By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Concussed out of Super Bowl LII and traded out of town before a payday came, Brandin Cooks is now a Los Angeles Ram. Danny Amendola chased the financial security he punted away with various contract restructures all the way to Miami. And Julian Edelman, who missed all of last year with a torn ACL, will miss the first four games of the season due to a PED violation.
Oh, let’s not forget that free agent addition Jordan Matthews failed to make it out of training camp. Same for Malcolm Mitchell, the Super Bowl LI hero whose knee issues have derailed the last year-plus of his football career. And that Kenny Britt, a late add to the mix last season but absent for almost a month of practices because of a hamstring injury, was cut on Wednesday.
This is a somewhat painful way of saying that the Patriots undoubtedly need a game-breaker from their receiving corps.
Or, to put it simply: It’s time for the Patriots to bring Dez Bryant to New England.
Still in search of a landing spot halfway through the preseason, the only team that’s appeared legitimately interested in the 29-year-old Bryant has been the Cleveland Browns. Y’know, the team that’s won just one game in the last two seasons. And as documented on the latest episode of ‘Hard Knocks,’ Bryant flew into Cleveland for a workout, but left without a deal.
The Browns are instead going with what they have in Jarvis Landry, Josh Gordon, and rookie Antonio Callaway. After all, and even after trading first-round talent Corey Coleman to the Bills earlier in training camp, they have the depth. Enough depth to say no to a player whose drop rates were among the worst in the league, and after a season that saw him haul in just 69 of 132 targets for 838 yards (Bryant’s 52.4 yards per game were the third-lowest of his career) and six touchdowns, at the very least.
This is also without diving into the perceived issues Bryant — the 2010 first-round pick who turns 30 midway through the 2018 season — has with creating separation, route-running, and learning an offense.
But that’s the Browns’ wideout grouping versus the Patriots’ loaded-in-bodies-alone group we’re talking about. (And jeez, and there’s a sentence I never thought I’d say when aligning the latter as the team in a worse situation.)
And at this point, I can’t help but feel as if we’re straight-up out of reasons to explain why Bryant shouldn’t be a Patriot.
Now, it goes without saying that Bryant would not come to the Patriots as the downright unstoppable force he was for the Cowboys during that three-season stretch from 2012 through 2014. You’d be a lunatic to expect him to be that player, really. That would also go against the whole ‘Bryant still being without an NFL job on Aug. 22’ thing.
But are we really going to continue to sit here and act like what the Patriots have on their depth chart is better without somebody of Dez Bryant’s caliber — even if he’s legitimately lost a step as numbers and scouting reports say — on it?
It’s officially impossible, and bordering on insulting to try and say otherwise with a straight face.
Thanks to since-cut talents that were incapable of getting healthy enough to play with Brady, the Patriots are now dangerously close to actually having to rely on Phillip Dorsett and Eric Decker as their No. 2 and No. 3 wideouts come Week 1 (Chris Hogan remains a viable option as New England’s de facto No. 1 wideout for the first four weeks of the season).
And if what we’ve seen is indeed their reality, this would truly be one of the worst possible scenarios for the 2018 Patriots.
Decker looked completely lost in his preseason debut, and dropped his one target from Brady. Simply based on the way he’s looked, it would feel like a miracle the Patriots got anything out of the obviously cooked Decker.
Dorsett, meanwhile, is just… unwatchably off when it comes to his rapport with Brady. On what was a nearly perfect night from Brady against the Eagles last week, the one constant was that Brady looked at his worst on passes thrown Dorsett’s way. Whether that was on Dorsett or Brady is up for debate, but this is not a player with the chemistry — nor the skill set — that would lead you to believe that he will make any sort of real jump from a 2017 season that saw him contribute almost nothing.
Barring some sort of sudden breakthrough Friday against the Panthers, it’s hard to say, “Yeah, Dorsett gets it!”
It’s even harder to imagine Brady committing himself to getting Dorsett involved if he continues to show such a limited grasp on the offense and where No. 12 wants him to be to make impactful catches. Though a first-round drat pick, Dorsett is not Chad Ochocinco — or even a Joey Galloway, for that matter — meaning that Brady’s fading belief in him could see him absolutely plummet down the depth chart in a hurry. Not sure how many No. 2 wide receivers on Week 1 can find themselves entrenched in a No. 4 spot on the depth chart by Week 5, but I know it’s not a good thing to consider a legitimate possibility.
Behind Decker and Dorsett, the Patriots have Cordarrelle Patterson. Based on what you saw in the middle quarters of last Thursday’s victory, Patterson could prove to be a great addition to New England’s screen-passing game. Behind Patterson, though, there’s Braxton Berrios, Devin Lucien, Riley McCarron, Matthew Slater, and Paul Turner. Woof City, Population: Five. I mean, that group hardly has more bodies (five) than they do career catches (10)! Another injury and it’s officially terrifying enough to make 2006’s thinned-out roster look like the first year of the Moss-Stallworth-Welker Era.
This offense needs Bryant.
Just imagine for a second, the Patriots needing offense and lining up with Edelman, Hogan, and Gronkowski — and Bryant.
Where can a defense turn their attention? This is chaotic if you’re an opposing defensive coordinator, and exactly where absolutely everybody in New England’s offensive offense thrives; If history has told us anything, it’s that Hogan draws the weakest matchup as the No. 3 receiver, and teams have to then decide if they want to double-team Rob Gronkowski, Edelman or Bryant. Given that they’re more likely to choose the first two over an aging Bryant trying to get acclimated to a new offense, this is something that would allow Bryant to absolutely dominate one-on-one matchups. And considering where the 41-year-old Brady’s arm strength can be with deep balls as the season progresses, having somebody of Bryant’s 6-foot-2 stature that has the ability to leap up and win one-on-one battles in midair is something that can be gigantic for this offense.
Just the threat of that alone would provide more legitimacy as an actual replacement for the offense that left with Amendola or Cooks than Matthews or Britt ever would have, even if they had a fully healthy summer of work with Brady. Considering the raw talent that he would be developing a relationship with, too, it’s easy to see Brady expending more energy on getting Bryant in the ‘Circle of Trust’ than a rookie or journeyman incapable of understanding the importance of their role.
And perhaps most importantly, Bryant needs the Patriots.
During that documented meeting with the Browns, Bryant expressed his desire for ‘realness’ and said he was excited to learn and figure out what he did wrong (if he screwed up) and get better the next time around. It doesn’t get any realer than Bill Belichick and Brady, two guys so committed to winning that they’ll pretty much erase anybody not with the program.
Bryant also seems interested in the New England program, too, as he gushed over Belichick and Brady on Instagram this week.
And after eight years (and with an obvious trend downwards), Bryant knows his performance at his next destination directly impacts whether or not there’s a 10th season. It’s a morbid reminder of the game’s cruelty, but it’s also the greatest motivator the game can offer, and something that allowed the Pats to get the absolute best out of a then-30-year-old Randy Moss in 2007.
It’s a Hail Mary, sure.
But at least it’s one thrown to somebody that seems capable — both in ability and health — of actually being there to catch it.
Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Yell at him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.