By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
This morning, I covered potential roster-bubble wide receivers around the NFL could the Patriots may target as potential replacements for Mohamed Sanu. That’s not all they have to work with though, as there are some intriguing names still unsigned a week before the season begins.
Much like my first post, this may feel like bargain shopping, but that’s just the position the Patriots have put themselves in. Still, there may be some production to be found here. Let’s break this list into three sections – new names, familiar faces, and long shots.
Gabriel has the highest level of recent production of anybody on this list. The 29-year-old caught 29 passes for 353 yards and four touchdowns last year, a followup to a breakout 2018 campaign in which he was the Chicago Bears’ leading receiver (67/688/2). He was released by the Bears in February in a salary cap dump.
Mostly an inside receiver, Gabriel would help create matchup issues for defenses when paired with Julian Edelman. While his size (5-foot-7, 168 pounds) and skillset prevent him from being a true X receiver, the Patriots have shown the ability to scheme inside guys open from outside the numbers. He’s also incredibly sure-handed, with just three drops on 141 targets (2.1-percent) over the last two years. Plus, the Abilene Christian product played a sizable special teams role early in his career, so he has two-phase potential.
Gabriel is as good an option as there is on the free agent market right now, but that means multiple teams will be vying for his services. Would the Patriots be willing to open up the check book?
Last month, I had Kearse on my list of players to possibly fill out the Patriots roster heading into training camp. He’s still available, and I believe still worth pursuing.
Kearse put up career numbers for the Jets in 2017 (65/810/5) before being phased out of the offense the next year with the arrival of Sam Darnold. A broken leg during the preseason last year cost him all of 2019.
If he is fully healthy, he would provide a dynamic option for Cam Newton. The 30-year-old runs a diverse route tree, is equally effective lining up outside the numbers or in the slot, and adds a size element the Patriots are lacking.
At 6-foot-3 and 204 pounds, Brown has surprising speed, running a 4.4 40 yard dash at his combine in 2013. However, he’s never been the focal point of an offense, spending most of his career in Arizona at a shot guy/coverage diversion behind Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown. Last year with Seattle, he caught 16 passes for 220 yards and two touchdowns.
Brown has been in camp this summer, spending time with the San Francisco 49ers after being signed two weeks ago. That time was brief though – was released on Friday when the team opted to sign former top-five pick Kevin White. Given he has already had a chance to shake the offseason rust off, Brown would be a solid option if the Patriots want to sign a guy who can step in and contribute as soon as possible.
Coming off of a pretty serious ankle injury in 2018, expectations were low when Demaryius Thomas joined the Patriots last summer. Yet he managed to put together an impressive camp, and the team surprised many but letting him go in order to keep Gunner Olszewski. The 32-year-old ended up with the Jets and managed to put together a decent season, catching 36 passes for 433 yards and a touchdown in just 11 games.
Yes, there’s been some bad blood between him and the Pats since. Yes, he called his stay in New England “a waste of time.” But the Patriots are desperate, and Thomas doesn’t have a job right now. He proved last year he can still play, maybe both sides can let bygones be bygones and give each other another chance.
Harris was another star of Patriots training camp least season, heralded early as a breakout candidate before fading once the pads came on. He was released with an injury designation in late August. He signed with the Saints at the beginning of 2020, but was cut last month.
The Patriots should more or less know what they’re getting in Harris, namely raw skills and size. They also would be brining in a player with an elevated base knowledge of the playbook and terminology. He seemed likely to make the team before getting hurt last summer, could he and the Patriots pick up where they left off?
Yes, you read that right. We’re including Mohamed Sanu on a list of players who could potentially replace Mohamed Sanu.
Don’t rule out a Patriots-Sanu reunion in 2020. ESPN’s Mike Reiss reported Wednesday night that Sanu was released, in part, for “financial” reasons. The 31-year-old had a $6.5 million cap hit, none of which stayed on the books after he was waived.
If Sanu makes it through waivers and stays unsigned a week or two into the season, the Patriots could reassess their wide receiver position at that time, and potentially bring him back at a reduced cost. Of course there are a lot of ‘if’s here, but there is some precedent – the team did something similar with Demaryius Thomas last year before trading him to make room for Antonio Brown.
The Patriots and Bryant have been undeniably linked since the team passed on him in the 2010 draft, when the team took Devin McCourty over him in the first round (the correct decision, obviously). The rumors between the two have been prevalent ever since the Cowboys released the three-time All-Pro after the 2017 season.
A torn achilles cost Bryant his 2018 season, and no team signed him in 2019. The Oklahoma State product has said though that he hopes to continue playing football, and had his first workout in two years last week with the Baltimore Ravens. They didn’t end up signing him, but the fact he was brought in can be seen as an indication he has made strides in his rehab.
In recent years, the Patriots have had success re-starting wide receiver careers that seemed over, including Demaryius Thomas and Josh Gordon. Could Bryant be their next project?
After a relatively productive 2018 with the Baltimore Ravens (54/607/3), Crabtree spent most of 2019 out of football, save two early-season games with the Arizona Cardinals. He was linked to the Patriots at times last year when their wide receiver depth was in question, but nothing came of it.
A true technician and red zone weapon when he’s on his game, Crabtree would not only fill a currently-empty role for the Patriots, he’d also be a great mentor for their younger receivers like N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers. The question is, after a year out of football, how much could he really contribute?
Alex Barth is a writer and 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. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at Alexander.Barth@bbgi.com.