me a little bit of a longer DeSean Jackson. He isn’t quite as fast as D-Jax, but his 4.40 40 time is reflected clearly in his play speed where he regularly is able to get on top of defenders and run by safeties. Those are the traits that helped make him a 2nd round pick in 2014. He also does a great job making plays on the ball in contested catch situations as the video below will demonstrate.
This is not a cry to re-sign Paul Richardson by all means, but to sit there and say the trust wasn't there when it came down to high balls or the chemistry wasn't there in tight windows and back shoulder placements. Paul Richardson made Russell Wilson better. Simple. pic.twitter.com/9bqu23LyFu— C.J. Tumbarello (@TumbarelloHB) February 16, 2018
Richardson also made one of the best catches you’ll ever see during the the 2016 playoffs.
Paul Richardson with an insane one-handed touchdown catch pic.twitter.com/0QuJdPh3jz— Eric Rosenthal (@ericsports) January 8, 2017
He can play both in the slot or outside so he offers some versatility, but the biggest draw with him would be the ability to stretch the field vertically and allow guys like Corey Davis, Rishard Matthews, and Delanie Walker to work with more room underneath. The Titans haven’t really had a true deep threat since Nate Washington’s prime so it would be refreshing to see Richardson take that role in this offense.
One small drawback to Richardson is the durability question. With a 175 pound player, that is always going to be a question and he did miss all of the 2015 season due to a combination of a torn ACL (suffered during the 2014 playoffs) and a pulled hamstring that was picked up in his first game back from that injury. Outside of that season, Richardson has largely remained healthy though, playing 31 of the last 32 regular season games.
Spotrac Projection: 4 years, $25.8M
Our friends over at Field Gulls did a pretty detailed breakdown of their expectations of Richardson’s value on the open market, eventually landing somewhere around a 4 year, $30-40M range, a little higher than where Spotrac has him. That’s primarily due to the value of Richardson’s rare speed and the fact that his arrow has been pointing up over the past two seasons. That’s a pretty good chunk of change for a guy who’s never broken 750 yards receiving in a season, but it pays to be fast in the NFL.
I could definitely get behind a Richardson signing for the Titans. His ability to stretch the defense and make plays on contested catches is special and its something that the Titans don’t currently have on the roster. Additionally, you don’t have to pigeon-hole in to a slot role as he has operated outside frequently in Seattle where Doug Baldwin typically dominates the slot snaps. Richardson, Davis, and Matthews could all be used both outside and inside, giving the Titans maximum flexibility and also a built in replacement for Matthews if they choose not to bring him back next offseason.
Marqise Lee | Jaguars
If the Jaguars tag Robinson as expected, it likely means the end of the line for Lee in Jacksonville. He’s been a very good player for them, but he’s expendable with Robinson, Allen Hurns, Keelan Cole, and Dede Westbrook around in the Jags receiver room.
As Lee’s role expanded over the past two seasons there have been many times that I’ve watched him and thought he’s the best receiver on the field for the Jags — even with a healthy Allen Robinson out there in 2016. He’s primarily been used out of the slot and that’s the role he’s best suited for at 6’-0” and 192 pounds. Unlike Richardson, he doesn’t have the elite straight line speed, but he makes up for it with outstanding short area quickness and burst. He’s also an excellent route runner who does a good job of attacking the ball with his hands.
Excuse me, I need to take a quick break. I’ve typed too many nice things about a Jaguars player and its making my heart hurt.
Blake Bortles is going to get 19 million of Shad Khan’s dollars next season.
OK, I feel better now. Let’s continue. Lee has the pedigree too as a former Biletnikoff winner at USC who was debated as a possible 1st round pick in 2014 prior to falling to the Jaguars at #39 overall. With Robinson out this year, Lee saw some time outside and proved that he can succeed in that role as well.
If there is a drawback with Lee, its a history of knick knack type injuries that have cost him games in 3 out of his 4 seasons. Many of them were relatively minor knee sprains and hamstring pulls in his first two seasons. The last two years had been injury free until the ankle injury that cost him the last two games of the regular season this year.
Spotrac Projection: 3 years, $30M
That seems about right for Lee. With Landry off the market thanks to the Dolphins franchise tag, Lee is likely the best slot receiver available (I would have preferred him to Landry anyway) and that might drive his price tag even higher. I think the Titans should have some interest here as well, but there are also some less expensive options that could fit if Lee and Richardson end up elsewhere.
THE SMALL FAST GUYS
Taylor Gabriel | Falcons
Gabriel is a pretty unique NFL player. At 5’-8” tall and just 167 pounds, he’s usually the smallest guy on the field by a pretty wide margin, but his speed has allowed him to carve out a role in the league. After going undrafted out of Abilene Christian in 2014, he signed a UDFA deal with the Browns to come in and compete in camp and ended up sticking on the 53-man roster out of camp.
He had his break out game against the Titans — because of course he did — during the Browns stunning 25 point comeback win over Charlie Whitehurst and the Whiz Gang, going for 4 catches for 95 yards.
After a productive rookie season, Gabriel saw his opportunity diminish in 2015 before the Browns released him as one of their final cuts at the start of the 2016 season. He quickly caught on in Atlanta under Kyle Shanahan — who was also his offensive coordinator during his rookie year in Cleveland — and turned in a very strong season for the Falcons. You probably remember Gabriel from that Falcons team as “that little guy who was always scoring long touchdowns”. His 6 touchdowns during that season came from 47, 76, 35, 25, 64, and 9 yards out. You also may remember the moment when he stole Malcolm Butler’s soul in the Super Bowl.
Spotrac Projection: None
With his size Gabriel is a pretty limited player. He likely won’t get a ton of free agent attention, but Matt LaFleur will know him from their time together in Atlanta and I could see him being interested in bringing Gabriel on as a role player who can come in a stretch the field at times. Of course, Kyle Shanahan could also come calling in San Francisco even though he already has an upgraded version of Gabriel on his roster in Marquise Goodwin. The Titans do need to add speed on offense and this could be a relatively cheap option to do just that.
Albert Wilson | Chiefs
Wilson is another guy who only really fits in the slot at the NFL level. He’s 5’-9” tall, but he’s a thicker guy at 200 pounds. He is another player that brings a speed element to the game, but unlike Richardson and Gabriel, he hasn’t shown the ability to get behind the defense with any sort of consistency to this point in his career.
The positives on Wilson are that he’s coming off his best year as a pro — that can sometimes be the Contract Year Effect, but it can also be a guy who is figuring it out too — and that he comes from a west coast offense that should allow for a pretty smooth transition to LaFleur’s scheme here.
Spotrac Projection: None
I’ve seen guessed out there that place Wilson’s value somewhere around 3 to 4 years at an average annual salary of about $4M per year. That sounds about right to me. I could see the Titans having some interest here if Wilson doesn’t get re-signed in KC. He’s the kind of guy that could fit in the new offense, wouldn’t require a significant financial investment and could serve as Taywan Taylor insurance in case Taylor either doesn’t take the next step in 2018 or comes down with an injury at some point.
De’Anthony Thomas | Chiefs
Thomas came in to the NFL as a running back, but the Chiefs have mostly used him as a gadget player and return man during his four years in KC. At 5’-9” and 174 pounds, he’s another guy who can only do so much as a receiver, but he has elite speed and quickness and that makes him dangerous when a team can get him the ball in space.
Spotrac Projection: None
There is really only one reason that makes Tennessee stand out as a destination for Thomas this offseason: the Mariota connection. The two played together at Oregon and have a good relationship to this day. He’s not going to fetch a big contract due to his size limitations so he wouldn’t cost that much to bring in if the team felt like they could find a way to use him — something the Chiefs struggled to do during his four years in KC. He could pitch in at both receiver and as a change of pace back at times — and it wouldn’t hurt to have a second quality option for returning kicks and punts either. He’s basically the player that Ken Whisenhunt thought Dexter McCluster was.
One complication here is that Thomas suffered a broken leg that required surgery during the Chiefs regular season finale so he may not be healthy for the entirety of the offseason program. So if the Titans did sign him, they would have to wait a while to get him up to speed.
John Brown | Cardinals
Two years ago it would have been hard to imagine John Brown’s career heading in this direction. A 3rd round draft pick of the Cardinals in 2014, he quickly became one of Carson Palmer’s top targets, hauling in 48 catches for 696 yards and 5 touchdowns in his impressive rookie season. He followed that up with an even better 2015, catching 63 passes for 1,003 yards and 7 touchdowns. During this time he regularly used his 4.34 speed to get behind the defenses and his sharp route running allowed him to be effective on shorter and intermediate routes as well.
However, the last two seasons have been far less kind to Brown. In 2016 persistent hamstring issues that weren’t showing up on MRIs led to a blood test to try to diagnose the problem. That test revealed that Brown is a carrier of the sickle cell trait — a genetic abnormality that effects red blood cells and can make muscles more susceptible to break down during intense exercise. It can also be very dangerous at high altitudes as former Steelers safety Ryan Clark found out in a very scary incident in Denver. In 2017, Brown struggled again to stay on the field due to quad and turf toe injuries that combined to cost him 5 games. When he was on the field, he wasn’t nearly the effective player that he was during his first two years in Arizona.
Spotrac Projection: None
There is no doubt that Brown is a bit of a reclamation project, but he’s a high upside guy with a big time skill set. He’s an ideal candidate for a one year prove it deal. On a one year deal Brown would be a great low risk, high reward signing for a team like the Titans who don’t necessarily need him to come in and be a full time starter.
Danny Amendola | Patriots
OK, so the “fast“ descriptor doesn’t really apply here, but Amendola is very quick and sometimes that’s even more important. He proved that in the playoffs this year as he put up an incredible 26 catches for 348 yards and 2 touchdowns in just 3 postseason games, appearing borderline unguardable at times.
Amendola is 32 and has a loooooong track record of being injury prone so he’s not the most attractive option on this list by a long shot, but he can still bring value to a team as he proved in the playoffs.
Spotrac Projection: None
With the Patriots likely heading in to 2018 with Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, and Julian Edelman all healthy and ready to play, it seems like Amendola might want to consider a move if he wants regular playing time next season. That being said, his age, injury history, and limitations as a player make him pretty much a lock to sign a one year deal somewhere, probably with a team that he feels like can compete for a Super Bowl next year. He did have one season of overlap with Jon Robinson in New England during his first year with the Pats in 2013, but its hard to know if those guys really interfaced that much since Amendola was a free agent addition and Robinson was the Director of College Scouting. Amendola could potentially help fill in the “savvy veteran” void that would be left with the exits of Douglas and Decker from the roster.
Brice Butler | Cowboys
This is Graver’s guy so I’ll suggest you go take a look at this excellent gif thread featuring Butler’s skill set. Its much better than anything I can write.
Time for a GIF thread on one of the NFL's most underrated players, #Cowboys wide receiver @Brice_Butler, who is set to become a free agent in March. Some team is going to be very happy to sign him. I hope it's the #Titans. pic.twitter.com/gY86zZ41HF— Titans Film Room (@titansfilmroom) February 17, 2018
Butler has prototypical size and speed at 6’-3”, 215 pounds and a blistering 4.37 40 time at his pro day at San Diego State in 2013. However, he fell to the Raiders in the 7th round because of production concerns.
He actually started his career at USC, but after a 20 catch, 292 yard freshman season, he fell behind other talented receivers and combined for just 21 catches during his sophomore and junior campaigns. With Robert Woods and Marqise Lee both coming off 1,000 yard seasons, Butler decided to look for more playing time and transferred to SDSU. There he finished his college career with a 24 catch, 347 yard season.
Despite the lack of production, Butler’s physical talent helped him stick on the Raiders roster. He appeared in 25 games over his first two years in the league and even started a couple games for what was a horrific Raiders offense in 2013 and 2014.
After the 2014 season a new coaching staff was brought in and Butler was shipped to Dallas in return for a conditional draft pick. The Cowboys wanted him as Dez Bryant insurance after their star wide receiver went down with an injury. Over the past 3 years he has served as Bryant’s primary backup as well as an off-the-bench deep threat. His 18.5 yards per catch average in Dallas tells you a lot about how they used him.
Butler’s physical ability is undeniable, but he’s never put up the stats to match. That can be chalked up to opportunity to some degree. The Cowboys have had Bryant and Terrance Williams pretty well locked in at the starting receiver spots for years now. But I also find it hard to believe that teams are actively suppressing talent in the NFL so there is likely a reason that Butler hasn’t been able to unseat Williams. Maybe he’s a bad practice player? Whatever the reason, Butler has stated that he’s not going to re-sign with the Cowboys unless he is given a “legit shot” at a starting role, so clearly he feels like he hasn’t been given that opportunity in past seasons.
Beyond the production issues, he’s another guy on this list with injury concerns too. He hasn’t had any major, season-ending tears, but he’s picked up his fair share of hamstring pulls and, most recently, a foot sprain that have cost him games in 2015 and 2017. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that he’s “injury prone” though.
Spotrac Projection: None
He’s a guy that should be available for $4M per year or less despite his seemingly unlimited potential. The fact that at age 28, he’s still yet to realize that potential for more than a game or two at a time is going to give teams pause about committing big money to Butler.
I do see what Graver sees in him though. With the ability to work both outside and inside, he would give the Titans another versatile piece in the receiver room. Matt LaFleur may see him as a guy that he could use as a jumbo slot receiver similar to how he used Mohamed Sanu at times in Atlanta in 2016.
Terrelle Pryor | Redskins
Be honest, can you remember what Pryor looked like in a Redskins jersey without a Google image search? The only reason I can is that Washington played on Monday Night Football or Sunday Night Football approximately 23 times last season and during one of those games I had a fantasy win riding on the performance of the opposing defense. It turned out poorly for me despite Terrelle Pryor catching his only touchdown pass of 2017 in that game in case you were wondering (you weren’t).
But the point is that Pryor was borderline non-existent in Washington this season after signing a one year prove it deal last offseason. His total line on the year was 20 catches, 240 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 benching, and 1 season ending ankle surgery. The last two things almost certainly were related as Pryor’s injury occurred in Week 2, but he tried to play through it for weeks before finally shutting down his season for good in November.
We all know Pryor’s story, started at quarterback for the Raiders before transitioning to wide receiver midway through his career. At 6’-5”, 232 pounds, and running a 4.38 40 at his pro day in 2011, he is among the ”freakiest” athletes in the NFL. In 2016, his first full season as a receiver, he caught 77 balls for 1,007 yards despite catching passes from Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan for most of the season.
Spotrac Projection: None
If you want to tell yourself a story that he’s a guy who is being punished for trying to valiantly play through an injury in 2017, you could make a pretty convincing argument. Some team is probably going to talk themselves in to that narrative this offseason. It certainly seems like a Browns re-union could be in the cards after Cleveland reportedly tried to trade for him at the deadline last season.
Returning to the Browns makes a lot of sense for Pryor, especially when you consider the fact that his opponents and former teammates seem to really hate him for some reason.
This will be Pryor’s age 29 season so it is doubtful that he gets a big long term deal this offseason after striking out last offseason. Another one year contract may be on tap for him. I really don’t think the Titans will be interested in him.
Donte Moncrief | Colts
Moncrief is yet another potential buy-low receiver on this free agent market. Coming out of Ole Miss he somehow dropped to the 3rd round of the 2014 draft despite running a 4.40 at 6’-2” and 221 pounds with solid but not spectacular college production to back it up.
Since entering the league Moncrief has flashed his enormous potential at times, particularly in his 2nd season when he pulled in 64 passes for 733 yards and 6 touchdowns despite Andrew Luck missing over half the season. However, recent results have been disappointing from Moncrief as he hasn’t come anywhere near his 2015 production due, in part, to injuries keeping him out of 11 games over the past two seasons. His injuries have been minor and somewhat random — a pulled hamstring, a fractured scapula, and a sprained AC joint — so none of them are particularly bothersome from a long term standpoint.
Spotrac Projection: None
Moncrief (24) is a particularly young player to be hitting free agency at the end of his rookie contract. That’s the tantalizing thing about him. If you can find a way to get that potential out of him, he’s still got a lot of time left in his athletic prime to work with. The inconsistencies in his game are problematic though. It’s not like he’s been lighting it up when he’s been healthy these past two years. He may be best off finding a one year contract and trying to get back to the market next offseason and he reportedly would like to be back with the Colts if they want him, but a lot of that will come down to Chris Ballard and Frank Reich. Moncrief was not a Ballard draft pick so he may prefer to go get one of “his guys”.
THE HOMETOWN KID
Jordan Matthews | Bills
This guy is going to be interesting to watch in free agency. Matthews entered the league with the Eagles as a 2nd round pick out of Vanderbilt and immediately started cranking out productive seasons. Between 2014 and 2016 he never caught fewer than 67 passes and never had less than 800 yards receiving. He also notched 19 touchdowns. A quick disclaimer here: Matthews’ 2014 and 2015 seasons were under Chip Kelly who’s maniacal pace inflated a lot of counting stats due to the number of snaps those teams got off. Nevertheless, Matthews produced at a high level primarily as a jumbo slot receiver.
After the Eagles brought in Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith last offseason, Matthews was deemed expendable and found himself traded along with a 3rd round pick to Buffalo for cornerback Ronald Darby. Matthews struggled through an injury plagued season for the Bills, putting up career worsts across the board while playing in just 10 games. The injury bug bit him immediately upon arrival in Buffalo as he suffered a chip fracture to his sternum during his very first practice as a Bill. He then went on to struggle through ankle and knee injuries that eventually required surgery and ended his season. Prior to arriving in Buffalo, Matthews had been pretty durable though, missing just 2 games in 3 years.
On the field Matthews brings a big, physical presence to the slot at 6’-3” and 212 pounds — approximately the same size as Corey Davis. He’s got good top end speed, running a 4.46 at the combine, but is more of a strider than a burner. His somewhat inconsistent hands can be problematic at times.
Spotrac Projection: 4 years, $35.4M
I understand where that projection comes from given Matthews’ previous production, but its awfully rich for a guy who is primarily a possession slot receiver with little run after catch ability. However, if his price tag were closer to $5-6M per season I could get very interested and if Matthews was going to give a “hometown discount“ to any team, it won’t be the Bills or Eagles, it will be the Titans.
I’ll explain. Matthews is from Madison, Alabama — a little less than two hours from Nashville. He then attended Vanderbilt for college and has lived in Nashville during the offseasons ever since. His charity is based in Nashville. He met his wife in Nashville at Vanderbilt. He’s a Nashville guy. Matthews has spoken openly in the past about “not playing for money” due to the fact that he grew up in an affluent family so the idea that he might not have money guiding his free agency decision in March is not that farfetched. I don’t know if Matthews fits particularly well on the current Titans roster though. They need to find more speed on offense and Matthews isn’t that guy despite good 40 time. Three wide receiver sets featuring Corey Davis, Rishard Matthews, and Jordan Matthews wouldn’t stretch the defense vertically enough in my opinion.
THE FORMER TITANS
Kendall Wright | Bears
Justin Hunter | Steelers
THE TRADE MARKET
Corey Coleman | Browns
Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland mentioned the possibility that the Browns are frustrated with Coleman and may be interested in trading the 15th overall pick from the 2016 draft.
.@TonyGrossi: "There's a chance the Browns try to move on from Corey Coleman...There's a lot of frustration in the organization about him."— Aaron Goldhammer (@HammerNation19) February 19, 2018
Coleman has struggled to stay on the field in Cleveland, suffering a broken hand during the 2nd game of both of his NFL seasons somehow. I’ve never heard of chronic hand injuries being a problem for an athlete before, so I’ll chalk that up to bad luck for now. When he has been on the field Coleman hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire either, catching 56 passes for 718 yards and 5 touchdowns combined over two seasons. However, the Browns quarterback situation must be considered when looking at those stats. He also will likely be remembered in Cleveland for the 4th down drop that sealed their 0-16 fate last season in the final game against Pittsburgh.
Teams usually don’t consider moving on from former 1st round picks just two years later without some off-the-field issues being involved, and Coleman’s situation is no different. He was with his brother and another friend when they allegedly assaulted a man in the lobby of Coleman’s condo in Cleveland. Coleman himself was never charged though. He also was sent home — along with our old friend Kenny Britt — prior to the Browns game in Houston last season for missing curfew. The two players were both injured and not expected to play, but head coach Hue Jackson still expected them to follow the rules set out for the rest of the team.
Coleman also has a few other little things that may be irritating Browns brass, such as this comment during an interview late in his rookie season.
Late in the season, Coleman gave an interview where he said “a lot of stuff was going on.” Asked what that stuff was, he began by saying: “It’s hard to say. The weather was bad.”
Add all that up and you can start to see why the Browns might want to get what they can for Coleman and move on.
I don’t know if the Titans would have interest here or not. Coleman seems to be a bit of a character concern and we know that Jon Robinson has typically steered towards high character players since arriving in Nashville. However, from a skill set standpoint, Coleman could be just what the Titans are looking for as a complement to Corey Davis. Coleman is an explosive athlete with elite speed to take the top off a defense and exceptional burst to help him get in an out of his breaks quickly. His biggest concerns coming out of Baylor in 2016 were his limited route tree in Art Briles’ unique offense and his size at just 5’-11” and 194 pounds. He was extremely productive at Baylor though, racking up 3,009 yards and 33 touchdowns in 3 seasons in Waco.
He’d be a great long term complement to Davis and still has two cheap years and a 5th year option left on his rookie contract heading in to 2018. Depending on the price, Coleman could be an excellent buy-low candidate for a team. He was always thought to be a guy who would require some development at the NFL level so his slow start on the field shouldn’t be particularly surprising and a second chance outside of Cleveland might help jump start his career.
Martavis Bryant | Steelers
Bryant is seemingly a constant in the trade rumor mill, and that isn’t changing this offseason. Recent reports have indicated that the Dolphins and Steelers have talked about a potential troubled wide receiver swap with DeVante Parker heading to Pittsburgh in return for The Alien. The Jets, Redskins, and Colts have also supposedly put feelers out about acquiring Bryant.
Remember those Martavis Bryant trade rumors? Well they’re back https://t.co/PTIH0UpXey— SB Nation NFL (@SBNationNFL) February 22, 2018
Bryant is a special athlete, running a 4.42 at 6’-4” and 211 pounds at the combine in 2014. He claims to have gotten that time down to 4.27 last offseason. I’m not sure I’m buying that hand timed 40 from his buddy there, but regardless, Bryant can absolutely fly. His speed translates on the field as well where he’s one of the elite deep threats in the game.
Of course Bryant comes with a slew of off-field risks. He’s been suspended multiple times for multiple failed drug tests, including a full year suspension that cost him the 2016 season. He seems to be clean now though after a season of passing constant drug testing in the NFL’s program and he claims to be a new man. With addiction there is always the looming threat of a relapse, but Bryant says he knows that this is his last chance and has changed his life to minimize temptation to go back to his old ways.
Bryant is still an extremely outspoken player as he made clear throughout the 2017 season. First he criticized teammate JuJu Smith-Schuster on Instagram after a fan said that the rookie was a better receiver than Bryant.
“[He’s] nowhere near better than me, fool,” Bryant wrote, according to Fowler. “All they need to do is give me what I want and y’all can have JuJu and whoever else.”
Then came the public trade requests as he grew increasingly frustrated with his lack of role in the offense. The Steelers stuck with him though and he turned in a few good performances down the stretch as Antonio Brown’s injury opened up more opportunities.
I’d be surprised if Bryant didn’t end up being traded at some point this offseason, but I highly doubt the Titans would be the landing spot.
I think it’s in the Titans best interest to bring in one receiver during this offseason via the free agency, trade, or the draft. My favorite fits are Paul Richardson and Marqise Lee, but both those guys are likely to require a pretty large investment. Of the less expensive options I think the Titans could have some interest in Taylor Gabriel and John Brown. Eric Decker and Jordan Matthews both offer at least somewhat of a hometown discount most likely so they could be good value options even if they aren’t great fits from a skill set standpoint.
What the team thinks about Tajae Sharpe and Taywan Taylor behind closed doors will factor in to how they view this position. If the Titans go with a low cost option like Gabriel and don’t extend Matthews, they could face the start of the 2019 season with just Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor, Tajae Sharpe, and Gabriel on the roster. However, an investment now in a player like Richardson or Lee could have them set at the position for at least 2-3 years. Signing one of those guys, however, also likely pushes Taywan Taylor’s role back to what it was in 2017. Signing more of a role player like Gabriel would be putting a lot of faith in Taylor’s ability to be a significant contributor in 2018.
I’m pretty torn here, but my preference would be to go get Paul Richardson. He’s one of the league’s elite deep threats, but he’s also very capable of winning contested catches as some of those videos I posted above show. The Titans would probably have to shell out about $7-8M per year to get him, but with Rishard Matthews’ contract set to expire next offseason some of his cost could be offset if Taywan Taylor or Tajae Sharpe play well enough to make Matthews expendable next offseason.