Eric Parker placed third on the team in receptions, trailing Gates and running back LaDainian Tomlinson, and will be best remembered for his two drops in the playoffs, one on a muffed punt – as uncharacteristic as they were.
Keenan McCardell's production slipped, as did his health, to the tune of 36 receptions and there is talk of him being dumped before the start of free agency, despite his obvious leadership skills.
Vincent Jackson is an emerging talent but is he ready to assume the number one receiver role? He snared six touchdown passes in 2006, three more than the combined number of every other wide receiver on the roster.
Malcom Floyd's three touchdown receptions accounted for the rest of the production from the wide receiving corps but he hasn't been able to stay healthy through an entire season.
Free agency is loaded with players that will become free agents, although there aren't any current superstars in the lot.
If the Chargers want to upgrade their wide receiver corps, they will likely be forced to pay on potential.
There are only a couple of established starters available, followed by a bevy of emerging talent. We detail the top five options, along with naming more than 30 other free-agent possibilities.
Donte Stallworth, Philadelphia Eagles – Stallworth is probably the most established wide receiver scheduled for free agency on March 2. Had he played a full season in Philadelphia, his first with the Eagles, Stallworth might have had the best season of his career. He finished with 38 catches for 725 yards and five touchdowns in 12 games. It was in 2004, the last of four season for Stallworth with the New Orleans Saints, that he established his career marks – 70 catches for 945 yards – and added seven touchdowns. The Eagles aren't expected to re-sign him before free agency because in an unimpressive market of free agents, Stallworth may want to find out his value.
"When he's healthy, he's a good player. People are going to say the same thing — if he's injured (often), how much are you going to pay him?" Eagles general manager Tom Heckert told PhillyBurbs.com in January. "But he's young and he's fast. He's really fast. I think he'll probably end up signing a pretty good contract somewhere. If you look at last year, those (2006 free agents) got huge money and they were just OK guys."
Travis Taylor continued his steady but unspectacular ways in 2006, catching 57 passes for 651 yards and three touchdowns. But in talking with Viking Update after the season, Taylor seemed a little put off by the fact that he came to the team two years ago to play with Daunte Culpepper, whom the Vikings traded to Miami last March. Taylor's market value isn't expected to be particularly high, but with an increased salary cap league-wide and many teams with plenty of room to spare, some team could be willing to play what it takes to give Taylor a new address.
D.J. Hackett, Seattle Seahawks – If the Seahawks' talented contingent of wide receivers has them comfortable enough to put a lower tender offer on Hackett, a restricted free agent, he would be an intriguing option for the Raiders to pursue. With a receiving corps in 2006 that featured Darrell Jackson, Deion Branch, Bobby Engram and Nate Burleson, as well as pass-catching tight end Jerramy Stevens, Hackett still managed to catch 45 passes for 610 yards, good for third place among the crew in each category. His four touchdown receptions tied him Branch and Stevens for second place in that category. The Seahawks are in decent shape with the salary cap, but they also have Stevens and Engram – as well as a couple other starters – scheduled for free agency.
Kevin Curtis, St. Louis Rams – Like Hackett, Curtis was the third-leading receiver on his team in 2006, his 40 catches for 479 yards finishing behind Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. The Rams are in one of the best cap situations of any team, and considering Bruce's age they will likely make a strong push to re-sign Curtis before free agency begins on March 2. If they don't succeed, Detroit and former Rams head coach Mike Martz could look to lure Curtis into their den.
Drew Bennett, Tennessee Titans – Bennett's production peaked in 2004, when he had 80 catches for 1,247 yards, but he has still put together 700-yard seasons with 58 and 46 catches each of the last two years, respectively. The Titans have finally climbed out of their cap hell of a few years ago and have more than $30 million in room for 2007. Considering Bennett was easily their most productive receiver last year, expect the Titans to attempt to lock him up long-term before free agency.
Ashley Lelie, Atlanta Falcons – Lelie voided his contract in December and should hit the free-agent market. He's a talented deep threat that went over 1,000 yards receiving in 2004 with the Denver Broncos, but his numbers have declined since then.
OTHER FREE AGENT WIDE RECEIVERS
Charlie Adams, Houston Texans (restricted)
Alex Bannister, Baltimore Ravens
Corey Bradford, Detroit Lions
Troy Brown, New England Patriots
Drew Carter, Carolina Panthers (restricted)
Terrance Copper, New Orleans (restricted)
Hankton Cortez, Jacksonville Jaguars
Patrick Crayton, Dallas Cowboys
Devard Darling, Baltimore Ravens (restricted)
Andre Davis, Buffalo Bills
Bobby Engram, Seattle Seahawks
Justin Gage, Chicago Bears
Bryan Gilmore, San Francisco 49ers
Az-Zahir Hakim, Detroit Lions
Cortez Hankton, Jacksonville Jaguars
Bethel Johnson, Minnesota Vikings
Lee Mays, Pittsburgh Steelers
Shaun McDonald, St. Louis Rams
Clarence Moore, Baltimore Ravens (restricted)
Aaron Moorehead, Indianapolis Colts
Sean Morey, Pittsburgh Steelers
Quincy Morgan, Denver Broncos
Dennis Northcutt, Cleveland Browns
Samie Parker, Kansas City Chiefs (restricted)
Willie Ponder, St. Louis Rams
Ricky Proehl, Indianapolis Colts
Edell Shepherd, Houston Texans (restricted)
Scottie Vines, Detroit Lions (restricted)
Bobby Wade, Tennessee Titans
Troy Walters, Arizona Cardinals
Darius Watts, New York Giants (restricted)
Kelley Washington, Cincinnati Bengals
Wes Welker, Miami Dolphins (restricted)
Alvis Whitted, Oakland Raiders
Ernest Wilford, Jacksonville Jaguars (restricted)
Terrence Wilkins, Indianapolis Colts