Free agency preview: Wide receivers

Several of the top receivers were either franchised or re-signed before they could really dig into the open market.

Many of the top receivers were either franchised or re-signed before they could really dig into the open market, and others could be off the market within hours of Tuesday afternoon’s opening bell. Need proof it’s a passing league? Just look at the WR salaries being offered up.

Still, some viable starters remained without an agreement as free agency was set to open at 3 p.m. Central Tuesday. Here are top five- and four-star receivers and their situations just before the start of free agency.

Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys: Faced with the choice of having to choose between Bryant and DeMarco Murray for the franchise tag, the Cowboys chose to give it to Bryant, who would make $12.823 if he signs it. The move buys the team more time to try to work out a long-term deal for Bryant, who has eclipsed 1,200 yards receiving and 85 catches each of his last three years.

Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos: Like Bryant, Thomas received the franchise tag. And, like Bryant, Thomas is free to negotiate a long-term contract with his current team or another team, and the Broncos (or, in Bryant’s case, the Cowboys) would have the opportunity to match any offer or receive two first-round draft choices if they don’t. Thomas had an even better year than Bryant in 2014, catching 111 passes for 1,619 yards and 11 touchdowns, and has more than 90 catches and 1,400 yards receiving in each of his past three years with the Broncos.

Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers: The Packers elected not to franchise Cobb, but they were able to work out a four-year, $40 million contract with Cobb on the first day of the three-day negotiating window he had with other teams. He reportedly could have gotten a bit more money elsewhere, but keeping him with Aaron Rodgers should ensure big production for years to come. After playing in only six games in 2013 because of injuries, Cobb had his breakout season last year, catching 91 passes for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Eagles: Like Cobb, Maclin went over the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in 2014, catching 85 passes for 1,318 yards with the Philadelphia Eagles, but he might get even more money from the Kansas City Chiefs when free agency “officially” opens at 3 p.m. Central Tuesday. In five seasons in Philadelphia, he has averaged 69 catches for 954 yards per season.

Torrey Smith, Baltimore Ravens: Smith has played in every game in his four seasons with the Ravens, but after an 1,128-yard season in 2013, his production regressed last year, catching only 49 passes for 767 yards, but he had a career-high 11 touchdown receptions. He is expected to sign a deal with the San Francisco 49ers at the outset of free agency.

Michael Crabtree, San Francisco 49ers: An Achilles injury in 2013 might have limited Crabtree’s production in 2014. After playing in only five games in 2013, he played in all 16 games last year but was limited to 68 catches for 698 yards. His 2012 season remains his best – 85 receptions for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns.

Andre Johnson, Houston Texans: He’ll be 34 years old by training camp and was dumped by the Texans for salary-cap purposes. He may not have many years left, but he was still productive in 2014, catching 85 passes for 936 yards but had only three touchdowns. He has surpassed the 1,000-yard mark in seven of his 12 seasons in the NFL, despite not always having quality starting quarterbacks. Paired with a good starting quarterback, he could still have a 1,000-yard season or two in him, but clearly teams weren’t interested in trading away a draft pick and taking on his previous contract with the Texans.

Kenny Britt, St. Louis Rams: He’s been solid but unspectacular in his six NFL seasons. Despite going through a quarterback carousel in his first season in St. Louis, Britt managed career highs in starts (13), receptions (48) and yards (748) and had three touchdowns.

Cecil Shorts, Jacksonville Jaguars: Shorts’ situation is much like Britt’s. He hasn’t had a stable quarterback situation, but has averaged 60 catches for 667 yards the last two years in Jacksonville. He reportedly wants out of Jacksonville, looking to play for a contender.

Hakeem Nicks, Indianapolis Colts: Since back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2010 and 2011, Hicks hasn’t broken past 900 yards receiving in a year, and last year he started only six games for the Colts, catching a career-low 38 passes for a career-low 405 yards. He’s certainly not elite but could provide a nice No. 2 starting option for a team.

Andre Holmes, Oakland Raiders: As a restricted free agent, Holmes received the lowest tender from the Raiders and wouldn’t receive any compensation if he reaches an agreement with another team that the Raiders aren’t willing to match. He became a full-time starter last year and caught 47 passes for 693 yards and four touchdowns, all career highs, but is still considered somewhat raw.

Jermaine Kearse, Seattle Seahawks: As a restricted free agent, the Seahawks gave him a second-round tender of $2.356 million. Considering the draft pick and compensation, it might be too steep a price for another team to bother with, but he appears to be a player on the rise. He started 14 games for the Seahawks, catching 38 passes for 537 yards and a touchdown after starting only three games combined in his first two seasons in Seattle.

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