Hot Hands: Free Agent Wide Receivers (Part 1)
After a successful regular season was ended against the New York Giants in the NFC conference championship fans of the 49ers are left wondering what the team needs to put it over the hump. In years past that answer has been almost solely been a quarterback. But with 2011 being Alex Smith’s career year in terms of avoiding turnovers and executing the game plan there has been a large amount of discussion about the need to improve the wide receiver core on the team. This was especially demonstrated in the game against the Giants in which only one pass the entire game and overtime was completed to a receiver. Michael Crabtree caught a pass for 3 yards. The 49ers other receiver of note in that game was Kyle Williams, a name which may never be forgotten, as he caught zero passes but lost two punts-one in overtime and arguably cost the 49ers the game. One catch among all the receivers combined in the NFC Championship isn’t exactly going to strike fear into the minds of opposing defensive coordinators.
There are several notable wide receivers who will be free agents that the team could decide to bring in and fill a much needed position. Here is the first rundown of several, along with their numbers this past year.
Reggie Wayne-With the Indianapolis Colts organization in flux Wayne could decide his best option is to move on rather than stick around to rebuild with a new coach and possibly a new quarterback. Wayne’s career numbers took a hit this past season as he didn’t have Peyton Manning throwing him passes. He hauled in 75 passes for 960 yards and 4 touchdowns. The knock on Wayne would be that he is entering his 12th season and might not have many years left to play at a high level.
Wes Welker- It is highly doubtful that the New England Patriots will let Welker walk after this season’s Super Bowl run. That being said, there is always a chance considering some of the moves that Bill Belichick has made in the past. Welker posted his customary stats this season with 122 catches, over 1500 yards and 9 touchdowns. He will be entering his 9th season next year. A downside to Welker would be that the 49ers already have several players comfortable playing in the slot as receiver as well as their propensity to use two tight end sets.
Vincent Jackson- Jackson is a number one receiver who has had several stressful seasons with the Chargers. It is possible he could decide that he would enjoy a change of scenery and might find San Francisco intriguing due to its location and his clear role as the top receiver on the team. Last season he had 60 catches for 1,106 yards and 9 touchdowns. The biggest question surrounding Jackson is where his head is at, how he would fit inside the 49ers locker room.
DeSean Jackson-After a holdout in the offseason Jackson reported to the team and had a down year as far as he is concerned. In 15 games last year he caught 58 balls for 961 yards and 4 touchdowns. He is also very adept at returning kicks and punts, something the 49ers could definitely be looking at after what happened in the playoffs. He clearly has game breaking ability and the potential to score any time he touches the football. But whether or not the 49ers believe the risks he brings are worth the rewards may be the ultimate question. It is worth nothing that Jackson is a local kid who grew up in California and played at the University of California.
Dwayne Bowe-Bowe has put up great season in back to back years and with spotty quarterback play throughout this past season in particular. He also has managed to be productive in a run first offense, which the 49ers could find very interesting. Last season Bowe had 81 receptions for 1,159 yards and 5 touchdowns. The 49ers were said to have shown interest in Bowe in the 2007 draft but ultimately drafted a linebacker named Patrick Willis-which turned out nicely.
Any of these players and more may be available in this off season. And with the 49ers getting within a score of the Super Bowl this past season some of them may be interested in seeing what San Francisco has to offer. Will it be one of these receivers, one from the next set or someone unexpected flying under the radar?