When it comes to star power in NFL free agency in 2012, there might not be a more stacked position group than wide receiver. But much like the running back class, this year’s bumper crop of free agent wide receivers will likely be thinned when some teams exercise their right to place the franchise tag on pending free agents.
DeSean Jackson of the Philadelphia Eagles has already received the franchise tagm and the long list of other free agent wideouts who could get tagged includes Vincent Jackson of the San Diego Chargers, Wes Welker of the New England Patriots, Dwayne Bowe of the Kansas City Chiefs, Marques Colston of the New Orleans Saints, and Steve Johnson of the Buffalo Bills.
And then there is Mike Wallace of the Pittsburgh Steelers, a restricted free agent who could garner interest.
The Ravens, who have said they plan to address the wide receiver position at some point this offseason, have downplayed the possibility that they will throw big money at one of the top wide receivers on the market, so they didn’t figure to show serious interest in any of the above players. However, if a handful of those players are franchised, second-tier receivers potentially of interest to the Ravens could be priced out of their budget.
Lesser free agents who might be a fit in the Ravens offense -- speculation alert -- include Brandon Lloyd of the St. Louis Rams, Mario Manningham of the New York Giants, Robert Meachem of the New Orleans Saints, Laurent Robinson of the Dallas Cowboys, and Pierre Garcon and Reggie Wayne of the Indianapolis Colts.
Here is a look at five of the top free agent wideouts and where they could wind up in 2012 (to make things interesting, I removed Welker and Wallace, who probably aren’t going anywhere right now).
1. Vincent Jackson: Jackson, who has thrived in San Diego’s vertical passing offense, received the franchise tag in 2011. There have been mixed reports about whether he will be tagged for a second straight offseason. Of all the free agent receivers, Jackson would be the best fit in Baltimore, but he comes with a huge price tag.
Potential suitors: San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Washington Redskins, Chicago Bears, Jacksonville Jaguars.
2. Dwayne Bowe: A season after hauling in 15 touchdown catches, Bowe’s touchdown total dipped to five in 2011. But he remains one of the NFL’s better red zone weapons and should cash in if the Chiefs let him walk.
Potential suitors: Kansas City Chiefs, Chicago Bears, St. Louis Rams, Jacksonville Jaguars, Washington Redskins.
3. Marques Colston: Colston has been a popular target for Drew Brees in New Orleans. In five of his six NFL seasons, he has at least 1,000 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. But with Brees scheduled to become a free agent, the Saints might not have the luxury of tagging Colston, meaning he should hit the open market.
Potential suitors: New Orleans Saints, New England Patriots, Chicago Bears, Washington Redskins, New York Jets.
4. Steve Johnson: A seventh-round pick in 2008, Johnson had a breakout season in 2010 and backed it up with 1,004 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in 2011. The 25-year-old showed flashes of immaturity once in the spotlight, but has come out of nowhere to become one of the better young receivers in the NFL.
Potential suitors: Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Chicago Bears, New England Patriots, St. Louis Rams.
5. Pierre Garcon: Garcon was one of few bright spots for the Colts in 2011, having caught 70 passes for 947 yards and six touchdowns despite poor quarterback play. Some in Baltimore are clamoring for his teammate, Wayne, but Garcon -- another speculation alert -- would better compliment Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith.
Potential suitors: Indianapolis Colts, Washington Redskins, San Diego Chargers, St. Louis Rams, Baltimore Ravens.
Other notable free agents (2011 team in parenthesis): Brandon Lloyd (St. Louis Rams), Robert Meachem (New Orleans Saints), Mario Manningham (New York Giants), Laurent Robinson (Dallas Cowboys), Randy Moss (did not play), Early Doucet (Arizona Cardinals), Jerome Simpson (Cincinnati Bengals), Eddie Royal (Denver Broncos), Terrell Owens (did not play), Braylon Edwards (San Francisco 49ers).