Without a doubt, wide receiver depth was a big issue for the Patriots during the season, especially after Julian Edelman went down with a foot injury during the 2015 regular season. It is one of the biggest positional needs for the Patriots. It's ironic that the team that has had the likes of Randy Moss, Wes Welker, & Julian Edelman on their teams in the past 10 years would need help at this position, but it's blatantly obvious. In 2015 (thank you to FFToday.com for this information) out of all the 32 teams' wide receivers group, the Patriots WRs finished 15th in receptions, 22nd in receiving yards, and 11th in touchdowns. For a Patriots team that has been known for a long time for their offense, this is disturbing.
Another stat worth mentioning is no Patriot wide receiver finished with over 65 receptions or 692 yards (thanks to NFL.com for this information) in 2015. Now, it's fair to argue that the Edelman injury had an impact on these stats, but it also points to the serious lack of depth behind Edelman. Brandon LaFell regressed majorly from 2014 (some of it could be blamed on his foot injury, but it is still a major drop-off from his terrific 2014 season), Danny Amendola failed to step up in Edelman's absence and also dealt with his own injury in 2015, and Keshawn Martin is nothing more than a situational deep threat/kick returner. And then Matthew Slater (doesn't play offense) & Aaron Dobson (hard to rely on him) are the only other wide receivers on the roster right now.
So from going over stats & also the depth at the position, it is imperative that the Patriots upgrade at the position if they wish to get more production from the position in 2016. The hard part? Figuring out who to find and get to hopefully address this issue. The Patriots have failed to draft any wide receivers in recent history that have worked out (besides Julian Edelman, who was a 7th round pick that had converted from quarterback). Since 2006, the Patriots have drafted (besides Slater & Edelman) Chad Jackson, Brandon Tate, Taylor Price, Jeremy Ebert, Aaron Dobson, and Jeremy Gallon. So, from their drafting, they don't seem to have the best luck.
First, who should the Patriots keep & release? I don't believe that the Patriots will release both LaFell & Amendola for depth purposes, but rather only one of them and try to restructure the other. Amendola agreed to a restructured contract last March and was more heavily relied on in the offense when Edelman went down than LaFell. He does however, save the team $5.34 (thank you to spotrac.com for all salary cap related information) million in cap space if he is released after June 1st. LaFell is in the last year of his contract, and he would save the team $2.68 million in cap space, regardless of when he is released. LaFell makes more sense to be the released wide receiver simply because of his major drop-off in play this past season and the fact Amendola fits into Edelman's position better if Julian were ever to go down with injury again. Plus, it would make more sense to cut Amendola next offseason if they needed to as they would save $6.5 million in 2017 cap space.
The best way for the Patriots to address their wide receiver depth is through free agency. Here are a few candidates who would make sense for the Patriots to go after:
RISHARD MATTHEWS - Matthews posted career-high numbers in 2015 with 43 receptions, 662 yards, and four touchdowns. Matthews missed five games with injuries and competed with Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, and Kenny Stills for targets in the passing game. Matthews is only 26-years- old, would probably only command around three-to-four million dollars on average annual value (for example: a three year contract at nine million dollars would have an average annual value [AAV] of three million dollars). Plus, the Patriots are an annual Super Bowl contender, which many players are looking for preferably. Matthews could definitely slot in as the Patriots #2 wide receiver opposite Julian Edelman and play in the short, intermediate, and long game.
ANQUAN BOLDIN - Boldin is a free agent after playing with the 49ers the past few seasons out in San Francisco. At Boldin's age (35), it's hard to envision him going back to a team with a new head coach, offensive coordinator and possibly a new quarterback. Boldin would likely want to play on a contender for a shot at one more Super Bowl ring after winning one with the Ravens (in the 2012-2013 season) and the Patriots looks to be a location that would fit him perfectly. He still proved to have some fuel left in the tank after a stat line of 69 receptions, 789 yards, and four touchdowns. He also only had four drops all season (thanks to ProFootballFocus.com for that stat) and played in all 16 games two out of the past three seasons. Boldin would probably be best on a one to two year deal with an AAV of four million or five million, and could be a great veteran weapon for Tom Brady in the intermediate and occasional deep game.
MARVIN JONES - Arguably the top wide receiver available in free agency, Marvin Jones could help the Patriots in a big way. He is a deep threat with ability to make plays after the catch, as well who has much better hands than Brandon LaFell. The only problem is how much money he is worth and what he will be looking for. A team desperate enough that views him as the best wide receiver in free agency could easily fork over seven to eight million dollars in AAV over four to five years. That would probably be too rich for the Patriots. It might be wishful thinking that Jones might be interested in lowering his price tag a small amount to join a contender, but it could happen. Jones would have the chance to be the #2 wide receiver in an offense that includes Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, and of course, Tom Brady. Jones could end up being too rich for the Patriots' blood in the end, but I'm sure that won't stop them from talking to him & his agent regardless.
JERMAINE KEARSE - The last free agent wide receiver that the Patriots should look into is Jermaine Kearse. He is coming off a career year. 49 receptions, 685 yards, and five touchdowns, has only missed one game in the past three seasons, and is only 26. He has the ability to win contested situations one-on-one and has been, for the most part, underutilized in an offense based heavily on the run. Per spotrac.com, Kearse's market value is around four years & 19 million dollars, which would put his AAV at around a little less than four and a half million dollars. It is not a huge price tag, but still a pretty solid investment. Considering how needy the Patriots are and that Kearse is still young & has no injury concerns, this definitely feels like a Patriots move.
What do you think? Should the Patriots try and go after a wide receiver in the draft? Should they go after another free agent wide receiver? Should they do nothing at all? Leave your thoughts below and/or let me know on Twitter!