For a team that came within 57 seconds of a Super Bowl championship, the New England Patriots have plenty of needs.
Fortunately for them, the NFL is full of solutions this year.
The Patriots have plenty of holes to fill on defense, but the playoffs also showed that New England, despite scoring an AFC-high 513 points, has weaknesses at the wide receiver position.
The Patriots never had a wideout that could consistently threaten defenses deep or beat man coverage on the outside. Tom Brady and the New England offense overcame that weakness throughout the season, but the talent-laden defenses of the Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants exploited that area en route to holding the Pats to 23 and 17 points in the playoffs, respectively.
The 2012 offseason is the year of the receiver, however, as plenty of wideouts are expected to either hit the open market or be available as restricted free agents or trade targets. There's a bevy of established talent for the Patriots to evaluate if they want to find that missing ingredient, and they've already been tied to several of those names.
Here are the positives and negatives to the players the Patriots are rumored to have interest in.
Pros: Lloyd emerged as an explosive downfield threat as a member of the Josh McDaniels-led 2010 Denver Broncos. Now, with McDaniels in Foxborough as the Pats' offensive coordinator, Lloyd is rumored to follow.
Lloyd is moderately sized at 6'0" and 188 pounds, but he has great hands, uses his body well, and battles for the ball. He makes tough catches and showed an ability to get open by putting up impressive stats even on the punchless Denver and St. Louis offenses.
Cons: Though Lloyd has said he wants to be where McDaniels is, it looks like he's not going to make it an easy signing. He wants to cash in, and his partnership with agent and Patriots nemesis Tom Condon could make a road to New England a bumpy one.
He's also not a speedster and had a career marked by inconsistency before his breakout 2010 season. It might be too much for the Patriots to justify in giving the Illinois product a long-term deal.
Pros: The Patriots have seen time and time again what Jackson brings to the table. He's a special combination of speed and size, with great hands and leaping ability that make opposing coaches and coordinators hold their breath on a deep pass or jump ball.
Bill Belichick still hasn't found a way to defend Jackson, as evidenced by the 6'5" wideout's 10-catch, 172-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Patriots last September. The Patriots need a player that can challenge defenses deep and consistently win one-on-one matchups, and Jackson brings that ability to the field every week.
And finally, after two years of headaches with the San Diego front office, he should have his freedom. If the Pats want him, they can get him.
Cons: A history of bickering over contracts does not exactly grease the skids into the controversy-averse Patriots organization. Jackson's a terrific player, but holdouts and back and forth barbs with the Chargers brass may not impress New England too much.
Pros: Good luck coming up with a reason not to like Wayne. He's smart, reliable, consistent and an All-Pro talent. He's one of the best route runners and pass catchers in the game, and his relationship with Peyton Manning showed he can handle a complex, improvisation-heavy offense. Plus, with 75 catches for 960 yards and four touchdowns this past season, he showed that he still has something left in the tank.
Belichick seems to respect Wayne more than any player not named Ed Reed, and, with free agency a possibility due to the Colts' eagerness to move on from the old offense, Wayne could be available for a modest price.
Cons: Wayne doesn't fill the prototype for the Patriots' biggest need the way Jackson does. He would give the Patriots another excellent option on short, medium and timing-based routes, but he has never been a burner, and at 33, there's always the question of how much speed he has left. Wayne's still a No. 1 receiver, but his days as a deep threat are numbered.
Pros: Jackson would be a perfect fit in the New England offense. He's explosive, with his blazing speed making him a big play waiting to happen every time he touches the ball. He's just as lethal on deep passes as he is turning screens and short routes into game-changing plays, and his over-sized personality would make him a natural in the playoff spotlight that the Patriots aim to play in each year.
Cons: The Philadelphia franchise tag appears imminent for Jackson, which would end any potential Patriots pursuit right there. The Pats could try to land the wideout in a trade, but that would be a completely different situation.
Randy Moss, UFA
Pros: Well, Moss set a single-season record with 23 touchdowns in 2007 with the Patriots, and if Belichick has reason to think Moss can come back and be a good citizen, then...you know what, let's skip to the cons.
Cons: Moss is done. The tangibles (speed, height, vertical leap, etc.) might still be there, but Moss long ago lost that athletic element that made him a true freak and nightmare in one-on-one matchups. He looked old and diminished in 2010, and that was when he was 33.
He's now 35 and hasn't played a game in 13 months. He's still a magnetic personality, and it would be good for the league for Moss to find the Fountain of Youth, but it's a long shot. It's time to move on.
If the Patriots are smart (and they are), they'll know it, too.