Free Agent Focus: Wide ReceiverThe Falcons will have to make a decision on whether to keep or let Harry Douglas go in free agency. And you could make the case for either happening. The Falcons are expected to install a vertical offense under Dirk Koetter. And playing the vertical game is really not a strength of Douglas. He’ll make the occasional play down the field, but his bread and butter is really the shorter and intermediate routes where he can use his quickness and burst after the catch to make plays. So in that sense, it would make sense for the Falcons to pass on Douglas and find someone that is a better fit for the scheme.
But at the same time, it’s not like you’re going to run 3 or 4 verticals every snap of the game, and having a nice outlet option underneath to make teams pay if they set their coverages too deep is a valuable commodity.
Ultimately the main issue with Douglas is the price. For the right price, the team should want him back. But at the wrong one, it’s probably best if the team lets him walk. And that’s going to be the big question surrounding this year’s free agent market at wide receiver.
Last summer, the market wasn’t very big for a lot of players. Outside Sidney Rice and Santonio Holmes, no one really got paid that much. Now making $2-3 million a year is not chump change, but a lot of young receivers were expecting to cash in with lucrative long-term deals and did not. If that repeats this off-season, then a lot of players like Douglas could be left out in the cold. And that would make the chances that the Falcons can get Douglas for a modest price very high. And it seems based off deals that players like Earl Bennett and Jordy Nelson signed this past fall/winter, it doesn’t seem like teams are willing to break the bank for these complementary receivers.
If the Falcons are looking for a receiver that is a better fit in their more vertical-oriented passing attack, targeting someone with size and speed would be best. There are a number of players that sort of fit that mold as guys that are good going down the field. The ideal player would likely be Brandon Lloyd (St. Louis), but he’s likely to price him out of the Falcons range since Lloyd should be looking for starter’s money. The same could probably be said of Pierre Garcon (Indianapolis).
Next on the Falcons list would probably be Mario Manningham (NY Giants) and Robert Meachem (New Orleans). But both are quasi-starters for their respective teams, and will probably be looking for more lucrative deals and playing time. But with both, they have proven they are good No. 3 receivers and able to make big plays downfield, their primary roles with their respective teams.
Another pair of cheaper options I like are Chaz Schilens (Oakland) and Devin Aromashodu (Minnesota). Schilens is more big than fast, but his size allows him to make plays downfield because he can be so valuable on the jump balls. Aromashodu has a better mix of size and speed. The good thing about both is that it’s very likely both will come fairly cheap because neither have had more than 29 receptions in a single year. Frankly, if the Falcons could keep Douglas as well as sign one of them, it would be a good move for their wide receiver corps.
One issue the Falcons may face if they do choose to retain Douglas, is that whoever could potentially join the team as the fourth receiver would need to be able to play on special teams. That is a role that none of the previously mentioned free agents have really done. It’s a role that Douglas has performed little of. And it’s why the team has valued players like Eric Weems and Kerry Meier in recent years. That could make a player like Devin Thomas (NY Giants) a bit more attractive. Of course Thomas has been plagued with inconsistency throughout his career and has made minimal contributions on offense. If the Falcons signed him, it might be too lofty of expectations to think he will make any significant contributions on offense. It could be similar to when the Jaguars signed Kassim Osgood a year ago to be more of an offensive playmaker than he was in San Diego, and that did not work out so well.
Either way, the Falcons will have to address their receiver depth this off-season. If none of those free agents can be had at the right price, they might turn their attention to getting bigger and faster via the draft.