The New England Patriots are well known for signing players who are undervalued and offer the potential for a big payout. Of all the free agent wide receivers this offseason, none fit that description better than former Titans receiver Kenny Britt. In 2012, Britt battled a lingering knee injury from ACL surgery that many scouts believed has limited the explosiveness he once had. As a result, Britt’s 2013 numbers were pedestrian: only 11 catches, for 96 yards and no touchdowns. Not exactly Moss like production. Britt was targeted only 35 times last season and was often criticized for drops and mental mistakes that resulted in penalties. And those are just Britt’s on the field troubles. He’s also been arrested numerous times since he first joined the Titans and has found himself engaged with authorities on a number of other occasions.
There’s no doubt that there are a lot of red flags with Britt. Whether he can get himself focused on football and start growing up off the field are important questions. But it’s for all these reasons that Britt is a compelling option for the Patriots. The Patriots don’t have much salary cap space, but Britt won’t demand much money and the team could easily bring him in on a one year, incentive-laden deal that they could discard before the start of the season if it’s not working out.
When healthy, Britt has the potential to be a number one receiver in the NFL and that appears to be his goal. If Britt has made strides off the field, as his friend and former teammate Nate Washington asserts, then perhaps he can rekindle the talent that had scouts buzzing about him early in his career. Britt’s best season was 2010 when he had nine touchdowns on 42 catches and an average of 18.5 yards per catch. That year, Britt was exactly the kind of receiver the Patriots need: an explosive outside threat that can blow the top off of defenses. If Britt is committed to getting back to pre-surgery condition, the Patriots would be wise to make a low-risk, potentially high-reward investment in him.
Another reason the Patriots might consider Britt is the Rutgers connection. At Rutgers, Britt was coached by former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano. Everyone knows that Schiano and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick are good friends. Of course, we don’t know exactly what Schiano thinks of Britt, but indications are that he still holds him in high regard. If Schiano were to provide a character endorsement for Britt, that would likely go a long with Belichick and could certainly lead to the team adding him.
It’s hard to say with any certainty how the Patriots will address the wide receiver position this offseason. Is the team content to continue to develop the young receivers it drafted in 2013 and rely predominantly on a stable of slot receivers? Or is the team committed to addressing the need at the Y receiver position via free agency or in the draft? If the team does see this as an area for improvement, free agency is a more likely option given the advanced stage of Tom Brady’s career. If the Patriots can revive someone like Kenny Britt on a one year, incentive-laden deal, it offers the potential for immediate payout, whereas a rookie receiver will certainly require more development. It’s also more unlikely that the Patriots will draft at the receiver position given their focus on that position in the 2013 draft. With free agency set to begin in just ten days, we’ll have answers to some of these questions very soon.