5 Free-Agent Wide Receivers the New York Jets Must Target This Offseason

John Shea@real_johnsheaContributor IIIFebruary 11, 2014

5 Free-Agent Wide Receivers the New York Jets Must Target This Offseason

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    It's no secret the New York Jets desperately need to add big-play potential to a defunct group of so-called playmakers on offense this offseason.

    The Jets will be rampantly active during free agency, when general manager John Idzik Jr. will aggressively attempt to acquire at least two capable receivers. The open market won't be flush with talent, but it offers several players with big-play potential nonetheless.

    Denver Broncos wideout Eric Decker seemingly headlines the short list of could-be difference-makers for the Jets in 2014, but he is bound to receive a multi-year contract and big money.

    Even though he might seem like a solid pickup on the surface, the Jets can get better value from other players who are capable of being equally productive.

    The Jets' inefficient passing game ranked 31st in the NFL in 2013. Failing to increase their playmaking talent at receiver could prove detrimental to their ability to earn a playoff berth next season.

    The following slideshow highlights five free-agent wide receivers whom the Jets must target this offseason.

Brandon LaFell

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    Brandon LaFell is a dependable receiving target who could prove to be a difference-maker for the Jets in 2014. He was a pivotal offensive weapon for the Carolina Panthers in 2013, racking up 627 receiving yards and five touchdowns on a career-high 49 receptions.

    The Panthers are adamant about holding onto him but are tight on cap space and could look to replace their No. 2 receiver in the draft. Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer expects the Panthers to ask LaFell to sign a "team-friendly, one-year deal," although the chances of that happening are slim.

    LaFell would supply the Jets with speed on offense. He has averaged 14.3 yards per reception over the course of his four-year career and has registered at least 600 yards receiving in each of the past three seasons.

    He will likely command a sizable contract on the open market, though, which could deter the Jets from engaging in negotiations with his agent. The Jets won't be afraid to spend money this spring, but they need to address all glaring roster voids in order to contend next season.

    At 27 years old, LaFell is looking for his first big payday. If the price is right, the Jets should sign him.

James Jones

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    James Jones has been one of All-Pro quarterback Aaron Rodgers' favorite receiving targets over the past few seasons, but he could be on the verge of changing colors this offseason.

    Jones led the NFL with 14 receiving touchdowns in 2012. He was similarly impressive last season, racking up 59 receptions for 817 yards and three scores in 14 games.

    The veteran wideout is a proven downfield target with stellar athleticism. At 6'1'' and 208 pounds, he has the size and strength to gain leverage against defensive backs.

    His proven abilities would fit perfectly into Marty Mornhinweg's offense, where he'd become an immediate impact player for the Jets.

    Per ESPN's Dan Graziano, Jones has been linked to the New York Giants, though, which would makes sense considering the likely departure of Hakeem Nicks. Jones also has a connection to the Giants: new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, who was the Packers quarterback coach in 2013.

    According to Andrew Cohen of OvertheCap.com, the Jets could sign Jones to a two-year, $6 million deal. This type of contract would make sense for the team, as it would add a proven veteran to the receiving corps at an economical value.

Golden Tate

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Golden Tate has statistically improved every season since being selected by the Seattle Seahawks in the second round of the 2010 draft. He caught 64 passes for 898 yards and five touchdowns last season, averaging 14.0 yards per catch.

    At 25 years old, he will test the open market for the first time in his career, where he's expected to net significant interest from teams around the league. Tate was an instrumental offensive proponent in the Seahawks' Super Bowl title run last season.

    He proved himself as a reliable lead receiver in the wake of big-time injuries to catalysts Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice. The Jets could use a player like Tate, who features sharp route-running ability.

    He'd be a solid downfield target for whoever is designated as the Jets' main signal-caller in 2014. At 5'10'' and 200 pounds, Tate doesn't present a mismatch on the outside, but his big-play ability will be difficult for the Jets to ignore in free agency.

    Andrew Cohen of OvertheCap.com projects the Jets could ink Tate to a five-year, $25 million deal. The Seahawks will likely prioritize re-signing other crucial proponents of their Super Bowl-champion roster, like safety Earl Thomas and cornerback Richard Sherman.

    Idzik knows what Tate is capable of, having spent time in Seattle's front office before becoming the Jets general manager.

Jeremy Maclin

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    Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    Jeremy Maclin missed the entirety of the 2013 season with an ACL injury but is bound for a turnaround next season. He was an integral part of the Philadelphia Eagles offense before suffering the second crippling knee injury of his career.

    He figures to be relatively affordable this offseason, because of the uncertainty surrounding whether he can regain the explosive speed that previously made him a dynamic offensive weapon.

    The former first-round pick enjoyed his best season as a pro in 2010 when he reeled in 70 catches for 964 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was similarly productive in the two seasons that followed, averaging 13.0 yards per reception with 12 touchdowns in 28 games.

    According to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, the Jets highly covet Maclin, despite his injury-riddled resume. He has familiarity with Mornhinweg's offensive concept, having spent four seasons under his play-calling scheme.

    Per Mehta, Maclin has expressed that he'd be willing to sign a one-year offer sheet to prove himself, potentially making him more attractive to the Jets, who have several key needs this offseason.

    At 25 years old, he has a ton of upside. He would supply the Jets with much-needed speed on offense, if he is able to stay healthy.

Emmanuel Sanders

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    Green Bay Packers kicker Mason Crosby tries to stop Pittsburgh Steelers' Emmanuel Sanders (88) on a kickoff return during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
    Jeffrey Phelps

    Emmanuel Sanders is arguably the most intriguing receiver who is set to hit the open market this offseason. The Jets reportedly have interest, according to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News.

    He was an effective complement to Antonio Brown for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2013, catching 67 passes for 740 yards and six touchdowns in 11 official starts. He emerged as a valuable downfield receiving target, despite averaging a career-low 11.0 yards per catch.

    Sanders features electric speed-burst ability. He's also an efficient route-runner who frequently exposes holes in opposing secondaries. He's the type of player that the Jets need on offense, but he won't come cheap.

    The Steelers will prioritize trying to retain him, although the Jets have a distinct advantage over their AFC counterparts: salary-cap space.

    The Jets will gain an additional $8.25 million to play with in free agency after officially granting disgruntled wideout Santonio Holmes his outright release.

    That money will be crucial in attempting to attain a player of Sanders' caliber.