New England Patriots: 3 Potential Breakout Players on Offense in 2016
By Hal Bent
The Patriots released wide receiver Brandon LaFell early in the offseason after a foot injury wiped out most of his 2015 season. LaFell initially appeared to be another free agent bust early in 2014 after he was held catchless in his first two games. He went on to snag 74 passes for 953 yards and add another 13 catches in the postseason. He missed the offseason, training camp, the preseason, and the first five games with his foot injury. He was never the same limping to just 37 catches for 515 yards and no touchdowns.
To address the dropoff at the wide receiver position the Patriots brought in restricted free agent wide receiver Chris Hogan from Buffalo. Hogan was a surprising move as his front-loaded contract was designed to keep the cap space challenged Bills from matching the deal. For Rex Ryan and the Bills, they must have been scratching their heads and wondering what Bill Belichick saw in Hogan that they missed.
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Hogan fits the bill as a larger, outside receiver with position flexibility in the New England offense. He is six-foot-one and at 210 pounds and can lineup anywhere from the slot to the outside much like LaFell did in 2014. Like former divisional foes Wes Welker and Scott Chandler, some of Hogan’s best games were against New England (5-72-1 in 2014, 6-95-0 in 2015) and he clearly caught the eyes of the Patriots’ coaches and front office in their games over the past two seasons.
Hogan–as a restricted free agent–was given an offer constructed specifically so Buffalo could not match due to the money and cap charge in year one. Learning their lesson from the failed pursuit of Emmanuel Sanders as a restricted free agent, the Patriots got the player they wanted at a price far below what other free agents such as Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones received on the open market. Now the focus is on integrating Hogan with quarterback Tom Brady this preseason to increase their comfort level together.
The signing of Hogan and trade for Bennett brings up the question of whether wide receiver Danny Amendola is going to return in New England. While Hogan is more likely to take LaFell’s second wide receiver role, Bennett’s signing directly impacts Amendola’s playing time as New England will spend more time in the “12 personnel” offense with two tight ends rather than three wide receivers as they spent much of 2014 and 2015.
New England does not need to act until after the NFL Draft, but with a $6.8 million cap hit (per @PatsCap) for the fourth option and insurance policy for Julian Edelman, the signings of Hogan and Bennett mean Amendola will have to take a pay cut to stay in New England in 2016. For Hogan the pressure is on due to his contract and the fan expectations heading into the 2016 season.
Next: Donald Brown