NFL organizations have spent more money on wide receivers this offseason than moviegoers have spent on The Hunger Games this weekend.
Yet Plaxico Burress is still available. T.J. Houshmandzadeh, too. And if NFL teams really want to have some fun, Terrell Owens, Roy Williams and Jerome Simpson can be had for prices that Walmart would be proud of.
But the valuable, highly-skilled, most expensive receivers have all signed with teams and are off the market. Now it is up to fantasy owners to figure out whose fantasy values will increase, whose will decrease and whose will stay the same now that these receivers have changed their helmets.
Here is a look at five free-agent receivers who signed recently with new teams and what numbers they will put up for fantasy owners in 2012:
Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jackson has wanted to get paid for a long time, and he finally found a team willing to write him a check with more zeroes on it than the San Diego Chargers ever would.
Jackson was the most prized pass catcher among the free agent crop this offseason and landed with Tampa Bay, who had more cap space than any other team and a brand new coaching staff excited to acquire some fresh, talented parts.
Jackson will be quarterback Josh Freeman’s favorite target immediately. While Freeman had good chemistry with Mike Williams in 2010, it was like they did not know each other in 2011. They were on the same page about as much as Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. That is why Freeman and Williams were both humongous fantasy disappointments last season.
Jackson should provide Freeman with one of the tallest and sure-handed receivers in football and should create more secondary space for Williams and tight end Kellen Winslow to get open.
But Freeman is no Philip Rivers and Winslow is no Antonio Gates, so while this situation is better for Freeman, you can make the argument that the parts around Jackson are not as skilled as they once were.
Prediction: Freeman and Jackson do not replicate the magic of Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, but they do consistently connect on several long passes throughout the season. Jackson finishes with 62 catches for 1,175 yards and eight touchdowns, but while his fantasy value stays relatively the same, Freeman’s value bounces back significantly.
Brandon Lloyd, New England Patriots
Lloyd was an underachieving journeyman for seven seasons until he met up with Josh McDaniels in Denver. Suddenly, Lloyd went from worthless to Jerry Rice and Steve Largent rolled into one receiver.
Lloyd was the breakout fantasy star of 2010—at age 29—with his 1,448 receiving yards and 11 touchdown receptions. Then Lloyd followed McDaniels to St. Louis last season and had the second-best year of his career with 966 yards and five touchdowns.
Now Lloyd and McDaniels are with their third team in three years, and considering Lloyd was a fantasy force with Kyle Orton and Sam Bradford throwing to him, there is no reason to think he won’t be with Tom Brady as his guy.
The only roadblock for Lloyd is that he will have to share the wealth in New England. Wes Welker and the tight end twosome of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez need their receptions, too. Welker and Gronkowski will still be ahead of Lloyd on the target chart, Deion Branch and Chad Ochocinco are still around and the Pats also signed Donte Stallworth and Anthony Gonzalez for some reason, so do not bank on Lloyd putting up another 1,448-yard year.
Prediction: 60 receptions, 1,025 yards, seven touchdowns and Lloyd ends up officially writing McDaniels into his will.
Pierre Garcon, Washington Redskins
Garcon did the unthinkable in 2011. He actually put up better numbers with Curtis Painter, Dan Orlovsky and Kerry Collins tossing to him than he ever did when Peyton Manning was his passer.
Garcon’s career-high 70 receptions for 947 yards and six touchdowns helped him escape the rebuilding Colts and link up with the overpaying Redskins. He will replace Santana Moss as Washington’s No. 1 receiver and is penciled in as a vital cog in the Mike Shanahan’s passing attack as rookie Robert Griffin III’s main man.
Garcon has the speed and big-play ability to make some fantasy magic with RG3. He burst onto the fantasy map last season because of his long-range touchdowns and a couple monster games. He had 271 yards and four touchdowns over a two-week period in October and had a 150-yard, two-TD contest at New England late in the season.
The problem is Garcon did not do much in his other 13 games. No other touchdowns, no other 100-yard games. Heck, he only broke the 80-yard barrier one other time. Blame as much of this as you want on the poor quarterbacks throwing to him, but some blame has to be put on Garcon for being maddeningly inconsistent.
Prediction: 65 receptions for 950 yards and seven touchdowns. If tight end Fred Davis gets suspended again for another failed drug test, though, Garcon would top the 1,000-yard mark.
Robert Meachem, San Diego Chargers
Meachem is no Jackson, but he is the perfect fit for the Chargers offense. The Chargers prefer their receivers to be the same size as NBA small forwards and have the speed of Olympic track stars, and Meachem fits both bills.
The problem is Meachem never caught 50 passes and never had 750 yards in any of his four seasons with the New Orleans Saints. That speaks volumes. He played half of his games on artificial turf so fast that it turns average men into hyenas. And he played with arguably the most accurate and most proficient quarterback in the NFL in Drew Brees.
Yet there were times in 2011 where Meachem was New Orleans’ sixth-best option in the passing game. He had to fight and claw just to get on the field. That should not be as much of a problem with San Diego, although the Chargers are deep in receiving threats themselves thanks to Gates, Malcolm Floyd, Vincent Brown and Eddie Royal.
Prediction: 52 receptions for 725 yards and six scores. If Meachem steps his game up, he could be San Diego’s No. 1 WR. If he drops passes and runs wrong routes, he could be the No. 3 or No. 4 WR.
Josh Morgan, Washington Redskins
The last we saw Morgan he was lying on the field after breaking his leg late in a San Francisco 49ers blowout victory—at a juncture when he should never been in the game.
San Francisco believed Morgan was a starting receiver and on his way to making people forget about the fiasco that was Braylon Edwards, but his broken leg ended that pipe dream.
Morgan has never proven to be more than a below-average No. 2 WR or an above-average No. 3. Maybe that was more because of the mediocre quarterbacking he had to deal with in San Fran and less to do with him. We will find out soon enough now that Morgan is with Griffin and Shanahan.
Morgan has no nose for the end zone (nine TD in four years). He has decent size, decent speed and decent hands. He does not have Pro Bowl size, speed or hands, however.
Prediction: Morgan sets career-highs with 700 yards and six touchdowns, but he does not make Redskins fans or fantasy owners think he is the next Art Monk.