The Patriots let Tom Brady’s top receiver walk away in free agency last year when they allowed Wes Welker to sign with the Denver Broncos.
They didn’t make that mistake two years in a row.
The Patriots agreed to a new deal Saturday with receiver Julian Edelman, a league source confirmed to the Globe. The length and terms of the contract are not yet known, but Edelman, entering his sixth NFL season, had a breakout year in 2013, setting career highs in catches (105), receiving yards (1,056), and touchdowns (six). Edelman, also a valuable punt returner, was Brady’s most trusted receiver in the second half of 2013 and led the NFL with 53 catches over the final six games of the regular season.
The Patriots did not officially announce the deal Saturday, but Edelman said on Twitter, “Foxboro is home. Excited to be back.”
The Patriots were busy adding new targets for Brady. In addition to Edelman, they also signed former Panthers receiver Brandon LaFell to a three-year deal late Saturday night, a league source told the Globe. LaFell, 27, gives the Patriots some much-needed size at receiver, standing 6 feet 2 inches and 210 pounds. He caught 49 passes for 627 yards and five touchdowns while starting all 16 games last season, and has 167 catches, 2,385 yards, and 13 touchdowns in four NFL seasons.
LaFell was supposed to visit the Broncos, but never made it that far and decided to sign in New England.
The Patriots also reportedly are bringing former Titans receiver Kenny Britt in for a visit Sunday. Britt, 25, is another big-bodied receiver at 6-3 and 223 pounds. A five-year veteran, his best season came in 2010, when he caught nine touchdowns. Britt, a Rutgers product, only caught 11 passes for 96 yards last year and zero touchdowns in 12 games.
The signings of Edelman and LaFell capped off a productive week for the Patriots. Despite losing cornerback Aqib Talib to the Broncos, they significantly upgraded the secondary by signing Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. (The team announced Browner’s signing Saturday, but had yet to officially come to terms with Revis, even though it has been widely reported that he will sign with the Patriots on a one-year deal with an option year.) They also inked tight end Michael Hoomanawanui on a two-year, $2.4 million deal.
Most of the important free agency work is now done, although the Patriots still have a few matters to address — either releasing or restructuring Vince Wilfork’s contract, signing value free agents along the offensive and defensive line, negotiating with running back LeGarrette Blount, and possibly extending the contracts of Devin McCourty, Nate Solder, and Stephen Gostkowski.
Edelman, who will be 28 in May, probably felt a little déjà vu this offseason as a free agent.
Last offseason, Edelman received interest from just one team — the Giants — before returning to the Patriots on a one-year, minimum-salary deal plus incentives.
This year, the Patriots were willing to let him hit the market after the sides could not agree on a deal before the start of free agency last Tuesday.
Edelman, a converted quarterback and 2009 seventh-round pick out of Kent State, had never made much impact as a receiver before last year, with just 69 total catches in his first four seasons, with a high of 37 as a rookie.
Edelman wasn’t supposed to have much of an impact last year. But with Welker gone and Danny Amendola in and out of the lineup with injuries, Edelman made the most of his opportunity. He had four 100-yard games, and his 105 catches ranked fourth in the NFL. By catching at least 70 passes, Edelman triggered the maximum incentive on his contract, $250,000.
Adding LaFell and potentially Britt is important for the Patriots, who otherwise lack size at receiver. They are bringing back their top five receivers last year — Edelman, Amendola, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, and Kenbrell Thompkins — and only Dobson, at 6-3, is considered big by NFL standards.
The inexperienced group went through growing pains with Brady last season, whose 25 TDs, 4,343 passing yards, and 60.5 completion percentage were some his lower marks in a full season. Brady especially struggled when Rob Gronkowski wasn’t in the lineup, as Edelman was the only receiver who could consistently get open on his own.