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Browns free-agency look ahead: Wide receivers

By Ryan Lewis Published: March 6, 2013

Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Mike Wallace finishes with nine receptions for 89 yards and a touchdown, but he can't get on the same page with Ben Roethlisberger on the final drive.

The Browns might have struck gold in last year's supplemental draft, nabbing Josh Gordon in the second round. Gordon, according to some like ESPN's John Clayton, wasn't expected to produce much his rookie season but established himself as the team's most dangerous receiver and only real deep threat. And Greg Little, after a horrendous start that had more social network gaffes than positive plays, turned his season around with a better second half.

After those two, quarterback Brandon Weeden's former teammate Josh Cooper and speedster Travis Benjamin (should Josh Cribbs not return, Benjamin is the frontrunner to become the team's full-time kick returner) serve as the Nos. 3 and 4 receivers.

Young, promising talent exists, but the fact remains the Browns haven't had a legitimate No. 1 receiver since Braylon Edwards left. Whether Gordon becomes one remains to be seen.

The market remains strong, but it's dwindled in recent days. The Kansas City Chiefs resigned Dwayne Bowe to a five-year, $56 million deal and reports indicate the Miami Dolphins are close to signing Brian Hartline to an extension.

Here are the top wide receivers set to hit the open market on March 12:

1. Mike Wallace, 26, Pittsburgh Steelers — With Bowe off the board, Wallace becomes the clear-cut best available wideout. One of the most dangerous deep-threats in football, Wallace will surely leave Pittsburgh considering the Steelers' salary-cap troubles. He had a down year last season (64 receptions, 836 yards, eight touchdowns) after negotiations with the team feel apart and instead, Antonio Brown received an extension and assumed the No. 1 receiver role. Bowe's gaudy extension might set some parameters for Wallace's deal, as he's been looking for legitimate No. 1 receiver money. Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said in his introductory press conference he'll be looking to implement a down-the-field, vertical passing offense. Not many can take the lid off a defense better than Wallace, but his attitude has been brought into question and the reason his disappointing 2012 season will need to be assessed.

2. Greg Jennings, 29, Green Bay Packers — Thanks to wonderful drafting by the Packers in recent years, Jennings became expendable after an injury-riddled 2012 season in which he wasn't able to put much together. During the past four seasons, he's had at least 1,100 receiving yards and nine touchdowns three times, though he was a major cog in the Packers' high-octane passing game. Jennings is primarily considered a West Coast offense receiver, though, and may have been a better fit in the scheme of former Browns coach Pat Shurmur.

3. Wes Welker, 31, New England Patriots — The slot receiver of all slot receivers. Welker catches about 120 passes a year, but will still look for about the same money as Wallace and Jennings. But teams will have to ask — was Welker's production because of him or quarterback Tom Brady?

4. Domenik Hixon, 28, Giants — Hixon has appeared in some big spots but two major knee injuries have kept him from establishing himself among Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks in the Giants' receiving corps. His health will have to check out before teams will be willing to give him a second chance elsewhere. Note: This is where Brian Hartline would be — he exploded for 74 catches and more than 1,000 receiving yards with a rookie quarterback — but again, reports indicate the Dolphins are close on a deal and it's expected he'll return to South Beach before March 12. Are those numbers the real Hartline or did he receive the lion's share of receptions after the Dolphins jettisoned Brandon Marshall to the Chicago Bears?

5. Ted Ginn Jr., 27, San Francisco 49ers — Ginn's father wasn't pleased with how little his son was used during the 49ers playoff run, and it appears the returner/receiver will try to break out somewhere else. Ginn, a Cleveland native, is in a similar position as Cribbs but has always been a much more polished receiver and would offer a complement to Benjamin as a returner.

Others: The St. Louis Rams' Danny Amendola, 27, is another receptions machine who was struck down with injuries. Like Hixon, teams will be as concerned with his medical records as his stat sheets. Michael Jenkins, 30, an Ohio State product, has been a safe option but has just about reached his ceiling. The Minnesota Vikings released him Tuesday. Austin Collie, 27, of the Indianapolis Colts and Ramses Barden, 27, of the New York Giants are worth watching, too.

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