By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
“The Patriots need weapons! The Patriots need weapons!”
Ok, but it’s easier said than done. As the Patriots gear up for an offseason that will see a rebuild of the offense with or without Tom Brady, they’ll have a chance to add some ‘weapons.’
The tricky part is wide receivers production and ability can be pretty erratic, especially when changing teams. It’s not just about adding ‘weapons,’ but the right ones. Giving a big contract to the wrong guy can set team building back years.
It’s likely the Patriots will need to add more than just one wide receiver as they have a need not just for a top option but to replenish depth as well. Given they’ll be looking at a wide range of talent, let’s look at the different catagories of wide receivers available starting next week.
The Amari Cooper Tier
If he hits the open market, Amari Cooper is far and away the top receiver available. While that is a major ‘if’, the Patriots have been one of the teams linked to Cooper if the Cowboys do indeed elect to let him walk.
Cooper’s skillset should transcend roll or system. Give him the creativity of the Patriots route tree and Julian Edelman to draw coverage and he could put up monster numbers (or at least the other way around, with him drawing coverage away from Edelman). Fitting Coopers expected $20-plus million a year pay day into the budget would be a challenge, but probably worth it.
The 30+ Crowd
The top of the market beyond Cooper is made up of veterans who may be looking more for a shot at a ring than a pay day. Chief among them is 33-year-old Emmanuel Sanders, who is coming off of a Super Bowl run with the Niners. The Patriots were in the conversation of teams trying to land Sanders at least year’s trade deadline, but ended up with Mohamed Sanu instead.
Given another chance, would the Pats put big money on the table to bring Sanders to New England? He can still play and his versatility to line up outside or in the slot would be a great fit.
There’s also the curious case of AJ Green. The Bengals haven’t ruled out the franchise tag for the 32-year-old Georgia product, but he’ll have his pick of suitors if he hits the open market. Green was one of the elite receivers in the league at one point, but a host of toe, foot, and ankle injuries limited him to just nine games in 2018 and cost him all of last season.
It’s hard to know what kind of player Green will be following a year off and significant lower-body issues. His resume should still get him a hefty contract, but could the Patriots afford to take a risk like that?
Randall Cobb is slightly younger than the other two and a step down talent wise. Still, he proved to be an effective number two option in Dallas last year. Given the depth of younger receivers hitting the open market (more on them soon), Cobb could end up hanging around and dropping his price. If they can grab him as a bargain, he’d fit in the Patriots offense.
This group of players should be the focus if Brady returns. Especially when it comes to Sanders and Green, you’re looking at a limited window of top-flight talent. Pairing them with Brady is the best possible ‘win now’ strategy. On the flip side, wasting that window with an unknown at quarterback would be poor asset management.
Whether it’s Jarrett Stidham or somebody else, if the Patriots go into 2020 with a younger quarterback, they should look to pair him with some of the younger available receivers. (That doesn’t mean they can’t sign younger guys if Brady stays too.)
If this is the route the Patriots go, their top choice should be Robby Anderson, who told reporters on Wednesday he ‘had a dream’ about playing with Tom Brady. The 6-foot-3, 190 Temple product has been a victim of inconsistent quarterback with the Jets, and a change of scenery could do him wonders.
While some analysts are down on him given those struggles in New York, he has the potential to become the second or third best receiver in this class, on par with Emmanuel Sanders. He has the speed and length to be a down field threat, but with refined route running could become a true WR1, similar to the kind of growth we saw from John Brown of the Bills last year.
Breshad Perriman is another intriguing name. The Patriots have been linked to him going back to the 2015 NFL Draft. The 6-foot-2, 215 pound Central Florida product features a rare combination of size and speed that will always be intriguing. While injuries have limited his potential early in his career, there have been flashes of ability.
Perriman spent 2019 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, his fourth team in five years. He played in 14 games putting up career-high numbers in catches (36), yards (645), and touchdowns (6). All this makes it feel like if he stays healthy, he’s due for a breakout season in 2020 at the age of 27. The question is, will it be with the Patriots?
25-year-old Tajae Sharpe could be a fit. Another player who was linked to the Patriots before his draft, Sharpe’s quickness and football IQ should translate well to the Patriots system. After a foot injury cost him is 2016 season, Sharpe’s playing time and production fell as the Titans revamped the position. Given a chance to move his way up the depth chart and play in another organization, he could really shine.
Sharpe isn’t the only under-30 free agent receiver who could benefit from a new team to unbury himself from the depth chart. Demarcus Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Nelson Agholor, Keelan Cole, and Devin Funchess all fit the same description. Sharpe feels like the best fit from an X’s and O’s point of view, but the five others should also be considered targets.
One of the biggest struggles for new wide receivers in New England, whether they be signings, trade acquisitions, or draft picks, has been learning the Patriots’ hyper-complex playbook. Keeping that in mind, would it make sense to bring in a guy who has been through Foxborough before?
Scrolling through the list of upcoming free agents, it’s hard to miss how many former Patriots will hit the market next week. Obviously the name who will draw the most excitement is Josh Gordon. The 29-year-old was released by the Patriots part way through last season. Before an injury and his ultimate release, Gordon was successful working with Tom Brady. He’s facing an indefinite suspension which makes things even tricker, but stranger things have happened than a potential Gordon-Patriots reunion.
Demaryius Thomas looked promising at the end of training camp last year, but the Patriots cut him in order to keep punt returner Gunner Olszewski. He ended up having a decent season with the Jets, and now finds himself back on the market. Would the Patriots give him another chance? Would he give the Patriots another chance after some bad blood regarding his release? He’s a bit for the playbook, but maybe not the locker room.
Of course, the team could always bring back Phillip Dorsett. The Miami product is supposed to have a sizable market for his services, but has expressed desire to return to New England. While that can’t be the only move the Patriots make at the position, having a familiar face as the position drastically changes isn’t a bad idea.
Other players who have spent time with the Patriots hitting the market next week include Chris Hogan, Dontrelle Inman, Jordan Matthews, Jake Kumerow, and Corey Coleman. 2017 preseason standout Austin Carr is a restricted free agent, meaning the New Orleans Saints could match any offer he gets.
PATRIOTS SHOPPING LISTS: Quarterbacks | Tight Ends | Running Backs | Cornerbacks