Packers 2014 Free Agents: Evaluating James Jones' Free Agent WR Competition

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Despite going completely M.I.A. in the Super Bowl, Eric Decker will still be the top receiver in this year's not-so-appealing class at the wide receiver position.

When March 11th hits, we will finally begin to see what the market for a solid NFL #2 receiver looks like. We all know that James Jones will be testing the free agent market once again, and last time when Jones hit the market, it turned out to be pretty soft. Of course, that was when he was known for his poor drops and couldn’t exceed 50 receptions and 700 yards.

Now, at the age of 30, Jones hits the market after setting his career-high in receiving yards despite having Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzein under center with Aaron Rodgers dealing with injury. Before this past season, he led the NFL in receiving touchdowns.

Enough about Jones though. Below I decided to look at his market of fellow receivers for this offseason. I highlighted five of the top free agent receivers Jones will be in the market with while also noting those of honorable mention. The free agent class of receivers this year is not very bright all-around, so Jones could potentially get a good deal from a team that might not have a lot of options.

With that said, let’s look at the other receivers James Jones will join in the free agent pool come March 11th.

Eric Decker

2013 stats: 87 receptions, 1,288 yards, 11 touchdowns

Eric Decker bar none had the best season out of all of the receivers in this free agent class. After setting new career-highs in receptions and yards, Decker will be the highest-paid player at the position of the class. But there are questions surrounding whether or not Decker will be able to perform at the level he did this past season without Peyton Manning. In his two years under Peyton Manning, Decker has totaled 172 receptions for 2,352 yards and 24 touchdowns.

If a team overpays for Decker’s services and lines him up with an average quarterback throwing him the ball, how big of a hit will his production take? I don’t think he’ll completely flop with another team, but after setting his standard this year, people will expect more of that from him. But hey, If Mike Wallace can get a 5-year 60 million dollar contract from the Miami Dolphins, Eric Decker can get something similar or more from another team that’ll be willing to overpay him.

Hakeem Nicks

2013: 56 receptions, 896 yards, 0 touchdowns

Hakeem Nicks is probably the most interesting guy on this entire list in my opinion. Nicks has battled the injury bug, and in 2013, he only missed one game but yet he didn’t reach the end zone and only topped 100 yards one time.

So, what happened? Well, the Giants and Eli Manning weren’t good this season, that’s obvious. But their offensive line was horrid ranking 31st in pass blocking for Manning up front and the team became so desperate on offense for a running back they hired Peyton Hillis.

Nicks can still be one of the best red zone threats in the entire NFL, though. He still has an advantage in one-on-one matchups, especially on jump balls. In his best seasons of ’11 and ’12, he forced double teams down field and was effective off the line of scrimmage in coverage. For a receiver looking to get paid in the NFL, Nicks didn’t have the year he wanted, but his upside is still there for me if he goes to the right team and quarterback.

Anquan Boldin

2013: 85 receptions, 1,179 yards, 7 touchdowns

Boldin is the most experienced notable receiver in this free agency class. After being traded to the 49ers last year for a sixth-round pick, Niners General Manager Tim Baalke got a steal. Boldin caught 85 passes (most since 2009) and topped 1,000 yards receiving for the first time since ’09 also.

Even though he turns 34 in October, Boldin has been such a dangerous durable threat at the receiver position because of his toughness, physicality and reliability. If San Francisco somehow doesn’t snatch Boldin off the market right away, teams will call right away. Especially a team looking for a veteran to pair with its young receivers. But the Niners want him back and the feeling is mutual (aw). So unless another playoff caliber team makes an unusual offer for Boldin, there’s a great chance he’s right back in the Bay Area next season.

Jeremy Maclin

2013: DNP – Torn right ACL

Maclin will likely be receiving a one-year deal from a team this off season since he'll be looking to reestablish himself after tearing his ACL at the end of July. Maclin is a great example of a receiver who can have a big impact without massive surface stats. If he can show glimpses of his old form, showing post-injury that he is still a valuable possession receiver once again – he’s produced 3,453 yards and 26 touchdowns – some team will give him a decent first deal.

The concern with Maclin though is that he hasn’t been able to stay healthy, which has contributed to him not being able to top 1,000 yards in a season yet.

Emmanuel Sanders

2013: 67 receptions, 740 yards, 6 touchdowns

After putting together his best statistical season of his career, Sanders will hit the market as one of the more promising guys. The fourth-year veteran from Southern Methodist University recorded career-highs in receptions (67), yards (740), touchdowns (6) and starts (11). He can make plays after the catch and Sanders has flashed big-play ability both as a receiver and returner, while also showing promising upside. In 2013, Sanders transitioned from the slot to playing outside, a different move for him because he played mostly in the slot. While at SMU, he was also a slot receiver.

Last offseason, the Patriots, thin at wide receiver, signed him to a one-year, $2.5 million offer sheet but the Steelers matched. Now Sanders will probably get a chance to test the free-agency waters. Their previous interest could make them a team to watch when he becomes available.

In 2013, Sanders dropped 5 passes and had a 63% catching percentage. Right now I don't think Emmanuel is a quality starter but he's definitely better than just a normal slot guy.

Other notable free agent receivers:

Julian Edelman: He had his best season as pro in 2013 totaling 1,056 yards on 105 catches for 6 touchdowns. Good hands and is great in space. Edelman is also valuable on special teams and in 2012, he even played on both sides of the ball.

Golden Tate: Tate caught 64 passes for 898 yards in 2013 (career-highs). He arguably has the best hands in the league and is a tremendous speed slot guy. Seahawks fans will argue that he's better than his numbers indicate, and that may dictate him staying in Seattle.

Jacoby Jones: Had only one touchdown this year (it should have been two, right Mike Tomlin?) on special-teams but still remains one of the fastest and most dangerous players in the return game.

Santana Moss: In 2013, Moss had the third-lowest amount of total receiving yards in a season of his entire 13-year career. He’ll be 35 in June and his market will be limited.

Kenny Britt: After a promising 2009 and 2010 season, Britt fell out of favor in Tennessee and only hauled in 11 passes in 2013. He has serious character concerns, and while the talent is there, his antics have made his market difficult.

After looking through the market of receivers, I believe Jones will sign with a team that will pay him better than Green Bay. With such a limited amount of proven guys (or guys who have something productive on their resume), I think Jones will be one of the guys to come off the market early, once Decker is signed elsewhere.

Ted Thompson will also have to worry about the extensions of Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson in the future. With the emergence of Jarret Boykin this past season, it solidified Green Bay’s decision to just let Jones test the market and possibly move on without him next season.

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