Where's the market for Antonio Bryant?
On the first day of free agency, Nate Burleson signed a five-year, $25-million contract with the Detroit Lions, with $11 million guaranteed.
Later that evening, Kevin Walter landed a five-year deal with the Houston Texans worth $21.5 million, with $8 million in guaranteed money.
Both wide receivers are 28 years old, both have battled injuries during their careers and both have failed to top 900 yards receiving in each of the past five seasons (Walter has never done it in his seven-year career).
So why are they under contract with fat new deals while Antonio Bryant is still on the street?
After running backs Thomas Jones, LaDainian Tomlinson and Brian Westbrook, Bryant is arguably the biggest name still available on the free agent market. But after four full days of transactions, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneer has hardly registered a blip on the radar.
I understand Bryant is coming off a down year. He caught only 39 passes for 600 yards with four touchdowns — hardly the type of numbers that would lead to a big-time offseason contract.
But his four touchdowns in 13 games were more than both Burleson (three touchdowns, 13 games) and Walter (two touchdowns, 14 games) produced last season. In addition, Bryant had inexperienced, second-year quarterback Josh Johnson and rookie first-round draft pick Josh Freeman throwing him the football.
Walter got the luxury of playing with a Pro Bowler in Matt Schaub, while Burleson caught his passes from savvy veteran Matt Hasselbeck.
And let’s not forget that Walter has the advantage of playing opposite one of the game’s elite wide receivers in Andre Johnson. Burleson’s situation isn’t too shabby either; he plays across the field from T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
Bryant’s supporting wide receivers? None other than Sammie Stroughter (31 receptions) and Maurice Stovall (24).
Look, I know the guy has been known to pop off every now and again. I also know that he’s battled some injuries throughout his seven-year career.
But what I don’t get is how a guy like Walter — who has scored just 15 touchdowns in seven seasons — or a guy like Burleson — who’s caught more than 50 passes in a season only once in the past five years — can land hefty new contracts less than 24 hours after the start of free agency while Bryant’s name isn’t even mentioned.
This is the same guy who caught 83 passes for 1,248 yards with seven touchdowns just two years ago with Jeff Garcia at quarterback. The same guy who has posted 1,000-yard-plus receiving seasons in two of his last four years in the league.
And there’s barely any interest?
Bryant is set to meet with the Cincinnati Bengals on Tuesday, and they haven’t been shy about the fact they’re in the market for a wideout.
But outside of the Bengals (who just came into the picture), where’s the rest of the market?
What about the St. Louis Rams, Carolina Panthers, Cleveland Browns or Buffalo Bills? All four of those teams finished in the bottom six in passing offense last year.
St. Louis and Cleveland have virtually no receiving threats, Buffalo’s down to just Lee Evans, and Carolina’s Steve Smith has made it known he wants another playmaker to come in and help eliminate all the double teams he’s constantly forced to beat.
What about the Dolphins or the Bears? Miami has three mid-level receivers but no red zone threat who can out-jump defenders in the end zone.
Chicago’s had no problems opening up the vault this offseason. And if you Bears fans don’t think Bryant can get the job done, just look back to Week 3 of the 2008 season when he caught 10 passes for 138 yards at Soldier Field in a 27-24 Buccaneers win.
It’s understandable that some teams are concerned about how he’ll act in the locker room, just as it’s understandable there might be some worry about the knee surgery he underwent in August.
But if a 36-year-old like Terrell Owens — whose reception totals have decreased in each of the past three seasons — can draw some interest, why can’t Bryant?
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