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4 impending free agent WRs the Steelers should scout in conference championship weekend

A look at upcoming free agents to fill the WR3 need...

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It’s championship game weekend! You may not find yourself rooting for any of the four teams left in contention for Super Bowl LVIII, and who could blame you?

  • The Baltimore Ravens? NOPE!
  • The Kansas City Chiefs adding another layer of AFC “insurmountability”? No, thanks!
  • The San Francisco 49ers tying the Steelers by winning a sixth Lombardi? Please, no.
  • The Detroit Lions may be the default team to root for, but they seem like the little brother who just got in the ring with three bigger, stronger opponents. Their ugly end seems inevitable.

So why even watch these games? Maybe there’s a chance to scout some future Steelers.

It’s an anniversary of sorts for this particular BTSC contributor. One year ago I typed out my first ever Fanpost on the very topic of today’s article— potential free agent acquisitions that are playing in the championship games. While it didn’t win a Pulitzer Prize, it did call attention to Isaac Seumalo among others. Anyone who writes on this site will be called out for all of their wrong takes (like this article I wrote about Mitch Trubisky) so it’s only fair to point out articles that had more value.

Here’s what I had to say just about about 365 days ago about then-Eagle Seumalo.

Now to an upgrade from Kevin Dotson at LG. Philly’s Isaac Seumalo is 29, PFF 75/74/62 and started all 17 with an estimated Market Value (per Spotrac) of 2years/$24million. For comparison Dotson is 26, PFF 65/65/66 and started all 17. Is $12million per year too much? Or is it a fair price for turning your weakest link into your strongest?

The Steelers’ current WR3, Allen Robinson, will almost assuredly not be a Steeler in 2024, unless he is first cut and then signed back at a much cheaper price. His upcoming $10 million salary does not fit with his middling WR3 production of 34 catches, 280 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 8.2 yards per reception. At 30 years old with 10 seasons of wear and tear accumulated, this was quite possibly Robinson’s last. It’s time to look at some possible replacements that will be available in free agency.

Josh Reynolds, Detroit Lions

At 28, Josh Reynolds put up a stat line of 40 catches, 608 yards, 5 touchdowns, and 15.2 average yards per reception in his seventh NFL season. These numbers are very similar to his career-best season of 2020, so it wasn’t a fluke year, nor should anything better be expected. At 6’3, 194 pounds, Reynolds ran a 4.52 40-yard dash at his rookie combine. He is playing out a two-year, $6 million contract. This go-around, Reynolds’ projected market value stands in the range of a two-year, $14 million deal according to Spotrac.

Why would one of the best offenses in the league not just re-sign Reynolds? Reynolds has served as a viable WR2/WR3 for the Lions, but his role in the offense has been reduced by 2023 first-round pass catching TE Sam LaPorta. Additionally, Detroit traded up to draft WR Jameson Williams in the 2022 draft despite Williams tearing an ACL just four months earlier, Williams has been worked into the offense more as the season progressed and over the last 5 games had one more catch than Reynolds on one less target.

Why might Reynolds choose to join the Steelers? If the Steelers hire Zac Robinson as offensive coordinator, it’s noteworthy that Robinson was Reynolds’ wide receiver coach in 2020 when he had his best season.

Mecole Hardman, Kansas City Chiefs

At 25, Mecole Hardman was re-acquired by the Chiefs just before the trade deadline. His fifth-year action was limited by a thumb injury that required surgery. In the five games when where he logged double-digit snaps for Kansas City, he put up 15 catches, 124 yards, 0 touchdowns, averaging 8.4 yards per reception. His best season was 2021 when he notched 59/693/2 with an 11.7 average.

At his combine, the 5’10 187-pound Hardman ran a 4.33 burner that ranked in the 94th percentile for wide receivers, but in 2022 he had groin surgery, and it’s unclear how much that has affected his speed. He’s at least still fast enough that last week he was called on by Andy Reid for a quick pop-pass from Patrick Mahomes that unfortunately ended in a fumble through the end zone for a touchback. Hardman played this year on a one-year, $4 million deal he signed with the Jets last offseason. His production and injury likely warrant even less money on his next contract, making him a potential high-upside WR3 at a discount.

Richie James, Kansas City Chiefs

At 28, 5’10 183-pound Richie James was limited to just nine games due to a knee strain suffered back in Week 2. In the last six games of the regular season, he totaled 9 receptions, 108 yards, 0 TDs, and averaged 12.0 yards per catch. His best season was a year ago with the New York Giants with 57/569/4 line and an average of 10.0 yards per reception. With a combine speed of 4.48, James played this year for the veteran minimum of $1.2 million.

Nelson Agholor, Baltimore Ravens

As the most senior of the wide receivers covered here, 30-year-old Nelson Agholor is still a viable part of the passing game. In 2023, Agholor recorded 35 catches, 381 yards, 4 TDs, and with a 10.9 average that was pretty consistent with what he had accomplished the previous four years. At 6’2 200 pounds, he ran a 4.42 at the combine. He just finished his ninth season on a one-year, $3.25M contract.

Also playing this weekend is former Steeler Ray-Ray McCloud of the 49ers. McCloud is simply an older, more expensive version of Calvin Austin who carries almost 30 extra pounds and consequentially is not as fast.

So when Omar Khan calls you and asks which of these four receivers you like best, who do you want?