Free Agent Preview: Wide Receivers

Posted Mar 7, 2013

Much like the up in the air status of Steven Jackson will shape the Rams’ offseason approach to the running back position, what happens with Danny Amendola will strongly influence how they view the future of the wideout spot.

With free agency set to begin on March 12, the Rams and Amendola seem unlikely to strike a deal on a contract before the start of the open market on Tuesday. But just because Amendola is almost certain to test the market doesn’t mean the two sides can’t reach an agreement at some point.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead have expressed their desire to retain Amendola but also have cautioned that it would have to be the right deal.

Amendola also expressed an aspiration to remain in St. Louis, the place that gave him his first opportunity after bouncing among practice squads in Dallas and Philadelphia.

What the market bears for Amendola in terms of contract length and value will ultimately determine his final destination. It’s a moving target that will be hard to figure until Amendola’s agent is actually able to begin negotiating with other teams for a three-day window beginning Saturday.

While Amendola has been the Rams’ top receiving target for the better part of his time in St. Louis and clearly emerged as quarterback Sam Bradford’s go-to guy the past three years, his injury history makes figuring the appropriate contract value a difficult proposition.

Amendola has played in just 12 games over the past two seasons; something Snead said had to be taken into account when figuring a potential contract offer. In 2012, Amendola finished with 63 catches for 666 yards and three touchdowns while averaging 7.2 yards on 17 punt returns in 11 games.

Of course, Amendola isn’t the only wideout who helped the Rams in 2012 scheduled for unrestricted free agency this year. Brandon Gibson was second to Amendola in catches with 51 and led the Rams in touchdowns with five last season.

Gibson might not be the No. 1 receiver that will draw a huge contract but his durability and solid route running figure to make him an attractive option for teams in the market for depth and a complement to a star wideout already in place.

Joining Amendola and Gibson in the free agent market is Steve Smith, who posted 14 catches for 131 yards last year.

With half of their receiving corps scheduled for free agency, there is no doubt the Rams have needs at the position heading into the offseason. Only Austin Pettis and second-year wideouts Chris Givens and Brian Quick would remain on the depth chart at receiver.

Givens gives the Rams the type of deep threat they hoped he’d be when they drafted him in the fourth round last year. Quick has upside that Snead compares to Vincent Jackson after dipping his toes in the water as a rookie and Pettis provides solid insurance and versatility as well as a developing red zone target.

Chances are slim that the Rams will bring back more than one of Gibson and Amendola, leaving at least one vacancy and possibly two at the position with free agency and the draft left to go.

Should Amendola, Gibson and Smith all depart, the Rams would seem to need to supplement the position using both free agency and the draft.

As far as the free agent market is concerned, a receiver group that seemed to boast quite a bit of top end talent has been eroded in the days leading up to the draft as Kansas City re-signed Dwayne Bowe and Miami is on the verge of finishing a deal with Brian Hartline.

That leaves three big names at the top along with Amendola in Green Bay’s Greg Jennings, Pittsburgh’s Mike Wallace and New England’s Wes Welker.

Jennings and Welker will likely command large dollars on the open market but both will be in their 30s when the next season starts. Wallace is young and possesses major deep speed but might be viewed as a bit repetitive with Givens considering the price.

After that, there’s a cluster of wideouts with varying degrees of success including Gibson, former Ram Donnie Avery and New Orleans’ Devery Henderson. Each of those players brings something different to the table and could draw some interest on the market.

Among restricted free agents, there are some intriguing options but those options are likely to stay in place. Headlining that list is the Giants’ Victor Cruz, the type of player who would draw a mega-millions contract on the open market but whom New York will tender at a first-round level and work to sign to a lucrative long term deal.

The bottom line for the Rams is they will need receiver depth to come from somewhere, no matter what happens with Amendola. Even if they find a match in free agency – they strongly pursued Pierre Garcon last year – they could still look to add one or more in the early rounds of the draft.

What happens with Amendola will determine just how early.

Wide receiver

1. Greg Jennings, Green Bay: Injuries have dropped Jennings’ status but he’s been a play maker when healthy. Will be 30 to start next season so some question how much he’s worth over long haul.
2. Wes Welker, New England: One of the most productive slot receivers in the league but he’s 32 and has struggled with drops in recent seasons.
3. Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh: Teams looking for a big play threat will pursue Wallace though he’s a bit of a one-trick pony.
4. Danny Amendola, Rams: Quarterback Sam Bradford’s favorite target would like to stay in St. Louis. Tough to figure out value considering his production versus health issues.
5. Brian Hartline, Miami: Had his best season as a pro in 2012 but aside from a monster game in week 4 didn’t do much else. Dolphins would like to retain him and a deal seems imminent, anyway.

Restricted Free Agents to Watch: Victor Cruz, New York Giants; Brandon Banks, Washington; Emmanuel Sanders, Pittsburgh; David Nelson, Buffalo; Danario Alexander, San Diego.

Others to Watch: Donnie Avery, Indianapolis; Ted Ginn Jr., San Francisco; Devery Henderson, New Orleans.

Rams Free Agents: Amendola, Brandon Gibson, Steve Smith.