Free-agent preview: Wide receiver

Free-agent preview: Wide receiver
March 3, 2014, 1:30 pm
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This week, we’ll have an overview of the free agent class at some positions of need for the Patriots. First up, wide receiver.
 
HEAD OF THE CLASS
Eric Decker, 27, Broncos, 87 receptions, 1,288 yards, 11 TDs
With excellent size and strength, Decker is certainly an upper-tier receiver. But he doesn’t have the elite, downfield speed of the very best wideouts and shouldn’t be paid as one. He lives off opportunities generated by others around him. As a No. 1, he’d be overmatched.
 
Hakeem Nicks, 26, Giants, 56/896/0
An enigma. Two consecutive disappointing seasons are going to drive his price down but he showed at the ages of 23 and 24 when he had 2,244 yards, 155 catches and 18 touchdowns in 28 regular-season games, that he can play a little.
 
Golden Tate, 26, Seahawks, 64/898/5
Tough, versatile and underrated because he’s in an offense that features a lot of Marshawn Lynch, Tate has expressed a desire to stay with the Seahawks.
 
Julian Edelman, 28, Patriots, 105/1,056/6
You’ve seen him. He’s good. Was 2013 lightning in a bottle or the preamble to Edelman having a Act 2 to his career similar to Wes Welker’s?
 
Emmanuel Sanders, 27 Steelers, 67/740/6
The Patriots made a run at him as a restricted free agent last year and nothing was submitted in 2013 with the Steelers that would make the Patriots think any less of him.
 
THE SENSIBLE PLAY
The team will need to secure the services of either Edelman or Emmanuel Sanders. Edelman, of course, has the experience in the offense and with Tom Brady. Sanders and Edelman are similar in terms of size, after-catch ability and versatility. Sanders is more durable. Edelman is already versed in the Patriots offense. It’s hard to put a price tag on that. It’s scary, though, to re-up with Edelman already knowing the injury risks dotting the receiving corps in place.

TAKING A FLYER
Tate. He would be the gold standard, in my opinion. A player like Decker or Nicks might impede the progress of the younger players -- Dobson, Thompkins -- who have lower price tags and years ahead of them. Tate (or Sanders or Edelman) wouldn’t be in their way.
 
THE OTHER GUYS
James Jones, Packers
Sidney Rice, Seahawks
Andre Roberts, Cardinals
Kenny Britt, Titans
Dexter McCluster, Chiefs
Doug Baldwin, Seahawks
Brandon Lafell, Panthers