It has been said over and over again, but one of the many positions that must be addressed this offseason is wide receiver. It is unclear whether that receiver will come through the draft or through free agency, however it is clear that neither Jerome Simpson nor any other roster player can be relied upon to fill the position. As it stands now A.J. Green is the No. 1 wide receiver and Jordan Shipley is a solid option at the slot. That leaves the void at the No. 2 wide out, and with more pressing needs at the draft than second receiver (cornerback, guard), free agency looks like a better option with each passing day. It's a strong year for free agent wide receivers too. The list includes Colts Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon, Dwayne Bowe, Stevie Johnson, Brandon Lloyd, and Saints Robert Meachem and Marques Colston. However, the most intriguing wide out of this offseason's class of free agents is a guy who very recently demonstrated his big play ability to 111 million viewers: Mario Manningham.
Let's look at the logistics of signing free agent Mario Manningham.
Availability - Manningham did just have the game of his life in Super Bowl XLVI, but to most that came as a surprise. Why? Because his role within the Giants organization has been slipping since the emergence of Victor Cruz. The salsa dancing slot receiver surpassed Manningham on Eli's list of favorite targets, catching 82 balls for 1536 yards while Manningham's numbers dropped way down to 39 catches for 523 yards. Those numbers aren't typical for Manningham (57 catches for 822 yards in 2009; 60 catches for 944 yards in 2010) and it's hard to believe that he is satisfied with the distant No. 3 receiver spot behind Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. Plus, Manningham free agent stock drastically improved after his Super Bowl performance, so expect him to want a considerable salary increase and the Giants to not want to pay for it. Pro Football Weekly writes,
In order to keep him, the Giants likely would have to give Manningham starting-caliber money - and they still will want to work on an extension for Victor Cruz for down the road. It's possible that the team could allow Manningham to walk if the price gets too high and turn back to former Giants WR Steve Smith.
Which leads to...
Affordability - Most everyone is considered affordable with the amount of cap room Cincinnati has, but don't expect Mike Brown and the Bengals to break the bank for a No. 2 receiver. Vincent Jackson, Reggie Wayne, Marques Colston and DeSean Jackson will cost a fortune to sign and will most likely be unavailable anyway. Brandon Lloyd and Dwayne Bowe could be thrown in that list too, considering their recent production.
Manningham's upcoming salary will increase, but still won't be near the salary of those six receivers.
He fits Cincinnati's system - (I didn't know how to more bluntly title this section) Obviously, the most important point. The primary benefit of signing a free agent receiver as opposed to drafting one is that the player comes in already knowing how to play the game and not needing significant time to develop. Even if Cincinnati uses their very first pick on receiver, that would most likely still be the third or fourth receiver drafted and be a far cry from the immediate impact of A.J. Green. Manningham comes in with a few years of experience and, as we all saw in the Super Bowl, knowing how to play the game. Is there a free agent receiver who would fit with Cincinnati better? The list of free agents is a polarization of clear No. 1s--something the Bengals definitely do not need--and much less talented No. 2s, for example: Early Doucet, Donnie Avery, Legedu Naanee, Plaxico Burress, etc. Manningham falls above players such as that, but below star players requesting top money. Perhaps Buffalo's Stevie Johnson falls into a similar category as Manningham, but Johnson gives the impression of a less talented, more troublesome Ochocinco. Who wants to deal with that?
The glimmer of the Super Bowl's biggest play will wear off, and once again we'll all realize Manningham is not a star and is unable take over a game like the league's top receivers can. But that doesn't mean he's without value--far from it. He has speed, good hands and terrific play making ability. Lined up wide, he isn't a player defenses can just forget. Isn't that just the type of player the Bengals are looking for?