Free agent preview: WR

Packers need to build depth at position

The question is not when, but how will the Packers improve the wide receiver position this off-season? Will they sign a veteran in free agency, or select one in the upcoming NFL draft? The Packers would be wise to do both, and then some.

Pro Bowler Javon Walker is coming off a major knee injury. Terrence Murphy, who showed lots of promise in the off-season last year, is coming off a major neck injury. Robert Ferguson seems to always be injured and has a whopping salary-cap number of $2.8 million for 2006. Rod Gardner has the potential, but his will to succeed has been questioned by the Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers. That leaves the Packers with the reliable Donald Driver, who is a legit starter, and the reliable Antonio Chatman, who isn't a legit starter.

In short, the Packers must build depth at this position this off-season. Here is a Scout.com list of free agents that might be attractive to the Packers:

New England Patriots WR David Givens is an unrestricted free agent and seems destined to cash in big time. His career highs in catches (59 this season) and yards (874 in 2004) appear modest, but the Patriots' spread-the-wealth approach to the passing game keeps anyone (other than Deion Branch in the playoffs) from posting big numbers. When Branch was sidelined by a knee injury in 2004, Givens had three straight 100-yard games - a fact that did not go unnoticed around the league.

WR Reggie Wayne will be an unrestricted free agent but team president Bill Polian has said that he is committed to signing him to a career contract.

WR Antonio Bryant caught 69 passes for 1,009 yards to lead the Browns, but he also dropped several key passes, and those drops weigh in the decision on whether to re-sign him. The Browns say they want him and Bryant says he wants to return.

Pittsburgh Steelers WR Antwaan Randle El also may have played in his final game for Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl. He will be an unrestricted free agent in March and the Bears will be among the top suitors for his services.

Minnesota Vikings WR Koren Robinson, never used as a kick returner in his first four seasons with Seattle, was elected to the Pro Bowl at that spot after leading the NFC and finishing fifth in the NFL with a 26.0-yard return average. He also had a touchdown return in an upset victory over the New York Giants.

KR-PR Eddie Drummond, selected to the Pro Bowl a year ago, was again hampered by injuries and slipped from 26.6 yards to 22.0 on kick returns, and from 13.2 to 6.0 yards on punt returns. He's an unrestricted free agent and his future in Detroit is up in the air.

Atlanta Falcons WR Brian Finneran was the Falcons' most consistently productive receiver for the first two months of the season. The Falcons should try hard to re-sign Finneran, who triggered a clause in his contract that made him an unrestricted free agent.

Bucs WR Ike Hilliard was a serviceable backup and is an unrestricted free agent. San Francisco 49ers WR Brandon Lloyd is scheduled to be a restricted free agent, and the 49ers have sent mixed signals about what they think of him. He probably will be back playing under a one-year tender. Lloyd is not very physical, and he appears incapable of going over the middle. However, he is capable of making some mind-boggling acrobatic catches. Lloyd was the team's leading receiver with just 48 catches for 733 yards and five touchdowns.

Buffalo Bills WR Josh Reed (32 catches, 449 yards), an unrestricted free agent, had a nice bounce-back year and is likely to be retained as the primary slot receiver.

Patroits WRs Tim Dwight (19-332, three TDs) and Andre' Davis (9-190, one TD) are both free agents who showed some big-play ability but can't be considered must-keeps.

San Diego Chargers WR Reche Caldwell, a free agent, probably won't be brought back as the team has grown weary of his up-and-down play.


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