More than once this season, the powers that be in Charlotte have made two statements – 1) The Panthers want to become a more physical team like the Pittsburgh Steelers and 2) The team needs more playmakers on offense.
We’ve already discussed one way in which the team can accomplish the first of these goals by targeting offensive linemen in free agency. It’s the second of these statements that can be accomplished in part by taking a long hard look at the available wide receivers and tight ends in this year’s free agent sweepstakes.
The group of players available at wideout have the potential to be good but not great.
WR, Randy Moss, New England : Recent talk has centered on the Patriots placing the franchise tag on Moss should there be a hiccup in negotiations for a new contract. Moss had a career year as part of the record-setting offense in Bean Town both statistically and as a true professional. For the first time in his career, one that had been marred by ugly incidents after scoring (the mooning incident), his public declaration that he plays when he wants to play and the ever entertaining stop over in Oakland, Moss finally seemed to get it. He played well, spoke confidently but not arrogantly to the press and was praised by his teammates as an intelligent, hard-working guy. Honestly, if Moss escapes the grasp of the Pats it will be a huge surprise. He has to be enjoying winning and the team has to enjoy having him available in the passing game as a lethal weapon. There really is little chance he becomes a free agent. But if it does happen (it won’t) he’ll be the most sought after free agent in the league.
WR, Bernard Berrian, Chicago Bears : The most important thing that can be said about Berrian is that he has to be yearning for a chance to play in a situation that provides some stability, and hopefully better play, at the quarterback position. The Bears have been a mess to put it mildly. Even with these problems, Berrian has produced some solid numbers (71 catches, 951 yards, 5 TD’s in ’07). But it’s possible that we’ve brought up yet another wide receiver that might not see the open market since recent reports have hinted that Berrian could receive the dreaded franchise tag. It’s also possible that the Bears pony up the big bucks. If he’s available, he’ll be a prized free agent by many teams to be the guy they bring in to stretch the field.
WR, Bryant Johnson, Arizona Cardinals : He has sat on the depth chart behind two tremendous players in Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin and didn’t get a lot of looks. Johnson is considered a good route runner and has the physical tools to be a good NFL WR (6’3″, 213 lbs.). His stats have been steady if not spectacular. He’ll be a guy worth watching this offseason.
WR, Andre’ Davis, Houston Texans : Davis had picked out a comfortable place on the bench until last year when the other Andre’ (Johnson) got hurt in Houston. He stepped in and performed admirably contributing 33 catches for 583 yards and 3 TD’s. He also returned 32 kickoffs for an average of 30.3 per return. If the Texans make an effort to keep him, it will be his special teams abilities that provide the impetus. He would make for a decent number two receiver elsewhere.
WR, Justin Gage, Tennessee Titans : Work has already begun to keep Gage in the Titans’ fold. If a deal can be reached, it would take a likely target for teams looking to fill their number two receiver position off the market. JG played a couple of standout games last season but still struggled with drops while compiling 55 catches for 750 yards and 2 TD’s. At 6’4″ 212 lbs., Gage has the physical attributes that some teams could be looking for but the odds are he’ll get the deal done with Tennessee.
WR, Devery Henderson, New Orleans Saints : Henderson’s season seemed to mirror that of the Saints – a big drop off in ’07 after a solid ’06 campaign. His receiving yards dropped from 745 to 409 and his TD production went from 5 to 3. At only 5’11” he doesn’t fit the current desired NFL mold of the big, physical receiver. If he is considered a viable slot or third-option he may get some interest from teams outside of the Bayou.
TE, L.J. Smith, Philadelphia Eagles : At first glance, Smith’s numbers in ’07 might cause some to believe that he simply didn’t perform well (22 catches, 236 yards, 1 TD). But those numbers don’t tell the whole story, particularly the one regarding the rash of injuries he sustained during the year. Donovan McNabb had come to rely on his tight end as a go-to guy and sorely missed him during his absence. Smith recently drew the franchise tag and can still negotiate with other teams provided they are willing to put up big numbers, which the Eagles could match, or potentially give up draft picks to get him. Not likely. He’s a near lock to remain in Philly.
TE, Eric Johnson, New Orleans : Do you sense a pattern developing here? Looks like the Saints have some choices to make and no matter which way they go, the odds are good that they’ll be without the services of either a receiver or a tight end. If they had to choose to lose one it would almost certainly be Johnson who didn’t live up to the expectations after being signed last year. His numbers weren’t great (48 catches, 378 yards, 2 TD’s) and his game was erratic. So much so, that he was replaced for some lengthy stretches by backup Billy Miller. You can’t think that a guy who was benched has much of a shot at returning so he will almost definitely hit the open market.
For a list of all the available wide receivers and tight ends, please see out Free Agents Page.
The Panthers are talking the talk but it’s whether or not they walk the walk that will matter most with the fans and, most importantly, their offensive production in ’08. This team desperately needs a solid second option at receiver to take the pressure off Steve Smith. Further, they haven’t had a truly steady tight end since the departure of Wesley Walls and that was seven years ago.
John Fox says he wants to add playmakers on offense and there aren’t a tremendous number of options in free agency. If the team goes after one of the better ones (and there will be very few if any considering that the best potential free agents are either going to be franchised or re-signed), they’ll have to write a big check. The clock starts ticking in early March. That’s when the walk will have to match the talk.
Coming Monday we’ll look at the quarterbacks who will be hitting the market.