The lead-up to the start of free agency is always the best part of the offseason. Fans fantasize about signing every big-name free agent, mock drafts are in full swing, and 31 fanbases are buying into the idea that "next year will be better."
For the Kansas City Chiefs, there is only one small change to the 2020 season’s end that could have made it better, but changing that outcome in 2021 will be a tall order. There have only been three teams in NFL history who have gone to three consecutive Super Bowls: the Miami Dolphins from 1971-1973, the Buffalo Bills from 1990-1994 and the New England Patriots from 2016-2018. The Chiefs will have a lot to work to do to join these ranks, and the first step in this process will be free agency.
I have already simulated a Chiefs mock offseason in my mock offseason series which you can read here, but that mock offseason was just showing what one Chiefs offseason could look like. The strategy, players, and draft picks could be wildly different.
So it is time to cast a wide net.
Over the next week, the Seven Days of Free Agency series will examine a position group or two a day and do a deep dive into the interesting free agents and then go over who could be on the Chiefs' radar. The lists will include all types of names, not just the big-name ones everyone knows. The goal will be to provide some exposure for the mid-range or under-the-radar free agents that many fans do not have exposure to unless their team signs them.
First up is wide receiver.
Note: 2020 stats for each player will be listed next to them in each section.
Allen Robinson (Bears) - 16 games played, 102 receptions, 1250 yards, 6 touchdowns
Kenny Golladay (Lions) - 5 games played, 20 receptions, 338 yards, 2 touchdowns
Chris Godwin (Buccaneers) - 12 games played, 65 receptions, 840 yards, 7 touchdowns
A very deep wide receiver class is headlined by some serious talent at the top.
The rub about these three names is that it is more likely than not they are franchise tagged. Godwin and Golladay, especially, are trending towards the tag.
If these players somehow make it to free agency, all three would be fantastic fits for most teams. The headliner of the whole class is Allen Robinson, who has shined on the field even though his whole career has been catching footballs from Blake Bortles and Mitchell Trubisky. Robinson is a physical receiver who runs crisp routes and could be the best contested-catch wide receiver in the whole league. His 100 catches in 2020 showed that he can be an elite wide receiver with anyone at quarterback and that will earn him a big payday if he hits free agency.
Kenny Golladay provides the same type of game as Robinson but with a bit less upside and more recent injuries. Chris Godwin is a different type of player than the other two but as a big slot wide receiver who can also play outside, Godwin’s game is translatable to almost every offense in the league.
Godwin and Golladay will be cheaper than Robinson, but because they have a high chance to get the franchise tag, they will come at the steep cost of a draft pick and a new contract. Any prospective buyers will have to weigh that cost versus what these receivers offer on the field, as the cost will probably be $16 million APY or more plus a day-two pick in the NFL draft.
Will Fuller V (Texans) - 11 games played, 53 receptions, 879 yards, 8 touchdowns
JuJu Smith-Schuster (Steelers) - 16 games played, 97 receptions, 831 yards, 9 touchdowns
Corey Davis (Titans) - 14 games played, 65 receptions, 984 yards, 5 touchdowns
Marvin Jones (Lions) - 16 games played, 76 receptions, 978 yards, 9 touchdowns
Curtis Samuel (Panthers) - 15 games played, 77 receptions, 851 yards, 3 touchdowns
Antonio Brown (Buccaneers) - 8 games played, 45 receptions, 483 yards, 4 touchdowns
T.Y. Hilton (Colts) - 15 games played, 56 receptions, 762 yards, 5 touchdowns
Sammy Watkins (Chiefs) - 10 games played, 37 receptions, 421 yards, 2 touchdowns
This wide receiver class is deep and it shows in the group after the headliners. All of these guys can be a starter for any team in the league and they all bring their own flavor. This is going to be the meat of the wide receiver class and quite a few of these guys will be getting good money ($10-14 million APY) on the market.
Will Fuller and Curtis Samuel are the speediest of the wide receivers in this tier. Fuller had a great 2020 until he was hit with a suspension for performance enhancing drugs which made him miss five games in 2020 and will have him miss the first game of 2021. The question with Fuller will be centered around his health. His one healthy year in the NFL was the year he got busted for PEDs.
Samuel is a very intriguing option at receiver who has been pushed behind Robby Anderson and D.J. Moore on the Carolina wide receiver depth chart. Samuel, a running back/wide receiver hybrid coming out of college, is shifty, fast, and runs some good routes from the slot and from outside. The only knock on Samuel is that he lacks production in the NFL as he has only racked up a little over 2,500 total yards in the NFL in four years.
Corey Davis and JuJu Smith-Schuster are players coming off their rookie deals looking for a big payday. Both players can play at many of the positions at wide receiver and blend good route-running with good playmaking ability. Davis is a bit more of a question mark as his production has not matched the pedigree of his draft pick, which was fifth overall in the 2017 draft.
The three old guys in the B-Tier are still playing well but are towards the end of their careers. Marvin Jones Jr. just continues to be a dependable target and will be most likely moving to his third team in free agency. Even with injuries to Matthew Stafford last year, Jones almost put up a 1,000-yard season and paired it with nine touchdowns. He is a contested-catch specialist who can also stretch the field and provide some yards after the catch. Jones is a premier option for teams looking for a short-term solution at wide receiver.
Antonio Brown was another old guy who played well last year. Towards the end of the year, Brown really came on and had some game-breaking plays in a stacked receiving corps. Brown comes with risks, of course, and very few teams can take him on, so it is hard to say where Brown can realistically go.
Unlike the other older wideouts, T.Y. Hilton showed his age last year and was noticeably less explosive. He can still contribute for another year or two, however, so he will be an option for teams looking to compete or have a bridge wide receiver.
The final wide receiver in tier two is one of the Chiefs' own pending free agents, Sammy Watkins. Watkins is a tweener in this free agency class at wide receiver and it is hard to say how much teams will value his skill-set versus his injury history. Bringing back Watkins does seem like it could be in the cards for the Chiefs, and Watkins himself has said how much he loves playing in Kansas City. However, the question now is whether the Chiefs want him back. At this point, it's hard to say.
The Proven Roleplayers
Breshad Perriman (Jets) - 12 games played, 30 receptions, 505 yards, 3 touchdowns
Nelson Agholor (Raiders) - 16 games played, 48 receptions, 896 yards, 8 touchdowns
Josh Reynolds (Rams) - 16 games played, 52 receptions, 618 yards, 2 touchdowns
Keelan Cole (Jaguars) - 16 games played, 55 receptions, 642 yards, 5 touchdowns
Rashard Higgins (Browns) - 13 games played, 52 receptions, 599 yards, 4 touchdowns
Kendrick Bourne (49ers) - 15 games played, 49 receptions, 667 yards, 2 touchdowns
Damiere Byrd (Patriots) - 16 games played, 47 receptions, 604 yards, 1 touchdown
Chris Conley (Jaguars) - 15 games played, 40 receptions, 471 yards, 2 touchdowns
There are a good amount of proven roleplayers at the receiver position who should provide reliable production at a cheaper cost compared to the first two tiers. Most of these guys will get contracts in the range of $4-10 million APY on the open market as their skillset is valuable in the league even if they are not a bonafide starting wide receiver.
Keelan Cole probably leads this group of free agents as he has had some good years for the Jags with some less-than-good quarterbacks. Cole's rookie year and 2020 season especially stand out and show he could be a low-end starting wide receiver.
After flaming out with his original team, the Baltimore Ravens, Breshad Perriman has carved out a nice niche role for himself in the NFL. The big-bodied receiver has proven to be a stable outside pass catcher on his last two teams and would be a nice bridge guy for any team to play outside.
Much like Perriman, Nelson Agholor busted out in Philadelphia. The speedster who had stone hands in Philly had a career resurgence in Las Vegas catching passes from Derek Carr. Any team looking for a downfield threat should check in on Agholor.
Josh Reynolds and Kendrick Bourne are both wide receivers out of the NFC West that have followed similar career trajectories. Both carved out roles on their respective teams as a WR3 and run great routes and have solid hands. They are not the best athletes out there, but for a team looking for dependable receiver help, look no further.
The Patriots lacked a lot of wide receiver talent last year, but Damiere Byrd did show some promise with the increased playtime. Byrd is a burner who could show some more things if he has a quarterback with a functioning arm throwing to him, which was not Cam Newton last year.
Rashard Higgins and former Chief Chris Conley are dependable targets that two AFC teams have relied on to fill roles that might be too large for them. Higgins is a player who runs some nice routes and can play at many positions. Conley is a great athlete but his hands really hold him back from being a dependable starter. If a team brings either of these two in to be a high-end WR3, that would be a great role for them.
The Old Vets
Emmanuel Sanders (Saints) - 17 games played, 61 receptions, 726 yards, 5 touchdowns
Golden Tate (Giants) - 15 games played, 35 receptions, 388 yards, 2 touchdowns
Larry Fitzgerald (Cardinals) - 13 games played, 54 receptions, 409 yards, 1 touchdown
A.J. Green (Bengals) - 16 games played, 47 receptions, 523 yards, 2 touchdowns
Danny Amendola (Lions) - 14 games played, 46 receptions, 602 yards, 0 touchdowns
For all five of these guys, it is hard to say how much they have left in the tank. Emmanuel Sanders looked the best out of these five wide receivers last year, giving the Saints and Drew Brees a nice target for their playoff run while Michael Thomas was injured. Sanders probably has another year left in the tank as a team's slot receiver.
Golden Tate, Danny Amendola, and Larry Fitzgerald all provide quality slot play with smooth routes if they choose to not retire. A.J. Green could provide a big-bodied target on the outside for a team in desperate need of a boundary receiver to win jump balls. All five players have a good chance of retiring but can be serviceable on a one-year deal as a team’s WR3.
Other Notable Names
DeSean Jackson (Eagles) - 5 games played, 14 receptions, 236 yards, 1 touchdown
Mohammed Sanu (Lions) - 10 games played, 17 receptions, 187 yards, 1 touchdown
Willie Snead (Ravens) - 13 games played, 33 receptions, 432 yards, 3 touchdowns
Adam Humphries (Titans) - 7 games played, 23 receptions, 228 yards, 2 touchdowns
Phillip Dorsett (Seahawks) - 0 games played
Dede Westbrook (Jaguars) - 1 game played, 1 receptions, 4 yards, 0 touchdowns
Demarcus Robinson (Chiefs) - 16 games played, 45 receptions, 466 yards, 3 touchdowns
Zach Pascal (Colts, RFA) - 16 games played, 44 receptions, 629 yards, 5 touchdowns
Tim Patrick (Broncos, RFA) - 15 games played, 51 receptions, 742 yards, 6 touchdowns
Zay Jones (Raiders) - 16 games played, 14 receptions, 154 yards, 1 touchdown
Khadarel Hodge (Browns, RFA) - 9 games played, 11 receptions, 180 yards, 0 touchdowns
Allen Lazard (Packers, RFA) - 10 games played, 33 receptions, 451 yards, 3 touchdowns
Noah Brown (Cowboys) - 16 games played, 14 receptions, 154 yards, 0 touchdowns
This is a hodgepodge of players with various skill sets at different points of their career but they have one thing in common: they will be cheap. The few good receivers in this group are restricted free agents and deserve to be mentioned, but unless their previous team declines to use an RFA tag on them, they will not hit free agency.
Who should the Chiefs target?
When looking at the players in The Headliners, it is hard not to dream of Allen Robinson. If the Chiefs are going to swing for the fences, it should be for Robison. Robinson, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce would form possibly the best trio of pass-catchers a team has assembled in recent memory. This type of move seems very unlikely in hearing how Brett Veach has talked about free agency, however, so unless Veach is throwing up a thick smokescreen, don't hold your breath.
With Watkins leaving in free agency, it makes sense for the Chiefs to sign a player from the B-Tier. With the Chiefs probably being priced out of the young guys in the B-Tier due to teams throwing around more money due to the age of the player, a play at signing Marvin Jones Jr. or T.Y. Hilton seems like a good fit to sure up the position. I personally chose to sign Marvin Jones Jr. in the mock offseason series as an X-WR. He has reliable hands, he is a good deep threat and he has solid yards after catch ability. Most importantly, he is more durable than Watkins and will be available when the Chiefs need him the most, unlike Watkins in 2020. Both players could be signed on short-term deals that the Chiefs could pair with a rookie wide receiver so that rookie does not have to start immediately in an offense that can be notoriously hard on rookies.
The Proven Roleplayers are intriguing options for the Chiefs to at least build out depth at the wide receiver position heading into a very deep wide receiver draft class. The players that seem to fit what the Chiefs need the most are the pair of NFC West wide receivers, Kendrick Bourne and Josh Reynolds. Both players provide a dimension to the Chiefs' receiver room that is needed as both players are over six feet tall and are smooth route runners from all receiver positions, including X-WR. The plan when signing either player should not be for them to be locked in starter at X-WR, but they have the ability to do so. Platooning either player with a rookie wide receiver is a nice pairing that would give the Chiefs options at receiver that match or exceed their targets from last year.
The only name out of the Old Vets that is interesting to me is A.J. Green. If the Chiefs miss out on all X-WRs in free agency and the draft, as an emergency option at X-WR, they could do worse than Green in 2021 as he probably has one more year in the tank. Emmanuel Sanders is another quality player, even at this point of his career, but it is hard to say how his history with the Chiefs earlier in his career would affect any attempt to sign him.
As it stands now, with the franchise tag window still open until March 9, this free agent wide receiver group is a deep and impactful one. There are legitimate top-20 players at the position available, there is a breadth of talent in the group, and any team that is looking for a wide receiver in free agency should be pleased. With a deep free agency class and draft at wide receiver, it is hard to say what the market will be for some of these players, especially the roleplayers and veterans. In a cap-strapped year, it is hard not to forecast the deep talent at the position driving down prices for some of these receivers and letting teams get some of these players on the cheap. A few NFL teams will get steals from this group of free agent wide receivers, it is just about finding the right fit. If the Chiefs wish to add a wide receiver in free agency, this is not a bad class to do so.