The New York Giants need a running mate, or two, for Odell Beckham Jr. on the outside. Can they find what they need on the free-agent market? Let's look at the best players expected to be available when free agency opens March 9.
The top five
Jones, who turns 26 later this month, is believed by most to be the best receiver available in a relatively weak wide receiver class. He is also believed to be a player who may still have his best football ahead of him. Here is a breakdown from SB Nation's Cincy Jungle:
What he offers: Marvin Jones is a quick-twitched athlete with the ability to stretch defenses with his ball skills and good speed. He has a surprising toughness about him and it shows when he's running after the catch and blocking in the run game. Jones routinely makes impressive catches and seems to play big in moments when the team needs him. He has really developed as a route runner and his release has gone from an area of concern to an area of strength over the past four years. Jones is more than a deep threat, I feel like he can win on most routes and make tough catches also.
Concerns: Jones isn't an automatic hands-catcher; he often looks more comfortable body-catching and when he needs to reach for a pass, it isn't a clean grab. This leads to silly-looking drops and missed opportunities. Injuries have impacted his career so far. He missed time as a rookie with a knee sprain and then missed all of 2014 with a ankle injury. Any team signing Jones to be their top receiver might be concerned with his usage thus far. He has never really played the lead role outside of a few drives that featured him. Jones was the third target behind A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert and often times was sharing time with [Mohamed] Sanu.
The Giants, obviously, don't need a No. 1 receiver. They have Beckham. Jones caught a career-high 65 passes for Cincinnati last season, totaling 816 yards (12.6 per catch) with four touchdowns. He missed 2014 with a foot injury but the 2012 fifth-round pick has 134 catches in three seasons.
The Giants need an outside receiver to complement Beckham, and at 6-foot-1, 199 pounds Jones has adequate size to do that. Pro Football Focus, in ranking Jones as the best available receiver, said Jones "makes a very good second option. PFF also highlighted Jones' ability to make tacklers miss after the catch, something that is important in the timing-based Giants passing attack. Spotrac estimates Jones' market value at four years, $22 million, or $5.5 million per year.
We recently discussed Matthews as a potential target for the Giants. When you think of what the Giants need at receiver, and traditionally for in free agency, Matthews checks off a lot of boxes. He is only 26. He has size at 6-foot, 212 pounds. He still appears to have upside, with 2015 (43 catches, 662 yards, 15.4 yards per catch, 4 touchdowns) having been his best year. Kevin Nogle of SB Nation's The Phinsider says:
Matthews has developed from a seventh-round pick into one of Ryan Tannehill's favorite targets. He was on pace last season to surpass the 1,000-yard mark until broken ribs sidelined him near the end of the year. He has become a solid receiver who can work perfectly as a second option in an offense. He may not be the blazing speed receiver on a team, but he is quick enough to work his way through a defense and pick up large chunks of yards. Matthews wanted out of Miami last year when it appeared he was going to be buried behind Jarvis Landry, Greg Jennings, Kenny Stills, and DeVante Parker; he eventually became the starter opposite Landry and showed exactly why the Dolphins did not want to trade him.
Pro Football Focus ranks Matthews the second-best receiver available:
Typically, a good receiver will have a good catch rate and low yards-per-catch, or a good yards-per-catch and low catch rate. Matthews is the rare receiver who did both last year. He was the only player in the top 25 in each category among the 119 receivers with the most playing time.
Among Giants fans, Sanu seems to have emerged as a favorite free-agent target. The Giants might even agree, with various reports having indicated that Sanu could be at or near the top of the team's wide receiver shopping list.
Sanu makes sense for the Giants. They need a big target on the outside, and he is 6-2, 215 pounds. He turns 27 this summer, so he should be in his prime. He's been good for the Cincinnati Bengals but has been a bit of a third wheel behind A.J. Green and the aforementioned Marvin Jones. Sanu caught 56 passes in 2014 when Jones was hurt but had just 33 receptions in 2015. He will come cheaper than Jones, with Spotrac estimating a market value of four years, $17.2 million, or $4.3 million annually. Sanu is also a native of New Brunswick, N.J. who starred collegiately at Rutgers.
A big-bodied (6-1, 212 pounds) receiver, Kearse has been a productive player for one of the NFL's best teams. His production with the Seattle Seahawks has gone up every season. Three catches as a rookie in 2012, 22 catches in 2013, 38 receptions in 2014 and career highs in catches (49), yards (685) and touchdowns (5) in 2015.
Pro Football Focus ranks Kearse, 26, the No. 4 wide receiver available and lauds his consistency:
While there were better receiving options in Seattle, the Seahawks still had plenty of success when throwing Kearse the football. When Kearse was targeted, the Seahawks had a 126.1 NFL passer rating, which was the fourth-best for any wide receiver in the NFL.
Spotrac's estimated market value for Kearse is four years, $18.97 million, or $4.7 million per year.
I would not normally advocate signing a 35-year-old wide receiver in free agency, but Boldin isdifferent. His game has never been about speed. At 6-foot-1, 218 pounds his game has always been about strength, about his great hands and about being a guy a quarterback could trust. And Boldin is still clearly very good. He had 69 catches for the quarterback-challenged San Francisco 49ers last season. In 13 seasons, Boldin has never caught fewer than 56 passes in a year. I have always thought of Boldin as the kind of short-area receiver Eli Manning could thrive with. A guy who can make tough catches in traffic, who can do what Hakeem Nicks used to be able to do for Manning. Obviously, Boldin would not be a long-term answer. He would, however, buy the Giants some time as they try to upgrade their roster.
David Fucillo, the editor of SB Nation's 49ers website, Niners Nation, says:
Boldin can just keep going and going and going. He turned 35 in October, but given that speed has never been his game, he's still in good shape. He can still out-physical younger defensive backs. He's still got strong technique, and can get open in the short to intermediate range. He is the proverbial "possession receiver", but he remains an ideal version of it. He finished last season with 69 receptions for 789 yards in a god-awful offense with a broken Colin Kaepernick, and Blaine Gabbert throwing him the ball. As a No. 2 receiver behind a strong No. 1, he can still be a great option.
Not on my list
Travis Benjamin of the Cleveland Browns is a player most people put among the top wide receivers in this free agent class. Maybe he is, but I don't see him as a target for the Giants. Why? Because he's a flyweight. Benjamin is a 5-foot-10, 175-pound slot receiver. The Giants are still hoping Victor Cruz will be their answer in the slot, and Dwayne Harris is a pretty good Plan B in the slot or outside. Benjamin broke out in 2015 with 68 catches, 50 more than his previous career-high, and he is a home run threat. Still, I can't see the Giants spending big money on a tiny slot receiver if they are still holding out hope for Cruz.
About those old guys
There are several long-in-the-tooth receivers available. Among them are James Jones, who was with the Giants in training camp last season, Andre Johnson, Roddy White, and Marques Colston. I know that I listed Boldin, 35, among the top potential targets. I can't however, advocate for any of these guys. Jones, 32, had a nice year with the Green Bay Packers (50 catches, 890 yards, 17.8 yards per catch, 8 touchdowns). I believe, however, much of his production was due to his long relationship with Aaron Rodgers and his knowledge of Green Bay's offense. As for Johnson, White, and Colston, I just doubt they have much left to give.