1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 & 2002
Changing Lanes - Receivers On a New Team
by David M. Dorey
July 30, 2003
  This season has a number of receivers that have changed teams, some inconsequential and some very significant. The natural question is how does a new team affect the performance of that receiver in his first season with a team? Does he maintain his numbers, see an improvement or decline?

The reality is that there are basically three types of free agent receivers. There are receivers that are acquired through trades or free agency to either fill a #1 role (with big signing bonuses), receivers that are expected to perhaps vie for a starting role but without the expectations that they will become the primary receiver in their first season (if ever) and then there are receivers that are considered roster fillers, players that in most expectations will never rise above a #3 role if even that.

Let's take a look at the receivers that are currently playing in the NFL and who have changed teams with the expectations that they will either be anointed as the #1 receiver, or at least a definite starter. The others are too numerous and unimportant to worry about.

Let's first consider the top receivers that changed teams and what they scored in their best season and their most recent season:

Player Age Exp Old New Best Year Last Year
David Boston 24 4 ARZ SD 2001 - 1598 Yds, 8 TD's 512 Yds, 1 TD
Peerless Price 26 4 BUF ATL 2002 - 1252 Yds, 10 TD's Same
Lavernues Coles 25 3 NYJ WAS 2002 - 1264 Yds, 5 TD's Same
Curtis Conway 32 10 SD NYJ 1995 - 1037 Yds, 12 TD's 852 Yds, 5 TD's

Now then, let's take a look at all receivers who were traded or signed from one team to another with similar expectations to the above receivers, taking a look at their previous season (with the old team) and then their next two seasons with a new team. The age and experience listed considers what existed at that time.

Player Age Exp Team Year Catches Yards TD's
Keyshawn Johnson 26 3 NYJ 1999 89 1170 8
  27 4 TB 2000 71 874 8
Joey Galloway * 27 4 SEA 1998 65 1047 10
  29 7 DAL 2001 52 699 3
Curtis Conway ** 26 4 CHI 1998 54 733 3
  28 6 SD 2000 53 712 5
Keenan McCardell 25 4 CLE 1995 56 709 4
  26 5 JAX 1996 85 1129 3
Keenan McCardell 31 10 JAX 2001 93 1110 6
  32 11 TB 2002 61 670 6
Jerry Rice 37 16 SF 2000 75 805 7
  38 17 OAK 2001 83 1139 9
Johnnie Morton 29 8 DET 2001 77 1154 4
  30 9 KC 2002 29 397 1
Raghib Ismail 28 6 CAR 1998 69 1024 8
  29 7 DAL 1999 80 1097 6
Derrick Alexander 25 4 BAL 1997 65 1009 9
  26 5 KC 1998 54 992 4
  28 7 KC 2000 78 1391 10
  30 9 MIN 2002 14 134 1

* Galloway held out in 1999 and then was injured for 2000 as a first year receiver
** Conway only played seven games in 1999, so 1998 was the previous full season

Now there were a lot more receivers than these that changed teams, but these were the most notable ones that changed teams with high expectations. Many receivers did great on their new team but did little for any previous employer - Joe Horn, Patrick Jeffers, Jimmy Smith, Qadry Ismail, Terance Mathis and so on. The reality is that not very often does a clear #1 receiver jump ship to a new team with high expectations. Lots of #2 receivers looking to become a #1 have and many players mature on teams different than had drafted them. But the reality is that not many receivers change teams having been the stud and expecting to become a stud.

What makes receivers also hard to compare is that they are so much the product of their system and dependent upon their quarterback that you can never make a one to one correspondence between two different receivers. Both come from and go to different situations.

Let's first give a little more thought to the receivers above:

Keyshawn Johnson - Excellent example and a bit more established than Coles, Price or Boston. Johnson managed to hold on to his eight touchdowns from the prior season, but his catches and yards declined significantly (874 yards). He improved the next season (1266 yards) but only scored one touchdown.

Joey Galloway - A tough comparison since Galloway held out his final year in Seattle and then was lost for the season once he was with the Cowboys. He obviously lost out on yards and touchdowns once he did get going, but he was also recovering from an injury and on a conservative offense in Dallas. His first full season numbers were discouraging (699 - 3 TD's) but his second season was better (908 - 6 TD's)

Curtis Conway - Conway actually did hold on to his level of production, it just was not that great the three years previous to his leaving largely due to injury. His numbers in San Diego (712 - 5 TD's) were nothing to get excited about and were improved the next season (1125 - 6 TD's).

Keenan McCardell - The first time McCardell changed teams, he left being a #2 along with Derrick Alexander in Cleveland and became the #1 in Jacksonville until Jimmy Smith took over that role in 1997. His numbers increased well, but his role went from being a #2 to being a #1 for a season.

Keenan McCardell (II) - His second trip to a new team was far less exciting and it was trading a #2 job for another #2 job. He declined but was injured and by now is one of the older receivers on the downside of his career.

Jerry Rice - Rice is hardly a player that you can compare to anyone. But he did return to a #1 role after leaving San Francisco where he was being replaced by Terrell Owens. It's Jerry. He did fine (1139 - 9 TD's) and then did just as well in his second season (1211 - 7 TD's).

Johnnie Morton - Heading into Kansas City, coming off a career year, Morton had high expectations because the Chiefs had no decent receivers to compete with other than the tight end Gonzalez. They did switch his natural position from Split End to Flanker but regardless he was a big disappointment.

Raghib Ismail - In going from the Panthers to the Cowboys, Ismail did hold on to almost the exact same numbers though at around 1050 yards and seven touchdowns, he was not a huge fantasy boon to owners.

Derrick Alexander - When Alexander went from Baltimore to the Chiefs in 1998, he was pretty similar to the expectations that Coles, Boston and Price carry and he already had two 1000 yard, nine touchdowns seasons to his credit. He was actually disappointing for the next two seasons (992 - 4 TD's and 832 - 2 TD's) before finally regaining his top form in 2000 (1391 - 10 TD's).

This sort of analysis can never be definitive due to the significant differences between receivers in offenses, quarterbacks and in some cases starting roles. But what we want to see is how many receivers did well in their first season with a new team.

Held constant or improved on new team - Keenan McCardell (I), Jerry "the incomparable" Rice, Raghib Ismail.

Definite decline - Keyshawn Johnson, Curtis Conway, Johnnie Morton, Derrick Alexander, Joey Galloway.

So then, will the one year wonders of Coles, Price and Boston (meaning one great year so far) be more like McCardell (though he was a #2 becoming a #1), or will they fall more into line like Keyshawn, Conway, Morton, Alexander and Galloway? Price does share some minor similarity to McCardell, for what that is worth.

It is free agency and salary caps that now causes players like those young three receivers to change teams - it would not have happened in years past. This is easily seen considering that of the top 20 fantasy receivers last season in standard performance scoring, the only receivers that were not on the same team that they were on when they had a break out season were Jerry Rice (11th) and... and... oh. Man. That Jerry is something, huh?

There are no hard and fast rules with this, but overall the chances appear best for a declining season in the first year with a return to good performance the next. But then again, rules are made to be broken...