For a number of reasons, the New England Patriots had one of the worst wide receiver corps in the NFL last season. The organization will need to adjust their way of thinking in order to improve the position moving forward.
The downfall of the position started with the coaching staff. Two offseasons ago, the Patriots tasked Joe Judge with coaching both the special teams and the wide receiver position. Being a special teams coordinator is difficult enough, and now Judge had to balance the development of first-round pick N’Keal Harry with coaching a phase of the game. New England hired former player Troy Brown as the assistant wide receivers coach, a promising move, but he was only in his first year in that position.
When Joe Judge was hired as the head coach of the New York Giants, Bill Belichick’s response was to move Mick Lombardi from assistant quarterback’s coach to wide receivers coach. Lombardi had no experience coaching or playing the position in the past. In an even more questionable move, they moved Troy Brown to become the assistant running backs coach. The shuffling of coaches and inexperience with the position has without a doubt played a factor in the lack of development from N’Keal Harry and other young wide receivers.
On top of that, long-time starter and Super Bowl hero Julian Edelman was unable to remain healthy last season. Free agent pickup Damiere Byrd performed admirably, but it was his first season in a starter-type role.
Luckily for New England, former undrafted free agent Jakobi Meyers was able to step into Edelman’s vacant role and perform well. Meyers was basically the saving grace of the position for the Patriots last year, despite inexplicably having limited playing time during the first month of the season.
Moving forward, New England’s wide receiver situation simply needs to improve next season. Luckily for them, they have the cap space to make multiple moves at the position.
Here is the New England Patriots wide receiver free agent primer.
Patriot Free Agents
Byrd flashed at times during the 2020 season, but did so on a one-year contract. His 47 receptions for 604 yards were both good for second on the team. Byrd has an extra gear in his route running, and he can stretch the field with his speed. While it would be less than ideal to have Byrd as a starter, an NFL team will get their money’s worth with Byrd in a complimentary role.
With his familiarity in New England, the Patriots figure to offer Byrd a modest short-term contract to return in a lesser role. The 28-year old would be a solid signing, but Bill Belichick probably won’t lose sleep if Byrd walks away from the negotiating table.
Moncrief was signed to the practice squad during the season, eventually being promoted to the active roster and had a few flashes in the return game. He’ll be 28 years-old next season and multiple years removed from being a consistent producer. Still, you can’t teach his size and athleticism. Moncrief as competition during training camp with a chance at making the 53-man roster wouldn’t hurt.
Patriot Cap Casualties
New England could save a lot of money against the cap by releasing Julian Edelman, meaning it’s a potential scenario that needs to be addressed. He’ll be 35-years old by training camp and coming off a knee injury that plagued him for months. On top of that, New England has Jakobi Meyers to fill the role in their offense once occupied by Edelman. It may sting to hear this, but Julian Edelman has probably played his last game for the New England Patriots.
Free Agent WR Fits
With the NFL’s salary cap not rising at it’s typical rate, and New England one of the leading teams in terms of cap space, the Patriots should be in play to acquire a veteran free agent at wide receiver. Luckily for them, this free agent class is stacked with potential additions.
Corey Davis (26 years old – 6’3 209 – 65 receptions, 984 yards, 5 TD’s in 2020, 14 games)
Corey Davis was a bit of a disappointment through three seasons, as Tennessee declined picking up his 5th year option. But in 2020, Davis set career highs in all major receiving categories in just 14 games. He may have priced himself out of New England’s preferred range, as his effectiveness in the intermediate and deep portions of the field make him an attractive option for multiple NFL teams. Tennessee will make a pitch to bring him back, as the 26 year-old is just entering his prime and should be a 1,000 yard receiver moving forward.
Marvin Jones (31 years old – 6’2 200 – 76 receptions, 978 yards, 9 TD’s in 2020)
Over his past 48 games, Marvin Jones has over 3,100 receiving yards and 30 receiving touchdowns. That type of production, while facing a lot of press coverage along the boundary, is something that New England hasn’t consistently had in a number of years. The Patriots have recycled through bodies on the outside, such as Brandin Cooks, Brandon Lafell and Brandon Lloyd. Jones could be effective in the “X” receiver role, a necessary improvement to the depth chart, and he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down.
Josh Reynolds (26 years old – 6’3 196 – 52 receptions, 618 yards, 2 TD’s in 2020)
Josh Reynolds has been stuck behind Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp for the majority of his career, but his role has expanded with each passing year. Now entering his prime, Reynolds is coming off his most productive season. The former fourth round pick seemed poised for a long-term contract and a full-time starting position for a different team.
Breshad Perriman (28 years old – 6’1 215 – 30 receptions, 505 yards, 3 TD’s in 2020, 12 games)
Breshad Perriman had an unbelievable stretch for the Bucs down the stretch of 2019, which earned him a one-year deal with the Jets last season. While he battled injuries for a portion of the year, Perriman lit up the Patriots on two occasions for a combined 185 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns. New England doesn’t have a legit deep threat, especially if Damiere Byrd isn’t re-signed. Perriman’s athleticism and ability to create explosive plays could open the intermediate for receiver such as Jakobi Meyers and N’Keal Harry.
Nelson Agholor (28 years old – 6’0 198 – 48 receptions, 896 yards, 8 TD’s in 2020)
Similar to Perriman, Nelson Agholor is a speedy vertical threat that could be a field stretcher for the Patriots. He still struggles with drops, but is a natural locker room leader who was on the Eagles team that beat New England in the Super Bowl. He averaged 18.7 yards per reception and was second in the NFL in touchdown receptions of 20+ yards, only trailing Tyreek Hill.
Tyrell Williams (29 years old – 6’4 205 – 42 receptions, 651 yards, 6 TD’s in 2019, sat out all of 2020 with an injury)
After signing a four-year contract with the Raiders, Tyrell Williams tore his labrum and missed all of 2020. That injury has resulted in the Raiders choosing to release Williams, but by all accounts he’s fully healthy moving forward. Over his past four healthy seasons, Williams’ 16-game average is 50 receptions for 798 yards for 6 touchdowns. With his size, he’s an above average deep and intermediate receiver.
Kendrick Bourne (26 years old – 6’1 203 – 49 receptions, 667 yards, 2 TD’s in 2020, 15 games)
Kendrick Bourne has been solid in the rotation of 49ers wide receivers after entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent. He set career highs in receiving yards in 2020, despite subpar and inconsistent quarterback play throughout the year. Bourne is a crafty wide receiver who finds space over the middle, but doesn’t provide explosive plays after the catch. His possession traits may be redundant with Jakobi Meyers, but he’s an affordable and promising option.
Keelan Cole (28 years old – 6’1 194 – 55 receptions, 642 yards, 5 TD’s in 2020)
After producing as an undrafted rookie, Keelan Cole was a bit of an afterthought for two seasons in Jacksonville. But with Marquise Lee and Dede Westbrook no longer in the way, Cole’s usage increased in his fourth season. He was effective over the middle of the field, gaining 642 yards and 5 touchdowns. He’s averaged 560 receiving yards per season in his career, having never missed a game. That type of consistency could entice Bill Belichick.
Tim Patrick (27 years old – 6’4 212 – 51 receptions, 742 yards, 6 TD’s in 2020, 15 games)
Tim Patrick is a restricted free agent, which means it could cost New England a draft pick depending on if Denver places a tender on him. Patrick would be worth sacrificing a draft pick to acquire. He’s coming off the best season of his career, when he posted 742 yards and 6 touchdowns on just 79 targets. He has fluidity for his size, making him a threat outside of the numbers and in the redzone. Patrick’s projection as the “X” receiver in the Patriots offense would raise the ceiling of the passing offense.
Other potential veterans: Sammy Watkins, Rashard Higgins, A.J. Green, T.Y. Hilton, Chris Conley, Willie Snead, Demarcus Robinson, Zach Pascal (RFA)
Curtis Samuel (25 years old – 5’11 195 – 77 receptions, 851 yards, 3 TD’s in 2020, 15 games)
Samuel fit perfectly in Carolina as apart of a trio of wide receivers. Samuel’s unique skill-set gives him potential as a running back and helps to stretch defenses horizontally. He had over 1,000 yards from scrimmage last season, and entering the NFL at such a young age that he’ll just be turning 25 years-old at the start of next season. His explosive play ability and versatility would be a fit in New England, but he’ll have a healthy market throughout the league.
Will Fuller (27 years old – 6’0 184 – 53 receptions, 879 yards, 8 TD’s in 2020, 11 games)
Last season was Will Fuller’s first as the #1 receiving option for an NFL team, and he performed admirably. He was on pace for nearly 1,300 yards and hadn’t missed a game until a suspension for performance enhancing drugs. Regardless, Fuller will have a strong market as an ascending boundary wide receiver who creates explosive plays down the football field. Fuller could handle WR1 duties in New England and draw coverage away from the rest of the depth chart. Unfortunately that holds true for a lot of NFL teams.
The following wide receivers are bound to get long-term, high price tag contracts. Not only will their original teams prefer to bring them back, New England seems unlikely to secure their services without an answer at quarterback.
Potential Cap Casualties
Adam Humphries (28 years old – 5’11 195 – 23 receptions, 228 yards, 2 touchdowns in 2020, 7 games)
Humphries has been a disappointment for Tennessee because of his inability to remain healthy, and Tennessee could release him for just $5 million in dead cap. Two years ago, New England offered Humphries a 4 year, $40 million contract with $20 million in guarantees. While his value is no longer that high, it shows that Bill Belichick has an appreciation for his skill-set. If he becomes available, expect New England to make a play for him.
Golden Tate (33 years old – 5’10 197 – 35 receptions, 388 yards, 2 TD’s in 2020, 12 games)
Golden Tate hasn’t been worth the price tag for the New York Giants, and they have the young talent to replace him. Tate can still be effective as a physical slot presence, and could be a bridge for the development of young wide receiver or draft picks on the Patriots roster.