Free Agent Options: Wide Receiver

Greg Jennings (Tom Dahlin/Getty)

Chicago's passing attack was a mess last season and much of that had to do with poor play from the wide receivers. We break down the free agent wideouts that could boost the Bears' offense.

Last season, Brandon Marshall did things no other Chicago Bears wide receiver has done in franchise history. He broke team records in catches (118) and receiving yardage (1,508) and was absolutely dominant from start to finish.

For at least two more years, the Bears have a legitimate No. 1 receiving threat. Beyond Marshall, things aren't as rosy. Alshon Jeffery had an up and down rookie campaign, yet showed flashes of serious potential. He may turn into the club's No. 2 wideout as early as next season, if he can stay healthy. Yet it's tough to count on a player with just 10 games experience in the NFL.

Earl Bennett again dealt with injuries in 2012 and, at this point in his career, it's unclear if he'll ever become the player most expected him to be two years ago. And Devin Hester just isn't cut out to be a full-time pass catcher.

The lack of production behind Marshall was one of the main reasons Chicago finished 28th in passing last year. Heading into free agency, GM Phil Emery would be wise to consider at least one of the following receivers set to hit the open market (unrestricted free agents only).

Wes Welker (5-9, 185), New England Patriots, Age: 32
Welker once again posted monster numbers in 2012 (118 catches, 1,354 yards, 6 TDs). In fact, since joining the Patriots in 2007, he has five seasons of 100 or more catches, including two of 120 or more, and has 1,300 or more yards in three of the last four campaigns. Over the past six years, no other receiver in the league can match Welker's production. That said, he's getting up in age, he drops a lot of passes and he's prone to fumble. Many believe he's a product of the Patriots' system. On top of that, he's going to want a monster deal. For the Bears, he would complement Marshall immensely, yet considering his age, faults and price tag, Chicago would be better off passing on Welker and spending the money elsewhere.


WR Danny Amendola
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty

Danny Amendola (5-11, 188), St. Lous Rams, Age: 27
Amendola is one of the best slot receivers in the game. He's extremely quick, creates good separation out of his breaks and has solid hands. On short and intermediate routes, there a few better. As a pure pass catcher, he's far more efficient than Earl Bennett. Amendola's biggest downfall is his health. He has missed 22 games due to injury during his four years in the league. As a result, he's going to be tough to rely on for 16 games of production year in and year out. Health aside, Amendola is the piece Chicago is missing. Adding him to the mix, with the two big guys out wide, would truly create a dangerous aerial attack. He's a risk but one worth taking.

Greg Jennings (5-11, 198), Green Bay Packers, Age: 29
Jennings is a quality wideout who, paired with Marshall, could give Chicago one of the toughest one-two punches in the league. He's a big play receiver and a quality deep threat. Due to injury, he played in just eight games last season, but he topped 1,100 yards in three of the previous four years. He also has four seasons with nine or more touchdowns. Jennings is past his prime and Green Bay will make a strong push to keep him. Still, if the Bears are able to pry him away from the Packers, he'll help Chicago's passing attack take that next step.

Mike Wallace (6-0, 199), Pittsburgh Steelers, Age: 26
Wallace is one of the fastest wide receivers in the game and has the potential to take every catch to the house. Beyond that, he's very limited as a wide receiver and drops too many passes. He was tagged by the Steelers last year and will be looking to finally cash in this offseason. If the Bears could get him on the cheap, he would be the competent deep threat the offense needs. Yet, considering his price tag, it wouldn't make much fiscal sense for Emery to break the bank on a one-dimensional receiver.

Dwayne Bowe (6-2, 221), Kansas City Chiefs, Age: 28
Bowe is one of the most talented wideouts in the league. He has ideal size and great leaping ability. As a red zone threat, there are few better in the league. Yet Bowe drops far too many passes and does not play as physical as his frame would suggest. On top of that, with Jeffery, the Bears already have a younger, more sure-handed version of Bowe. Next.

Brian Hartline (6-2, 199), Miami Dolphins, Age: 26
Hartline broke out in his fourth season last year, catching 74 passes for 1,083 yards. Yet he scored just one touchdown. In fact, of his 183 career receptions, just six have gone for touchdowns, which is surprising given his size. He's still a young player but he's likely reached his ceiling. Yet that's not bad. Hartline could come to Chicago and serve as the team's No. 2 receiver, allowing Jeffery more time to develop. And since he's only had one productive season in the NFL, he'll come at a discount. Hartline would be a sneaky good pickup for the Bears.

Julian Edelman (5-10, 200), New England Patriots, Age: 26
Edelman is a Welker clone, although not as quick. He's a versatile player who lined up all over the field for the Patriots. Out of the slot, he can be a mismatch nightmare. He's also a quality punt and kick returner, something the Bears may need with Devin Hester's future in doubt. Edelman would come cheap and would provide Chicago's offense, and special teams, a dynamic new facet.

David Nelson (6-5, 214), Buffalo Bills, Age: 26
Two years ago, his second in the league, Nelson caught 61 passes for 658 yards and 5 TDs. After tearing his ACL and missing all but one game last year, it's likely many teams have forgotten about him. Yet Nelson is expected to be fully healthy by the start of 2013. He's got great size, speed and leaping ability and would provide another big, young target for Jay Cutler. Nelson will be very inexpensive yet could pay big dividends in Chicago.

Domenik Hixon (6-2, 197), N.Y. Giants, Age: 28
Hixon has always been a third or fourth receiver in New York. In Chicago, he'd instantly challenge Bennett for the slot role. He caught 39 passes for 567 yards last year. His 67.2 percent catch rate and 14.5 yards per reception were both better than more-heralded teammates Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. Hixon has deep threat ability, good quickness and solid hands - he dropped just three passes in 2012. He's nothing more than a role player but right now that's all the Bears need.

Click here for Bear Report's comprehensive Bears Free Agency Guide


Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.

BearReport.com Recommended Stories