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Receivers Changing Teams
David M. Dorey
July 29, 2004

This season again witnesses a number of receivers who 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 those who 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 finally the receivers that are considered roster fillers, players that in most expectations will never rise above a #3 role if even that.

The only important receivers are those currently playing in the NFL and who have changed teams with the expectations
Player Age Exp Old New Best Year 2003
Marcus Robinson  29 7  BAL MIN  (1999) 1400 – 9 451 - 6
Joey Galloway  33 9 DAL TB (1997) 1049 - 12 672 – 2
David Boston  26 5 SD MIA (2001) 1598 - 8 880 – 7 
Terrell Owens  31 8 SF PHI (2001)  1412 - 16 1102 - 9
Justin McCareins 25 3 TEN NYJ (2003) 813 – 7 813 - 7
Keyshawn Johnson 32 8 TB DAL (1998) 1131 - 10 600 - 3
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.

In the table to the right consider the top receivers that changed teams and what they scored in both their best and most recent seasons.

Looking back at the last five years, 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 season with a new team. The age and experience listed considers what existed at that time.

Player Age Exp Team Year Catches Yards TD's Result
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
31 9 SD 2002 57 852 5  
32 10 NYJ 2003 46 640 2
Keenan McCardell 25 4 CLE 1995 56 709 4  
26 5 JAX 1996 85 1129 3
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
Peerless Price 25 4 BUF 2002 94 1252 9  
26 5 ATL 2003 64 838 3
David Boston*** 23 3 ARZ 2001 98 1598 8  
25 5 SD 2003 70 880 7
Lavernues Coles 24 3 NYJ 2002 89 1264 5  
25 4 WAS 2003 82 1204 6

 

* 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.

*** Boston came off an injury-shortened season in 2002.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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). When he left again to the Jets, he was a major disappointment though arguably he was on the downside of his lengthy career.

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. His was a more unique situation and not typical of a productive receiver heading to another team.

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). Rice did increase his numbers but there is nothing to take from it since he is outside normal comparisons.

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).

Peerless Price - Coming off a career year in Buffalo, he got his shot to become a true #1 receiver for the Falcons. Problem was that his entire team disintegrated around him, so his grade is incomplete.

Lavernues Coles – While Coles managed to turn in very similar numbers from the previous season with the Jets, the truth was that he went to a very pass-intensive system in Washington and his effectiveness was limited in the second half of the season.

David Boston – Deemed “Bust-on”, realize that Boston’s 2003 numbers were greatly aided by only two games where he totaled 320 yards and four touchdowns. Otherwise, he was a major disappointment.

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. Of the 14 team changes reflected in the above table, there were only two that truly could be considered a step up – McCardell (move #1) and Rice. Both Ismail and Coles held onto their production levels, but Ismail was four years ago and Coles went to a system that should have produced astronomic numbers.

Notably, nine of the team changes resulted in lesser performances if not outright disasters. That is saying that two of every three receivers changing teams results in lesser seasons. Those one in three that do not dive down are split either maintaining or improving. Since improvement included Rice and a unique situation for McCardell in 1996, you can pretty much dismiss them as any sort of rule of thumb.

So how will those receivers with a new zip code fare in 2004? One consideration is that Robinson, Galloway, Boston and Johnson are all changing teams for the second time in their career. None of the four got any better the first time they changed teams.

That leaves us with Terrell Owens and Justin McCareins. Owens heads to a somewhat similar offense but one that has never been productive passing. Is he the key? He thinks so. He is certainly the most high profile receiver to change teams in many years. McCareins is not going to become the #1 receiver as did McCardell in his rare “step up” change, so the chance he will really shine seems clouded by all previous examples.

Big names attract attention in fantasy drafts, regardless if they are learning a new system with a new quarterback. If history serves, and it typically does, let someone else be the one uttering their name on draft day.