Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Book on Available WRs: Free Agents

Levin T. Black
Jan 16, 2019 at 12:07 PM

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The San Francisco 49ers are expected to take a hard look at all available wide receivers as the team seeks to improve at the position in 2019. To kick things off, I have broken down the available unrestricted free agents for this year. I did not include receivers whose free agency is restricted because the draft tenders that go with them stop others from pursuing unless the player is a true, top level performer and no one fits that bill this year.

This summary of available free agents will be followed up in the coming days with a closer look at the receivers the 49ers are likely to have interest in and how that receiver might fit. Yes, trade possibilities will be included.

Golden Tate: The agile, slightly undersized receiver had what is considered a down year in 2018 despite a mid-season trade to the Philadelphia Eagles. 2018 was his first season under 1,000 yards since 2015 as he reeled in 74 catches for 794 yards.

Tate had been a consistent performer prior to this season. In the previous four seasons (all in Detroit) he had 90 or more catches each season while averaging 1,056 yards. Making his 2018 troubles worse, his production fell off after joining the Eagles. He had just 278 yards in seven games with the defending champs.

Teams are left to wonder how much was due to the difficulty of developing chemistry with two quarterbacks in the middle of the season. He didn't get many opportunities but made the most of them when he did. He caught better than 68 percent of his targets in Philadelphia.

Potential cost: Based on age and production, expects a deal similar to Emmanuel Sanders (3 yr - $33 million) and Pierre Garçon (5 yr - $47 million). This seems a bit high to me but something like four years and $34 million with $15 million guaranteed is possible. He will be one of the most expensive free agent receivers so it wouldn't be a surprise to see a bidding war.

Adam Humphries: Now a crafty veteran entering unrestricted free agency in the prime of his career, the soon to be 26-year old receiver went undrafted out of the Clemson University in 2015. Not the biggest or fastest receiver, Humphries has managed to produce out of the slot on a team that features Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and Chris Godwin.

Humphries has upped his production in each of his four seasons peaking in 2018 with 76 catches, 816 yards and five touchdowns. While not known as a deep threat, he had a career high seven receptions of 20 or more yards. He also caught 72.4 percent of his targets for a team with an overall completion percentage of 65.3.

Potential cost: Humphries may very well be the most difficult free agent receiver to predict on the market. He's been productive but also lacks elite athleticism, and thus, high end potential. He went undrafted and as a restricted receiver last year, got no offers with the 2nd round tender applied by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Humphries has never made more than $3 million in a season. Considering his smaller size and lack of great athleticism he should go for less than his production suggests. estimates an average annual value (AAV) of $10.4 million. That seems excessive. A three year, $20 million deal with half guaranteed seems a happy compromise between his production and shortcomings.

Tyrell Williams: The 6 foot 4 inch deep threat receiver has had 49ers fans drooling all season. Set to be an unrestricted free agent, Williams, like Humphries, went undrafted in 2015 and received a 2nd round tender from the San Diego Chargers last year.

Williams has averaged an impressive 16.3 yards per reception in his career but has just 84 total receptions the past two seasons. Some of that is a lack of opportunity. The Chargers have Keenan Allen as a clear No. 1 and drafted Mike Williams No. 7 overall in 2017.

Tyrell Williams started the first seven games in 2018 and had 428 yards. He largely disappeared after that, finishing with 653 total yards on the season. Still a lot of his fall off can be attributed to opportunity. His catch percentage has gone up in each of his four seasons. He caught 63.1 percent of his targets in 2018. An impressive number for a receiver known mostly for being a deep threat.

Potential cost: Williams has elite level upside, has averaged more than 800 yards the past three seasons and is in the prime of career as he enters free agency prior to his age 27 season. He is the exact type of receiver that sees his market skyrocket once teams start competing. All teams crave big, extremely fast, game breaking receivers even if he still needs to develop a full route tree. pegs him at an AAV of $9.6 million with his most expensive comparable being Doug Baldwin's four year, $46 million, $23.5 million guaranteed deal signed prior to the 2017 season. Williams doesn't have the same production that Baldwin did but has a much higher ceiling. I think Williams comes in around the same AAV but with one year shorter. Best guess is three years, $35 million, front loaded deal via signing bonus that makes the dead cap space negligible after the second season.

John Brown: 49ers fans are likely familiar with Brown more than others on this list. He spent his first four seasons in the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals after being drafted in the 3rd round in 2014. Brown's speed is his best asset. He ran a 4.34 second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. He utilized it well in his lone season with the Baltimore Ravens in 2018 as he averaged 17 yards per catch.

Brown has flashed Pro Bowl level talent at times. He had a 1,000 yard season in his second year and had 586 yards through the first eight games in 2018. His production saw a drastic decline in the second half of the season as the Ravens moved to Lamar Jackson at quarterback. He had a paltry 129 total yards in the final eight games with a high of just 27 yards.

Consistency has always been an issue for Brown. Some of that is likely due to injuries. While Brown has managed to play in 72 out of a possible 80 games in his career, he often deals with the repercussions of a sickle-cell trait that raises the risk of a muscle breakdown when exercising. Brown dealt with a quad strain in 2017 that forced him to miss three preseason and two regular season games and hamstring injuries in 2015 and 2016.

It should be mentioned, Brown placed the blame for his injuries on a different condition. After signing with the Ravens, Brown said he had a cyst on his spine that caused his legs to fatigue easier. He had it drained in 2016 but still experienced leg issues the next season.

Potential cost: Brown will get paid less than his stats suggest. He's averaged 43 catches, 646 yards and 4.4 touchdowns per season. The sickle-cell trait will certainly scare some teams off completely and lower the offers he does get. He signed a one year, $5 million contract with the Ravens for 2018. puts his AAV at $6.1 million which sounds about right. I don't see any team offering a long-term contract though. He'll be entering his age 29 season and with his condition, he'll be a big risk as he ages. A two or three year deal for $6-7 million per season is likely all he will get.

Randall Cobb: At one point, Cobb was perhaps the most dangerous weapon at Aaron Rodgers' disposal. Drafted in the 2nd round in 2011, Cobb emerged in his second season with an 80 catch, 954 yard season. He made the Pro Bowl in his fourth season with 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns. It's been mostly downhill since that stellar season, however.

Cobb has a lengthy injury history. He played in just six games in 2013 and has missed time in each of the last three seasons peaking with seven games in 2018. The injuries have robbed Cobb of some of his athleticism. Not only have his numbers been on the decline but he's averaged just 10.04 yards per catch the last three seasons.

Potential cost: Cobb seems like the type who won't develop the market he expects. He's been a very successful receiver in the past and earned a four year, $40 million deal in 2015. Times have changed. He's an undersized receiver who has recurring hamstring injuries, hasn't topped 700 yards in a season since 2015 and who is clearly already in decline despite being 28-years-old.

Unless he returns to the Green Bay Packers on a cheap deal, he'll likely have to wait for the others to sign before a market develops. He could go for a three-year deal if he believes it's his last chance to get decent money but he's a prime candidate for a one year, prove it deal. One year, $5 million wouldn't surprise me. It would allow him to hope for better health and re-enter the market while still in his 20s.

Devin Funchess: The Carolina Panthers took Funchess early in the 2nd round in the 2015 draft hoping to give quarterback Cam Newton a true No. 1 receiver. The big bodied Funchess hasn't been bad but he's never been what the team hoped for either. He's averaged 558 yards per season.

At 6 foot 4 inches and 225 pounds Funchess has potential. His lack of speed has proven tough to overcome. He ran a 4.7 second 40-yard dash at the Combine. He's struggled to get separation in the NFL and has had major issues with drops. He's caught fewer than 52 percent of his targets in his career.

Potential cost: lists Marvin Jones (5 year, $40 million), Marquise Lee (4 year, $34 million) and Robert Woods (5 year, $34 million) among his comparable players. Funchess' complete lack of speed and separation shows up glaringly on film and will hurt his value as teams will do their research. I don't see a big market for a slow receiver who has issues with drops. He doesn't fit what the 49ers seek either. I think he'll get a team to give him a shot with a three year, $17 million deal but will only get a season's worth of guaranteed money.

Donte Moncrief: An intriguing wide receiver who seemingly has all the tools to be a No. 1 but has never put it together. Moncrief has size and strength at 6 foot 2 inches, 220 pounds and he has speed having run a 4.4 second 40-yard dash at the 2014 Combine. His freak athleticism goes further than just speed. At the Combine, he had the third best vertical jump among receivers at 39.5 inches and his 11-foot broad jump was tops for his position.

Helping his free agency, he also has youth. He's just 25 years old. Not helping his free agency, his production. Moncrief has 2,543 total yards in five seasons.

Moncrief was a free agent last year as well. He failed to get a multi-year offer to his liking then. He signed a one year deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars for $9.6 million. He was coming off two injury plagued seasons that left a lot to be desired in his performance. He had a combined 698 yards in those seasons.

He re-enters the market having played all 16 games in his lone season in Jacksonville. His production improved as well. Playing in one of the worst passing offenses in the NFL, Moncrief finished second on the team with 668 yards and had a team high 13.9 yards per reception. His season could have been much better if not for poor quarterback play that saw inaccurate throws towards an open Moncrief.

Potential cost: Using Moncrief's one year deal with Jacksonville as a baseline, Moncrief will likely get a multi-year deal with a similar AAV. While his season wasn't as big as it could have been, he should have eliminated some doubts about his ability to stay healthy. He has the freakish athleticism teams, especially the 49ers, drool over. A four year, $41 million deal with $22 million guaranteed is the ballpark he'll be in.

Jermaine Kearse: The former Seattle Seahawks and New York Jets player will be hitting free agency for the third time despite having another season before turning 30. The first time around, The University of Washington product was desperate for any shot after going undrafted. The second time, Kearse was rumored to be signing with the Chicago Bears before the Seahawks stepped in and re-signed Kearse to a three year, $13.5 million contract.

Kearse is older, coming off a down year and suffered an Achilles injury in Week 16 that forced him to sit out the season finale. Assuming he will be healthy when free agency begins, Kearse will have a market. He only had 371 yards in 2018 but in 2017 he set career highs with 65 catches and 810 yards.

Kearse is the type of receiver who does everything well but nothing great. He's not slow, but not fast either. He's a good route runner, but others are better. He does a good job of high pointing the ball but again, others do it better. He's a 7-year vet that a team with a young core of receivers could use.

Potential cost: In the prime of his career he got an AAV of $4.5 million. Adjusted for the salary cap rise in recent seasons, it seems likely he'll be able to get close to that same AAV despite being older and coming off a late season injury. There are a lot of receivers around his quality available in this year's class of free agents so he may have to wait for a market to develop and if the injury is more serious he may not find a team. Signing after the draft to a team that didn't get the receiver it hoped for, Kearse will get a two-year, $8.5 million deal. I wouldn't expect much, if any, in guaranteed money.

Tavon Austin: Taken with the 8th overall pick in 2013, Austin was expected to be a Pro Bowl caliber receiver despite his smaller size. To say he has failed to live up the hype would be an understatement. In three of his first four seasons he had a yards-per-catch under 10 despite hauling in as many as 58 receptions in a single season.

Following his fourth season the Los Angeles Rams hired Sean McVay as head coach. Some thought this meant Austin would finally get to show what he could do after failing with the Jeff Fisher led Rams. It went the other way. Austin became the forgotten receiver in the McVay offense. Despite playing all 16 games, including 9 starts, Austin had just 13 receptions for 47 yards. There's no missing number in that 47. He really averaged 3.6 yards per reception in a McVay offense.

The Rams moved on after 2017. Things didn't get better for Austin in 2018. The Dallas Cowboys acquired Austin in a trade on draft day but Austin was injured early in the season and produced just eight catches for 140 yards. He did make it back for the playoffs. In those two games Austin had two receptions for five yards.

Potential cost: Despite running a blazing 4.34 second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, Austin can't seem to get open except for designed screens. Furthermore, his worst season was in a McVay system making it unlikely the 49ers would see him as a good fit. He is included here only because some may see his draft position and cheap cost as a bargain. Austin will be signed as a punt return specialist who can fill in at a receiver spot if injuries happen. A two year, $6 million contract is all he will get.

Cole Beasley: The longtime Cowboys player is one of the best examples of a crafty slot receiver in the NFL right now. Smaller, not particularly fast nor elusive, Beasley finds ways to produce.

He's averaged more than 600 yards the last three seasons and sports a sky-high catch percentage. He caught 65 of 87 targets in 2018 and has caught just shy of 71 percent of his targets for his career.

Beasley will be entering his age 30 season so decline is on the horizon. Considering his lack of great athleticism, decline will likely be rather swift for the 5 foot 8 inch receiver. He should still be able produce as a gritty slot receiver for at least the next year or two though.

Potential cost: Beasley signed a four-year, $13.6 million deal last time around. With his age, Dallas may be the only team willing to pay him that well again. He won't get much in guaranteed money because of his age but a team, likely Dallas, will give him a three year, $10 million deal.

Other Potentials:

Ryan Grant: Signed a one year, $5 million deal with the Indianapolis Colts last year hoping to prove himself and earn a bigger deal this year. He caught 35 passes and had 334 yards in 2018. Grant will likely give in and get what security he can with a multi-year deal this time around. Three year, $14 million.

Larry Fitzgerald: Any team other than the Arizona Cardinals dreaming of signing the future Hall of Fame receiver should wake up. It isn't happening.

Chris Hogan: He's averaged 550 yards from 2016-18 but lacks any top flight skills other than finding holes in zone coverage. How much of the production is inflated by playing with Tom Brady? Also, he'll turn 31 next season. He signed a three year, $12 million deal last time. He likely stays with the receiver-needy New England Patriots with a two year, $11 million deal.

Kelvin Benjamin: The still young, former 1st round pick has a history of criticizing teammates to the media and has just two catches for 26 yards since signing with the Kansas City Chiefs following his mid-season release by the Buffalo Bills. I'm not sure he gets any interest. Maybe he signs a one-year, prove it deal but he should go unsigned before being brought in on the cheap as an injury replacement.

The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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