Top 10 Free Agent Wide Receivers 2017: Alshon Jeffery, Terrelle Pryor lead otherwise unassuming group
By Neil Dutton. While the accepted wisdom states that free agency is NOT how to go about building a team, the simple truth is that many players will fall into lucrative paydays when the new league year kicks off on March 9, 2017. With this in mind, here we offer a glance at the top ten wide receivers with their contract expiring, and who will look to make a dollar in 2017. While the list is not exactly filled with superstar names, there are still four 1,000 yard receivers on it, and all could lay claim to improving almost any NFL offense they land on.
(All salary cap figures are courtesy of OverTheCap.com)
- Alshon Jeffrey
2016 Stats: 52 receptions, 810 yards, 2 touchdowns
For the second year in a row, Jeffrey did not play all 16 games, although the four games he missed in 2016 were due to a suspension. When on the field, he did not seem to be a major part of the Chicago Bears offense. His average of 4.3 receptions and 68.4 yards per game were the lowest since his rookie season. He battled hamstring and knee injuries for most of the season, but is still relatively young as wide receivers go. After playing out the season on the franchise tag, it is possible that he showed the Bears enough to tempt them to tag him a second time. The team has over $58 million in cap space ahead of the 2017 season but would likely want a team friendly contract to hang on to Jeffery. The Philadelphia Eagles were reported to have discussed a trade for Jeffrey prior to the trade deadline, and considering the Bears desperation for playmakers, they could be in the hunt again.
- Terrelle Pryor
2016 Stats: 77 receptions, 1,007 yards, 4 touchdowns
In his first year as a wide receiver, the former quarterback astonishingly delivered a 1,000 yard season despite playing through a finger injury for most of the final weeks of the 2016 campaign AND enduring a revolving door at quarterback for the Cleveland Browns. Pryor has expressed his desire to remain with the Browns despite their 1-15 mark last season, and with over $110 million in cap space, the Browns should have no difficulty locking him up long term. He’s unlikely to reach the open market, but if he did a team would likely over pay for him given his athletic gifts.
- DeSean Jackson
2016 Stats: 56 receptions, 1,005 yards, 4 touchdowns
Jackson went over 1,000 yards for the fifth time in nine NFL seasons even though just barely. He remained one of the premier deep threats in the NFL last season with 17.9 yards per catch. But, the Washington Redskins may not be looking for him to return to D.C. for 2017. With Pierre Garcon, Vernon Davis and Kirk Cousins set to be re-upped, the emergence of Jamison Crowder and the anticipated return to health of 2016 first round draft pick Josh Doctson could see the Washington Redskins decide that Jackson is a luxury they can do without. There has been rampant speculation linking Jackson with a return to the Eagles, the team that drafted him in 2008 and with whom he spent his first six seasons with. Jackson is supposedly not opposed to the idea of a reunion but he could ask for more than the Eagles will pay a speed reliant 30 year old receiver. But, someone will pay it.
2016 Stats: 68 receptions, 1002 yards, 5 touchdowns
Britt was a beacon of light on one of the direst offenses in the whole league. He went over the 1,000 yard plateau for the first time in his career despite the Los Angeles Rams quarterback woes with Case Keenum and rookie Jared Goff. The Rams have $40 million in cap space and with a worrying lack of playmakers on the roster, they could look to keep the 28 year old Britt around. However, there is always a danger in paying up for a player who comes through big in a contract year. There are also reports that the Redskins could be interested in Britt. Plus, Baltimore Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome has indicated that the team is looking for a “complementary receiver” this offseason. So, other teams could be in the market for Kenny Brott’s services. However, Britt won’t break the bank or re-set the market but he should see a nice pay day from some team.
- Kenny Stills
2016 Stats: 42 receptions, 726 yards, 9 touchdowns
Stills is one of the most intriguing players on this list. 42 receptions are not what one would expect from a “number one” receiver, but the 726 yards and especially the nine touchdowns he scored offer a tantalising glimpse as to what Stills can bring to an offense. One of the best deep threats in the NFL, Stills is in danger of getting lost in the shuffle with the Miami Dolphins, a team likely to extend Jarvis Landry this off season. Stills is another name to be linked with the Philadelphia Eagles, with Bleeding Green Radio’s John Barchard characterizing him as “DeSean Lite.” With this in mind, the Eagles may look to Stills as a cheaper and younger alternative to Jackson, especially as Stills offers the same set of skills as Jackson.
- Kendall Wright
2016 Stats: 29 receptions, 416 yards, 3 touchdowns
Wright was a first round draft pick of the Tennessee Titans back in 2012, but after a 94 catch, 1,079 yard campaign in his second season he has failed to establish himself consistently as a productive part of the offense. Wright has played 21 games in the last two seasons, and has just 65 receptions for 824 yards over that span. He “feels free,” according to reports, and will almost certainly not return to the team in 2017. His draft pedigree should see him find something of a market but he may have to sign a “prove it” deal and show any suitors he can stay healthy for 16 games before any serious money comes his way.
- Jeremy Kerley
2016 Stats: 64 receptions, 667 yards, 3 touchdowns
Kerley was one of the few bright spots in a dismal San Francisco 49ers offense, finishing with a career high 64 receptions while matching his career mark with three scores. He saw eight targets in each of the last four games of the 2016 season, and reeled in at least five every time. He is unlikely to find much of a call on his services on the open market given his lack of big play ability or nose for the end zone. But with $80 million in the bank, the new GM and Head Coach of the 49ers (whoever that will be) may look to keep Kerley around as the team enters full reload mode.
- Pierre Garcon
2016 Stats: 79 receptions, 1041 yards, 3 touchdowns
Garcon enjoyed one of the quietest 1,000 yard campaigns of recent times but was a fairly constant piece of the Washington Redskins offense throughout the season. He saw at least five targets in 15 of 16 games and was held under 50 yards just four times. Wide receiver is a position that the Redskins may look to get younger, but Garcon is still only 30. Speed has never been part of his skill set so his loss is not likely to be as negative a factor as it would be to losing fellow wide receiver DeSean Jackson. If Pierre Garcon doesn’t re-sign with the Redskins, the Baltimore Ravens, have hinted that they may enter the free agency market to sign a veteran receiver as they look to fill the gap left by Steve Smith’s retirement, and Garcon may be quite the thing they’re after.
2016 Stats: 52 receptions, 453 yards, 2 touchdowns
An electrifying athlete, Cordarrelle Patterson has never satisfactorily translated his gifts into the consistent production at wide receiver the Minnesota Vikings were hoping for when they drafted him in the first round back in 2013. While he set a career high with 52 receptions in 2016, his 8.7 yards per reception mark is not likely to have impressed anyone too much. He offers much more on Special Teams, leading the NFL in kick off yards per return the last two seasons and three times in his four NFL campaigns. The Vikings would no doubt like to keep him around, but if Patterson still wants to be thought of as a wide receiver, he will probably have to go elsewhere. There will be no shortage of offensive minds who would love to get their hands on a player as freakishly athletic as Patterson, but there is not a long list of general managers who would break the bank to secure him.
- Adam Thielen
2016 Stats: 69 receptions, 967 yards, 5 touchdowns
If Terrelle Pryor hadn’t had the season he did, Thielen would probably have been the most surprising wide receiver success story of 2016. After just 20 receptions for 281 yards in his first two seasons in the league, Thielen became one of Sam Bradford’s go to guys with the Minnesota Vikings. Only Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph had more catches than Thielen’s 69, but no player topped his 967 yards through the air. His 202 yard performance against the Green Bay Packers is tied for the third most yards in a single game in Vikings history. Thielen is a restricted free agent, and given his chemistry with Bradford (who has been kissed in as the 2017 starter) it would stagger if he did not receive the highest tender possible, with a view to an extension further down the line.
Here’s the full list of free agent wide receivers with restricted free agents (R) as indicated:
Chris Matthews (R)
Steve Smith (ret.)
Josh Gordon (R)
Devin Street (R)
Kansas City Chiefs
Albert Wilson (R)
San Diego Chargers
Dontrelle Inman (R)
Isaiah Burse (R)
Trey Burton (WR)
Corey Fuller (R)
Charles Johnson (R)
Adam Thielen (R)
Josh Bellamy (R)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
New Orleans Saints
Brandon Coleman (R)
Corey Brown (R)
Laron Byrd (R)
Tedd Ginn, Jr.
Brittan Golden (R)
Los Angeles Rams
San Francisco 49ers