Teams are smarter in general about locking up their high-end talent and not letting them test free agency, and that seems especially true at receiver.
Stop if you’ve heard this one before: The free-agent crop of receivers this year is going to be thin. That’s been the case the past couple offseasons. This year, Miami Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry has already gotten the franchise tag, the Jacksonville Jaguars could tag Allen Robinson and there has been speculation Sammy Watkins could get the same treatment from the Los Angeles Rams. Robinson and Watkins might still hit the market (and there could be some other intriguing veterans cut due to salary cap reasons), but with or without them the list of safe investments among free-agent receivers is short.
Teams will have to pay mostly unproven talent based on an optimistic projection (Paul Richardson), overpay for a low ceiling (Marqise Lee) or pray for a rebound to previous 1,000-yard days (Terrelle Pryor, John Brown). Some or all of those players might hit it big, but if you’re looking for a ready-made No. 1 receiver, they’re probably not going to be the open market. The Philadelphia Eagles got lucky last year that the Chicago Bears mismanaged the Alshon Jeffery situation. That’s a rarity.
Maybe that’s why it was smart for the Dolphins to tag Landry. It seems imprudent for Miami, among the five teams with the least available cap space, to commit a $16 million tag to a slot receiver (though, Landry is good at what he does and as we’ve seen, it’ll be hard for the Dolphins to find anyone better in free agency). But if the Dolphins tagged Landry with the idea to trade him, maybe that will work. Teams like San Francisco, Baltimore or Chicago that desperately need a receiver could look at the free-agent market and realize there aren’t many difference makers and pay up for Landry in a trade.
Supply won’t equal demand on the free-agency market, especially if Robinson and Watkins get tagged. Even though both of them come with questions, they’d land serious deals in free agency because they’d be the best of the lot. If a team needs a receiver — and plenty of teams do — the plan will probably be to pay someone like Richardson or Brown and hope.
Whatever you think of Landry, he was going to be perhaps the best bet among receivers in free agency. Now he’s off the open market, and what’s left at wideout is uninspiring.
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