NFC East: steve johnson

Yes, it's unusual to spend this much time writing about a Buffalo Bills wide receiver on the NFC East blog, but the Bills' signing of Stevie Johnson has a ripple effect. I do not think the Washington Redskins were planning to target Johnson if he hit the open market, since he's a bit younger and more unproven than the free agents Mike Shanahan has said he'd like to sign. But Johnson's five-year, $36.25 million contract, which includes $19.5 million in guarantees, helps define the market for free-agent wide receivers.

For my money, the best potential free-agent wide receiver this year is Vincent Jackson, who doesn't appear likely to be franchised for the second year in a row by the San Diego Chargers. Jackson is 29 years old, and therefore in Shanahan's preferred age range for free agents. He's also 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds and would be the sort of big, physical downfield threat the Redskins' wide receiver corps currently lacks.

When I spoke with Shanahan in December and asked him about offseason priorities, he specifically mentioned wide receiver and said, "We need a No. 1." With as much cap room as the Redskins have, they should be able to afford any of the No. 1 wide receivers available -- be it Jackson, Marques Colston, Dwayne Bowe, Pierre Garcon or whomever. All of those guys are likely to demand more than what Johnson just got from Buffalo, and with the possible exception of Garcon their track records indicate that they deserve it. Johnson's deal establishes the bottom of the free-agent wideout market, and is surely helpful to the Redskins as they budget their potential offers.

The issue the Redskins will have is convincing these guys Washington is a place worth playing. Money is one thing -- and don't kid yourself into thinking it's not the first, second and third most important thing to free agents -- but there will be other teams bidding big on these guys, and it would help the Redskins' case if they could tell these free-agent wideouts the name of the quarterback who will be throwing them the ball in 2012, or what they plan to do to upgrade the offensive line and improve their chances of contending for the playoffs in the short term.

That's another reason it'd be nice for the Redskins to have the quarterback situation resolved sooner rather than later -- for example, agreeing on a trade this week with the Rams for the No. 2 overall pick from which they could draft Robert Griffin III. They're going to be big-game hunting for wide receivers, and having their act together in other areas would help ensure that their money looks as enticing as other teams' money does.
The news of the morning on this Franchise Monday includes the Buffalo Bills' signing of wide receiver Stevie Johnson to a five-year deal and the Houston Texans' signing of running back Arian Foster to a five-year-deal. These are not NFC East signings, but they do lead one to wonder about the Philadelphia Eagles, who are dealing with high-profile upcoming free-agent situations with wide receiver DeSean Jackson and running back LeSean McCoy.

Let's do Jackson first, since his situation is more immediate. The Eagles have designated Jackson as their franchise player, which guarantees him $9.4 million this season if they don't work out a long-term deal. In spite of public proclamations to the contrary, which may very well be posturing, the Eagles don't seem to want to sign Jackson long-term and will entertain trade offers for him.

But Johnson's deal helps the Eagles' case. Johnson got $36.25 million, $19.5 million of which is guaranteed. The average annual value of his deal is $7.25 million, which is far less than Jackson's 2012 franchise number and likely less than Jackson wants to make on the free-agent market or from a team looking to trade for him. Jackson's agent surely will make the case that Jackson is a better player than Johnson, but it's worth asking the question of whether that is actually true.

Over the past two seasons, Johnson has caught 158 passes for 2,077 yards and 17 touchdowns. Jackson has caught 105 passes for 2,017 yards and 10 touchdowns. Jackson is the more dangerous home-run threat, but Johnson is by far the more productive receiver. You say Jackson helps in the return game? I say he's been a non-factor in that area since breaking the Giants' hearts in December of 2010. Each player has demonstrated some knucklehead behavior, but each is also merely 25 years old and capable of growing and maturing.

You can argue that they're similar. You can argue that Johnson's numbers are better. But you can't make a convincing argument that Jackson deserves to be paid a great deal more than Johnson is being paid. Because of that, the Johnson deal hurts Jackson's bargaining position. If Jackson's side sees that and drops its demands, that makes it more likely that Jackson stays in Philadelphia. If not, it makes it more likely that the Eagles look to trade him in the absence of a long-term deal. It's also possible he stays and plays under the franchise number this year, which isn't a terrible outcome for either side.

As for McCoy, for whom free agency looms next year, I think the Foster deal helps him. No, his numbers aren't as good as Foster's. Over the past two years, Foster has 605 carries for 2,840 yards and 26 touchdowns, plus 119 receptions for 1,221 yards and four touchdowns. Over the same period, McCoy has 480 carries fior 2,389 yards and 24 touchdowns, plus 126 receptions for 907 yards and five touchdowns. Foster is the more productive back. You can argue that's because of the way he's used relative to McCoy, and you could be right. But numbers are numbers.

The numbers on Foster's deal, however, are generous — $43.5 million over five years with $20.75 million guaranteed and $18 million due this year. The average annual value of $8.7 million is high for a guy who plays as grinding a position as running back, as is the guarantee. McCoy is going to cost the Eagles more to keep than they may have wanted to pay him, and they may even be more motivated to act sooner rather than later in case the market goes higher again in 2013.

Manningham and the free-agent WRs

February, 15, 2012
Wide receiver may be the most intriguing position in free agency this year, especially in the NFC East, where the Washington Redskins need a No. 1, the Philadelphia Eagles need to figure out what to do with DeSean Jackson and the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys could be searching for No. 3s to replace Mario Manningham and Laurent Robinson, respectively.

So, when I came across K.C. Joyner's Insider piece on Insider free-agent wide receivers, I read it. He addresses Manningham, Jackson, Vincent Jackson, Dwayne Bowe, Marques Colston, Steve Johnson and Brandon Lloyd and evaluates them against each other. Again, it's Insider, so I can't give you the whole thing, but here are a couple of highlights of possible NFC East interest:

1. K.C. says Manningham "could end up as the best value acquisition wide receiver" from among this group. He's just 25 years old, and assuming his postseason and Super Bowl performance doesn't inflate his perceived value, somebody could be getting a guy who still has some upside. K.C. cites Manningham's 2010 statistical profile as an indication that this year's postseason numbers aren't a complete anomaly.

2. I'm picking Bowe and Colston as the Redskins' most likely targets. Given their ages (27 and 28, respectively, though Colston will be 29 before the season starts) and size, they fit what Washington is looking for. I'd been thinking Vincent Jackson, and he still could be the guy, but K.C. says he comes with "consistency issues" and "some concern about his ability to deal with a larger target workload." He just turned 29, so he's not out of Mike Shanahan's target age group for free agents, but he's not completely out of it just yet.

3. I don't think DeSean Jackson hits the free-agent market, because I expect the Eagles to franchise him, but he still will be available in trade. He has a unique skill set (especially if he's going to go back to being a punt-return threat), but he also comes with what K.C. calls "more big-dollar bust potential than any other wide receiver in this year's field."

Just my thoughts on K.C.'s thoughts. Lots still to shake out here. But I thought you guys might find it interesting. Which really kind of goes without saying. I generally don't post things that I don't think you'll find interesting.