The New England Patriots will probably have an easier time coughing up the cash for a free agent tight end than they will a free agent wide receiver.
There’s no denying the fact that the New England Patriots need a major talent infusion at pass-catcher.
In fact, one could make a pretty compelling argument that the whole reason we’re in this Tom Brady free agency fiasco in the first place is because the team didn’t do enough to surround their quarterback with quality weapons in 2019.
I’ll be the first to come to Bill Belichick’s defense on this matter (and Robert Kraft’s as well, I guess).
It’s not the Patriots’ fault that Antonio Brown decided to implode. Sure, you can point to all the warning signs in Oakland and back in Pittsburgh, but Brown was by all reports a model Patriot as soon as he arrived in Foxborough and started working with Brady and Belichick.
Then, of course, the whole Britney Taylor accusation story broke, the investigation opened, Brown imploded, and the team had no choice but to release him.
It’s a similar story with Josh Gordon. One can make the whole “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” argument with Gordon and New England, considering he has a long and checkered history with substance abuse and league suspension.
He also had previously been suspended as a Patriot for those very reasons before getting reinstated at the beginning of last season, so there was definitely precedent for concern.
Together though, these two wide receivers could have — should have — elevated New England’s offense into rarified air last season. Add in Julian Edelman, and you have the best three receivers atop a WR depth chart in the NFL.
Alas, none of it was meant to be.
AB was released, Gordon was released and later suspended, Edelman battled injuries and double-teams all year, and no one on the tight end depth chart felt like even remotely trying to fill Rob Gronkowski’s mammoth cleats.
Poor N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers found themselves thrust into the spotlight as rookies — ditto Gunner Olszewski (remember him?) for certain stretches of the season. Other guys who are better off as situational roles players (looking at you, Phillip Dorsett) were also then tasked with doing more, and none of them seemed up to the challenge.
Neither Brown nor Gordon is coming back presumably, so it’s now up to the Patriots to try and figure out what to do with their pass-catchers — with or without Brady back under center.
As tempting as it is to look with curiosity and intrigue at free agent receivers like Emmanuel Sanders and A.J. Green, Patriots fans shouldn’t get their hopes up.
The team has a better chance of pulling off some kind of trade — either during free agency or right before, during, or after the drat — with another team if they want reinforcements at wideout (ie. Stefon Diggs).
Simply because of the financials, it makes much more sense for the Patriots to commit money in free agency to a tight end if they’re going to invest anywhere on offense this March.
While top-end TEs like Austin Hooper and Hunter Henry might already be out of New England’s price range, guys like Eric Ebron, Tyler Eifert, or Jordan Reed seem much more within the Patriots’ budget.
All three of those names carry with them significant injury risk because of their histories, but all also have some upside as well. Ebron was the most successful recently (in 2018 with the Indianapolis Colts), though both Eifert and Reed have also shown flashes over the years when they’ve managed to stay healthy.
The long and short of it is that it’d be a surprise to see the Patriots make that big of a splash in free agency at any position. The big prize for them in a few weeks’ time is Tom Brady. If they can keep him, they’re golden. But if they decide to venture outside the QB position and devote some of their cap space to a pass-catching position, expect it to go to a TE and not a WR.