The Patriots need wide receivers. Here are a few who might make sense
The annual Patriots skill-position makeover is going to be rather dramatic this offseason, especially at wide receiver.
Julian Edelman is the only proven commodity under contract. Josh Gordon is a restricted free agent, but he is suspended, with his NFL future dependent on his own health and the will of commissioner Roger Goodell. Phillip Dorsett, Chris Hogan, and Cordarrelle Patterson are all free agents.
One or more of those players could be re-signed. Last year’s sixth-round pick, Braxton Berrios, could wind up in the mix once he’s healthy. The Patriots have plenty of draft capital to spend, but they figure to be in the free agency receiver mix. It’s not the strongest group, and judging by the way receivers got paid last year, the bigger names won’t come cheap. Still, here are a few who might make sense:
■ Golden Tate
Duh. The Patriots looooooooooooove Tate, and he is a free agent. The 30-year-old caught 74 passes for 795 yards and four touchdowns last season for the Lions and Eagles.
The Patriots reportedly offered a third-round pick at the trading deadline for Tate, and though they lost out to Philadelphia there, it figures that the interest remains.
Tate is strong for his size (5 feet 10 inches, 197 pounds) and can break tackles to make yards while running mostly short and intermediate routes, often out of the slot. Music to Josh McDaniels’s ears, yes, but Tate won’t be cheap.
He’s arguably the best free agent receiver available, so he’ll have plenty of suitors. Tate’s age probably means he won’t get a Sammy Watkins-esque payday, but somewhere in the ballpark of $13 million annually seems likely.
The Patriots are reluctant to do the kinds of deals which upset their salary structure, and they’d have to get over that if they want Tate.
■ Tyrell Williams
Way back when in March 2015, Williams was a Division 2 prospect from Western Oregon who didn’t get an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine. Even then, the Patriots were curious. They hosted the 6-4, 205-pounder on a predraft visit.
Williams ran a 6.55-second three-cone drill at his pro day, which may have caught New England’s interest. That would have been the best three-cone result of any player at the combine that year, and the Patriots are notoriously fond of the three-cone drill.
Now, Williams has had three productive seasons with the Chargers. He’s not the prototypical Patriots receiver — he’s huge and has averaged at least 15 yards per reception in each of his NFL seasons — but New England should be looking for someone who can play outside and provide an element of physicality downfield given the spots they’ll be looking to fill.
■ Demaryius Thomas
We know New England has had interest in the 6-3, 229-pounder receiver in the recent past.
The Broncos sent Thomas and a seventh-round draft pick to the Texans in exchange for fourth- and seventh-round picks at the trading deadline last season, but the Patriots were in the mix right until the final decision was made.
New England reportedly made a competitive offer for Thomas and might have been able to get a deal done had it not wanted Denver to take on a bit more of Thomas’s then-$8.5 million salary than Houston was pressing for. Thomas also was McDaniels’s first first-round draft pick as head coach of the Broncos in 2010.
To avoid paying him $14 million next season, the Texans released Thomas last week, making him a free agent and giving the Patriots another shot. Thomas is 31 and tore his Achilles’ tendon in Week 16, so he could come relatively cheaply for an outside threat who strung together five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons from 2012-16.
But his age and injury history mean he’d miss any offseason opportunity to get on the same page with Tom Brady and might not be the same physically after his injury, even with recovery time.
This year’s draft looks strong at receiver, so the Patriots might prefer to invest in the position that way and get a young player they can develop instead of an older one who might not be himself until midway through the 2019 season.
This one is about how Thomas’s market develops. At the right price, he’s a player they’ve been known to court in the past.
■ Jamison Crowder
The 25-year-old Crowder is a candidate to get tagged in Washington, but if he is available in free agency, he could be an option if the Patriots want to sign another slot receiver. Given Edelman’s age and injury history, the Patriots probably will want to find insurance for the Super Bowl MVP.
Crowder played through injuries in his first few seasons and missed seven games last season, finishing with 29 catches for 388 yards and two touchdowns. He’s quick and shifty, and the Patriots held a private workout with him prior to the 2015 draft.
Crowder is smaller at 5-9 and 177 pounds, but the Patriots don’t mind shorter receivers, and Crowder, who also returns punts, has had stretches of great production when he’s been healthy.
■ Adam Humphries
Humphries, 26, is another slot receiver who could carve out a significant role with the Patriots while serving as Edelman insurance.
An undrafted free agent out of Clemson in 2015, Humphries made 76 catches for 816 yards and five touchdowns last season, his fourth with the Buccaneers.
At 5-11 and 195 pounds, Humphries has some physicality to make yards after the catch. He’s a possession receiver who also has experience returning kicks and punts.
Humphries’s path from going undrafted to carving out a significant role in a short time should impress teams from a character perspective, and he doesn’t carry the health concerns that Crowder does, though he’ll also likely be more expensive.