49ers get bargain with WRs price skyrocketing

With the price for top wide receiver talent outrageous during the opening of free agency, the 49ers may have got quite a bargain with their move earlier this week to sign veteran Randy Moss.

Don't try convincing NFL general managers of the long-held stance of this correspondent, espoused several times in recent months, that the wide receiver position has been devalued in the league because of huge numbers bloated by the passing craze that is now so predominant.

Clearly, as the first hours of free agency demonstrated earlier this week after Tuesday's opening bell, they aren't exactly buying into the theory. What they are instead shopping for, with the kind of wild-eyed frenzy that could easily eclipse one of those famous clearance sales at Filene's Basement, is pass catchers.

Historically, at least, free agency comes in waves. Before the first eight hours of the new league year passed on Tuesday, however, a virtual tsunami of spending had struck the wideout position.

The first 24 hours of the shopping spree wasn't even in the books yet before the ledger books already were re-written with wide receiver deals.

Perhaps, as suggested here in the past, the wide receiver spot has evolved into one of the most fungible positions in the league. But as Tuesday evidenced, it remains one of the best funded, too. Given the scope of the contracts awarded within the first few hours of free agency, wide receivers haven't yet been relegated to simply dime-a-dozen status.

One general manager early Wednesday morning termed wide receiver the "flavor of the week" in a system that tends to be run at times by a positional domino effect. Clearly, the teams that invested heavily in wide receivers don't consider that flavor to be Rocky Road. It was as if teams were being run by P.T. Barnum, but the three-ring spending circus went on anyway, safety net be damned.

The wide receivers changing uniforms came in all shapes and sizes and salary level, and with just about every manner of transaction on Tuesday, and there was little regard for the past, only the future. Free agency makes people crazy, prompts clubs to do semi-rational things, and on Tuesday, overreaction was the prevailing mode.

"Teams are signing guys based on what they think they can do," said newly-minted millionaire Pierre Garcon, who moved from Indianapolis to Washington on a five-year contract reported at $42.5 million. The Skins, clearly revamping the receiver corps in advance of the arrival of quarterback Robert Griffin III in the draft, also added San Francisco unrestricted free agent Josh Morgan and were pursuing Eddie Royal of Denver as well.

The 49ers wanted Morgan back, but they didn't want to get into a bidding war with a player they viewed as no better than a No. 2 receiver. Morgan, who was seen working out at the 49ers facility on Monday, signed within hours after free agency began, getting a qualified five-year, $12 million deal from the Redskins that will void after two years and allow Morgan to become a free agent again in 2014.

The 49ers made a pre-emptive strike to fill their need for a big-play receiver before Tuesday's opening, signing veteran Randy Moss to a modest one-year contract on Monday. The deal tops out at $2.5 million, and that could prove to be a bargain with the big money being thrown at the top wideouts on the open market.

The 49ers had shown interest in San Diego free agent Vincent Jackson before getting a good indication of how much it would cost to sign him.

The Chargers ultimately lost Jackson to Tampa Bay, and they quickly filled the hole by adding New Orleans' Robert Meachem, doling out a reported $26 million for four years to a guy who had never caught more than 45 passes in a season or registered more than 722 yards.

The Saints coughed up $8 million per year to retain Marques Colston – a big and dependable slot receiver whose history of injuries scared some suitors, and who stuck to his pronouncement that he would not grant the club a so-called "hometown discount."

Reggie Wayne stayed put in Indianapolis, where he figures to provide a security blanket for Andrew Luck, even though his numbers might never approximate the seasons he and Peyton Manning spent together.

There were even a few minor deals – like Harry Douglas returning to Atlanta, Eric Weems departing the Falcons for the Bears, and Matthew Slater re-upping in New England – among the wide receiver corps.

"I guess," Wayne said, after netting a three-year, $17.5 million deal, "that the (wide receivers) are the rage for the day."

Indeed, the Buc(ks) signed Jackson to a five-year, $55.5 million frontloaded deal that joins the troubled wide receiver to a team that has experienced more than its share of off-field indiscretions over the past couple years.

Chicago traded for Brandon Marshall, even though the six-year veteran has a checkered resume, including the allegations that he was recently involved in a late-night contretemps. Credit the Dolphins with at least providing a nod of sorts to the theory of devaluation by swapping Marshall for a pair of third-round choices, only two seasons after shipping a couple second-rounders to Denver for him.

The quick run (more like a sprint) on wide receivers didn't quite leave the bones dry at the position.

There remain veterans such as Brandon Lloyd – who visited the 49ers this week – Laurent Robinson, Plaxico Burress and Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham in the mix. And, of course, there is everyone's favorite restricted free agent, Pittsburgh's Mike Wallace. So it isn't as if the carrion birds have left behind a remnant carcass.

Still, even in a system that operates by cycle and where every move seems to elicit a corresponding response, the early popularity of wide receivers, has been stunning.


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