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NFL free agency: High-priced WR targets for the Giants

Assessing the high end of the free agent wide receiver market

Chicago Bears v Detroit Lions Photo by Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The New York Giants’ 2020 offense was unavailing, lacked explosive plays, and was a bit unimaginative. It ranked 31st in yards per game (299) and points per game (17.5). The passing game lacked innovation, impeded drives, and lacked a top-end weapon. After Saquon Barkley’s Week 2 torn ACL, and Sterling Shepard’s foot injury in the same game, the Giants attempted to feature Evan Engram and Darius Slayton as their primary threats - that didn’t exactly work.

Engram had multiple key mistakes that either led to turnovers or punts. Slayton never took the sophomore year leap and struggled to defeat number one corners all year. The game plans of offensive coordinator Jason Garrett lacked pre-snap motion, were far too predictable, and didn’t maximize yards after the catch. Garrett tends to try and pick up first downs with the route surpassing the sticks, rather than just getting playmakers in space and allowing them to, you know, make plays.

In Week 5 at Dallas, the Giants started using a base counter trey play as a primary run play. The counter trey is a smash-mouth run that pulls two backside players to the front side (one to kick out, the other to lead block), while the play side tackle is aggressively blocked down the line of scrimmage. It’s a gap/power type of run, and I love the implementation of the run and hope to see a healthy Barkley in that system.

Garrett is returning to the team for 2021, that running system should return, but Daniel Jones still needs a go-to target. In Dave Gettleman’s post-season press conference, the general manager elaborated on the importance of finding offensive talent at the skill positions:

“At the end of the day, we need to find playmakers. That’s all there is to it. I’m not sugarcoating it. If you talk about philosophically doing your roster-building, it’s the Q, the big men that allow you to compete, and on offense it’s playmakers. We’re very conscious of it and we’re going to find the right guys to get Daniel over this hump.”

Gettleman tends to let Garfield out of the bag. The league seemed to know he loved Saquon Barkley, he expressed as much in a pre-draft presser, and many knew he was in “full bloom” love with Daniel Jones. The Giants will put a precedent on finding offensive playmakers (thankfully). It can happen three ways — free agency, the draft, in both free agency and the draft.

Last offseason, the Giants knew they needed to upgrade the offensive line. They signed tackle Cameron Fleming to a one-year, $3.5 million deal, a modest free-agent investment. Then they spent three draft picks on the position: the 4th overall pick on Andrew Thomas, the 99th on Matt Peart, and the 150th on Shane Lemieux.

The investment gave the Giants an influx of young talent on the offensive line. Swing lineman Nick Gates made a transition to center that is incredibly difficult to make. By the end of the season, Peart and 2018 second-round pick Will Hernandez were situational spell players with Fleming and Lemiuex securing most of the snaps.

Gettleman’s strategy seemed to work as long as Peart and Lemieux continue to develop. The 69-year-old general manager is fully aware that he has to get Jones the weapons he needs to have success - this is the offseason for that investment. Several key free agents could significantly help this offense. New York may have to get creative with the salary cap because these players are looking to get paid, so let’s see who could be a Giants’ target in mid-March.

Allen Robinson, Bears

There are rumors that the Bears will franchise tag the star wide receiver. Robinson is a bit disgruntled with the organization; last offseason, Robinson expected serious extension talks, but Bears general manager Ryan Pace was content to allow Robinson to play out the season on an expiring contract after Pace thought Robinson was demanding too much. This didn’t sit too well with Allen Robinson.

The contract never was finalized and Robinson has expressed, on social media, that he’ll be looking at other teams. Chargers’ Keenan Allen and Rams’ Robert Woods have both signed extensions with their teams since Pace and Robinson’s talks fell through. Their extensions look like this…

Keenan Allen: 4 years, $80 million, 50 million guaranteed

Robert Woods: 4 years, $65 million, 31.7 million guaranteed

All three of the wide receivers statistics have been relatively comparable the last three years, with Allen having a slight edge. The 2021 salary cap is looking to be set somewhere between $180-$182 million. For reference, the 2020 salary cap was $198.2 million, so teams are losing money due to COVID-19, and this may affect the contracts levied to the impending free agents.

Robinson may be looking for something north of Robert Woods deal. Robinson will be 28 next season. He’s coming off a season where he had 108 catches (wild card game included), 1,305 yards, and 6 touchdowns, with Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles throwing him the football. Robinson would be a true number one wide receiver who can win contested catch situations, be a precise route runner, and force defensive coverage responsibilities away from players like Shepard and Slayton.

His price tag may be a bit too rich for the Giants, but conversations have to at least happen. Jones cannot have another mediocre season - the NFL means Not For Long. Chicago may very well franchise tag Robinson, but he’d make a great number one weapon for Daniel Jones.

Kenny Golladay, Lions

There are a few new sheriffs in town for the Detroit Lions, along with a new quarterback in Jared Goff. Golladay, a very talented wide receiver who missed the majority of 2020 with a few injuries, is an impending free agent who may be slapped with a franchise tag. If that does not materialize, then Golladay will be one of the more desired wide receivers on the free-agent market.

Golladay is a big-play threat who averages 16.8 yards per catch in his career. For reference, Darius Slayton averaged 15 YPC, Sterling Shepard 9.9 YPC, and Allen Robinson 12.1 YPC in 2020. He’s 6’4, 213 pounds and he runs a 4.50 40 yard dash. Golladay has gone north of 1,000 yards twice and has one double-digit touchdown season.

The problem with Golladay has been injury-related. He missed 11 games last season, 1 in 2018, and 5 in 2017 while playing through nagging injuries when “healthy.” Golladay missed two 2020 games with a hamstring injury before he suffered a hip injury that forced him to miss the season, albeit he wasn’t placed on long term Ir.

The former third-round pick out of Northern Illinois would be a great addition as an X type of receiver on the outside. He can beat press on the line of scrimmage, has exceptional body control/adjustment ability, and uses his length well when the ball is in the air. Golladay could be Garrett’s Miles Austin, Amari Cooper, or Terrell Owens. If there are no long term health issues with Golladay, he would be an ideal fit.

Chris Godwin, Buccaneers

The Buccaneers don’t want to part ways with the talented receiver, but tough decisions will have to be made by the Super Bowl champions. Lavante David, Shaq Barrett, Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown, Ndamukong Suh, and Leonard Fournette are free agents.

The franchise tag for wide receivers in 2020 was $18.5 million and is projected at $16.4 million for 2021. The edge projection is at $17.8, and the linebacker projection is at $15.7.

Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians claimed that David and Godwin both won’t be going anywhere. Could one be signed, another get the franchise tag, or maybe even a transition tag? Possibly, but tough decisions are on the horizon for the Buccaneers.

I’m not betting that Godwin won’t be a Buccaneer, but the presence of 2020 fifth-round pick Tyler Johnson and Scotty Miller, along with the price difference between Godwin and Antonio Brown, could suggest that Godwin may hit the market.

Godwin predominantly lined up in the slot in 2020: 519 slot snaps, 357 wide snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. If he were to become a Giant, I would want to utilize him interchangably, but perhaps more outside, due to the success Sterling Shepard has in the slot. Godwin is capable of playing outside, but doesn’t seem to be the traditional X type of receiver.

After his 81-catch, 1,072-yard, 8-touchdown Super Bowl-winning season, it may be hard to imagine that Godwin would want to walk away from Tampa Bay. However, money talks and Tampa Bay is already paying Mike Evans $16.5 million per year. I believe Godwin is an underrated player and would be an asset on the Giants ... he just may not be the type of receiver (big-bodied, overly explosive) some fans are looking to add.