3 bargain free agent receivers the Patriots need

Feb 11, 2024; Paradise, Nevada, USA; San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jauan Jennings (15) makes a
Feb 11, 2024; Paradise, Nevada, USA; San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jauan Jennings (15) makes a / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

A lot has been made about how the Patriots have money to spend in free agency. And Jerod Mayo says he intends to spend it.

But that doesn't mean they have to spend it on the highest-priced free agents. There are plenty of talented players who won't cost the earth.

Jauan Jennings 

The 49ers have three wide receivers hitting free agency in March and Jennings is simultaneously the youngest, cheapest, and most important to their offense. But they also have 19 other free agents, and they are currently $5-10 million over the salary cap (depending on what source you use).

So it seems unlikely they’ll be able to keep everyone, even if they re-work their biggest contracts. And Jennings really needs to play on an offense where he sees more than 11% of the targets. 

Jennings is 6 feet 3 inches tall. The only Patriots receiver with that catch radius is DeVante Parker, and his 2023 season fell into the “should do better” category. He had critical drops that only intensified the pressure on Mac Jones. Jennings had a lower catch rate than Parker during the 2023 regular season, but the stats are skewed as Jennings only saw 33 targets compared to Parker’s 55.

According to Fantasy Pros Jennings didn’t drop a single pass in 2023; Parker shelled three of his targets. Despite the disparity in targets, Jennings still caught more touchdowns than Parker.

Jennings hauled in one during the regular season and another in playoffs; Parker didn’t catch one in his 13 regular season games. 

Jennings ran a pedestrian 4.72 40-yard dash at his combine, leading to concerns over his ability to play in the NFL. And while he’s no Tyreek Hill, he really is no Tyreek Hill. Jennings is 5 inches taller and 21 lbs heavier and loves to compete for the ball in traffic.

Alex Van Pelt isn’t going to scheme his wideout open like Mike McDaniel. And whoever is slinging the rock in New England isn’t going to do it with Tua’s timing and accuracy, so they’ll need receivers who can make the scruffy stuff look neat and tidy. 

Jennings's current contract paid him just $940,000 in 2023 so there’s plenty of negotiating room when it comes to signing him up in 2024. 

Ihmir Smith-Marsette 

Smith-Marsette is just 24 and has mainly been a kick returner in the NFL. If Jalen Reagor leaves in free agency, the Patriots could use a returner. But those aren’t the only two reasons to sign Smith-Marsette.

He’s one of those players who does everything well but doesn’t really stand out in any category. He has this infectious energy, though. And there was a dearth of positive energy around Foxborough last season. 

And even though the price of energy is going up, Smith-Marsette's energy is starting at a pretty low rate to begin with. Smith-Marsette made $940,000 in 2023, so securing his services wouldn’t take a huge chunk of the Patriots’ cap space. 

Gabriel Davis 

This one would just be funny; adding talent to your own team while taking it away from a division rival is a double win. Talking of players who bring a certain energy with them, Davis has a history of putting the Bills on his back when the pressure is ratcheted up.

During his career, 17% of Davis’ catches during the regular season have resulted in touchdowns. In the playoffs, that goes up to 27%! But Davis’ familiarity with the AFC East makes him an intriguing signing.  

He might have only caught 46% but 13% of his catches have ended up in the endzone. And he’s racked up 707 yards against AFC East opponents. He averages a whopping 15.4 yards per catch against AFC East teams.

Similar to Jennings, Davis has been criminally underused in his current offense. In 2023, he saw just 13% of the teams’ target shares.  

Like Jennings, he’ll be an absolute bargain; his current deal paid him just $998,595 in 2023. He’ll be 25 in April, so there’s plenty of scope for a long contract, too. 

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