New England Patriots Off-season Outlook By Position: Part 3 of 8: Wide Receiver & Tight End


Feb 1, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola (80) celebrates their victory over the Seattle Seahawks 28-24 in Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots are busy working on their internal free agents this off-season to get their salary cap in order before they can begin spending on the other free agents when the 2015 NFL season starts on March 10. While the majority of the money is tied-up in cornerback Darrelle Revis and his “placeholder” $25 million cap charge in 2015 (salary data from, once he is extended or released the team should be able to position themselves to be active in free agency to fill holes in the roster.


Feb 1, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Brandon LaFell (19) catches a touchdown pass ahead of Seattle Seahawks cornerback Tharold Simon (27) during the second quarter in Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL Draft follows in May, but by then the Patriots will be well into shaping their roster. Last season New England had a strong foray into free agency bringing in wide receiver Brandon LaFell (74 receptions for 953 yards and 7 touchdowns), re-signing wide receiver Julian Edelman (92 receptions for 972 yards and 4 touchdowns), and re-signing valuable blocking tight end Michael Hoomanawanui and guard/center Ryan Wendell on offense (all stats from unless otherwise noted). On defense Revis was the the crown jewel but cornerback Brandon Browner and safety Patrick Chung brought hard-hitting swagger to the defense.


This season the Patriots will need another strong off-season again to keep the team in contention to defend their 2014 Super Bowl championship. Like all Super Bowl champions their free agents tend to be over-valued and receive extra attention from the other 31 teams in the NFL. Looking at free agency needs and the 2015 NFL Draft, this series first addressed the offense by looking at the most important position in part one: quarterback. Part two of the off-season delved into the running back position. Part three stays on the offense and takes a look at the wide receivers and tight ends.


Wide Receiver & Tight End:


Feb 1, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA;New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) celebrates his second quarter touchdown in Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Under contract: (Rob Gronkowski $8.65 million cap number; Danny Amendola $5.7 million cap number; Julian Edelman $4.65 million cap number; Brandon LaFell $3.5 million cap number; Michael Hoomanawanui $1.58 million cap number; Aaron Dobson $935,000 cap number; Brian Tyms–Exclusive rights restricted free agent $585,000 cap number; Josh Boyce $525,000 cap number; Tim Wright $585,000 cap number; Greg Orton–Exclusive rights restricted free agent $510,000 cap number; Jonathan Krause $445,000 cap number)


The New England Patriots made their two big moves in free agency at wide receiver last year. Locking up Julian Edelman and bringing in Brandon LaFell keyed an offense that scored 468 points and was 9th in passing yards (4,121). The ultra-efficient offense was 2nd in the NFL with 45.3% of their drives ended in an offensive score. Edelman and LaFell were targeted a combined 253 times by quarterback Tom Brady during the season and accounted for 1,925 of the team’s 4,121 yards (46.7%).


The third big target in the passing game in 2014 was tight end Rob Gronkowski. Finally healthy he led the team in receiving yards with 1,124 and 12 touchdowns. Gronkowski shook off a tough first four games of the season which saw him total just 13 receptions for 147 yards combined. As Gronkowski heated up so did the Patriots offense as they rode their star tight end all the way to a Super Bowl victory.


Nov 23, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Tim Wright (81) celebrates his touchdown during the first quarter against the Detroit Lions at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots struggled to find a fourth receiving option during the season. Running back Shane Vereen filled that role out of the backfield, but as far as fourth (or fifth option) the Patriots tried tight end Tim Wright (26 catches for 259 yards and 6 touchdowns), wide receiver Danny Amendola (27 receptions for 200 yards), and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (3 receptions for 44 yards) all spent time on offense as the fourth option with varied success.


Wright–who came from Tampa Bay for Logan Mankins–was a red zone target but lost playing time as the season progressed.  Taking those snaps were Hoomanawanui and Amendola. Hoomanawanui had 6 receptions in the playoffs after just 3 regular season catches. Amendola was the surprise as the 2013 costly free agent acquisition finally made his presence felt in New England in the final games of 2014 and in the playoffs.


Oct 27, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) talks with New England Patriots wide receiver Aaron Dobson (17) during the third quarter against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Where New England expected the boost to come from was 2013 second round draft pick Aaron Dobson. Dobson, who suffered from a foot injury that required off-season surgery after his rookie season, never got up to speed and played just four games in his sophomore season. Dobson had just 3 catches for 38 yards before ending up on injured reserve. After 37 receptions for 519 yards receiving as a rookie, much more was expected of him. With a cap number near $1 million in 2015 Dobson could be fighting for his job in 2015.


Brian Tyms, Josh Boyce, Greg Orton, and Jonathan Krause are all on the fringe of the roster and likely fighting for one spot on the roster in 2015. The quartet will also likely face other competition as training camp starts as the Patriots will be looking to add to the position via free agency and the draft.


Need (Low, Mid, High): Low


Free Agent Activity:

Nov 13, 2014; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins wide receiver Brian Hartline (82) eludes Buffalo Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes (55) during the second half at Sun Life Stadium. The Dolphins won 22-9. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The bad news for the free agent receivers is that the market is already flooded with more receivers joining the ranks of the unemployed seemingly each day. Certainly, the Patriots would not be in on Dez Bryant (he is getting the franchise tag in Dallas anyway), Demaryius Thomas (getting the franchise tag as well in Denver) Jeremy Maclin, Torrey Smith, Michael Crabtree, or Randall Cobb. However, there is going to be a class of veteran receivers on the cheap and no one loves “value” like Bill Belichick.


However, with Danny Amendola needing to take a pay cut to continue to have the honor of catching passes from Tom Brady there are intriguing third wide receiver targets on the market. The Patriots will give Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce every chance to win a job in training camp, but if any talented veterans such as Brian Hartline, Cecil Shorts, Eddie Royal, or Harry Douglas are available cheap the Patriots could have a great bargain pick-up.


Dec 28, 2014; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss (89) is tackled by Dallas Cowboys strong safety Barry Church (42) during the second half at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Of course, a reunion could be in the works as well. Former New England receivers like Wes Welker, Brandon Tate, or Brandon Lloyd all have an understanding of the offense. How about trying to wring a year on a one-year deal from Santana Moss, Hakeem Nicks, Reggie Wayne, Miles Austin, or Vincent Brown? Need a deep threat and special teams return man like Josh Cribbs, Darrius Heyward-Bey, or Jacoby Jones.


At tight end there are intriguing names such as Jordan Cameron, Charles Clay, Jermaine Gresham, and Owen Daniels (the odds of Julius Thomas getting a contract in New England is infinitesimal). Having Tim Wright for a full off-season conditioning and full training camp could help expand his role in the offense beyond a red zone target. However, there are intriguing players like Rob Housler, Virgil Green, James Casey, and Dante Rosario who could play a key role in New England.



After all the draft misses the Patriots have had under Bill Belichick it makes one wonder if it is worth trying. Other than Edelman as a project in 2009, and Deion Branch and David Givens in 2002 the track record at wide receiver in the draft is poor for Belichick in the past decade and a half. Just as a reminder before getting excited about drafting a receiver, here is the run-down of drafted wide receivers who flamed out: Bethel Johnson, P.K. Sam, Chad Jackson, Brandon Tate, Taylor Price, and now Dobson and Boyce


Dec 14, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham (13) runs for a touchdown against Washington Redskins free safety Ryan Clark (25) during the second half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

While no one can expect the draft to yield the spectacular results at wide receiver that last year did with Sammy Watkins, Odell Beckham Jr., Jordan Matthews, Kelvin Benjamin, Brandin Cooks, Jarvis Landry, Martavis Bryant, and Mike Evans all looking like potential impact players in the NFL. The Patriots are unlikely to be grabbing a marquee wide receiver target such as Amari Cooper, DeVante Parker, Dorial Green-Beckham, or Kevin White. However, a talent such as Devin Funchess from Michigan, Ohio State’s Devin Smith, or Miami’s Phillip Dorsett could all catch the eyes of the Patriots’ scouts.


At tight end, almost every mock draft last year had New England trading up for Eric Ebron or picking Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jace Amaro, Troy Niklas, or C.J. Fiedorowicz from the many tight ends available. Instead, the Patriots passed on all of them. This year there is another mixed bag of tight ends in the draft and if one catches the Patriots’ eye will determine if Gronkowski gets a new running mate.


Maxx Williams from Minnesota is an intriguing prospect whose father Brian played for the New York Giants during Belichick’s last two seasons in New York. Nick O’Leary of Florida State is smaller but was a clutch receiver for Jameis Winston. Tyler Kroft is a tight end from Rutgers (need anything else be said about the Rutgers-New England connection). Kroft is long and lean and quick. Clive Walford of Miami shined at the combine and could climb the draft chart.


The Patriots may well be all set at wide receiver and tight end and simply bring back their own players without making a major move. However, the team is always in need of targets for Brady and depth behind Gronkowski and Edelman. The Patriots may not make a splashy move in free agency or the draft, but as they showed last year adding Brandon LaFell that a quiet move can pay big dividends.