New England Patriots Position-by-Position Offseason Preview: Receiver/Tight End

Randolph CharlotinAnalyst IIFebruary 23, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 05:  Wes Welker #83 of the New England Patriots runs with the ball against the New York Giants during Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 5, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Win McNamee/Getty Images

If there was any concern about the relationship between QB Tom Brady and WR Wes Welker after Brady’s wife Gisele Bundchen threw the Patriots receivers under the bus, Patriot Nation can relax.

Welker and his fiancée were seen vacationing with the NFL’s glamour couple in Costa Rica earlier this week. So it’s all good between Brady and Welker.

And why wouldn’t they be happy together? Welker led the NFL in receptions with 122 and finished second in receiving yards with 1,569, both career highs.

Even though Welker is a free agent, no one doubts that he will eventually re-sign with the Patriots. New England could slap the franchise tag on Welker, but it doesn’t want to pay Welker franchise tag money.

Welker and the Patriots will reach an agreement eventually. They must reach an agreement, or have you not seen New England’s receiving corps?

Currently under contract are Julian Edelman, Chad Ochocinco (though it’s rumored he changed his name back to Johnson) and Tiquan Underwood. They combined for 22 receptions, 340 yards and one touchdown in 2011.

Employment opportunities are available. Send resumes to Gillette Stadium.

While Deion Branch (51-702-5) could be brought back at a fair, lower cost, the Patriots can do better for a No. 2 receiver.

By the look of things, an upgrade isn’t on the roster. Ocho-son/John-cinco had a decent season for a fifth option, but performed well short of expectations.

Deion Branch (right) had  a solid year, but he disappeared at times and lacks deep speed.
Deion Branch (right) had a solid year, but he disappeared at times and lacks deep speed.Al Bello/Getty Images

Thankfully, New England has tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. The duo was nearly unstoppable, combining for 169 receptions, 2,237 yards and 24 touchdowns.

Gronkowski wasn’t himself in Super Bowl XLVI, as he played with a high ankle sprain. Gronk went under the knife recently and will be ready for the season opener.

Hernandez and Gronkowski will have to adjust to a new coach, though, as tight ends coach Brian Frentz left the Patriots to coach for his father Kirk at Iowa.

There won’t be any transitional issues between Hernandez, Gronkowski and the next tight ends coach. The system won’t change, so they won’t lose a step.

Even though the passing offense worked fine (second in the NFL with 317.8 yards per game), everyone believes the offense needs a deep threat.

What kind of deep threat depends on one’s desires. Do you want a burner that runs a 40-yard dash in 4.2 seconds? Would you prefer a 6-foot-4 physical mismatch? Or is the 6-4 beast with blazing speed the receiver of your dreams?

Whichever it is, he can be found in free agency. When asked during a radio interview if he would be open to playing for San Francisco or New England, Pittsburgh’s Mike Wallace felt either location would be a great fit for him.

After playing under the franchise tag, San Diego’s Vincent Jackson will go where a lucrative long-term contract can be reached.

The name frequently linked to the Patriots is St. Louis’ Brandon Lloyd. He publicly said he would like to play for New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels again.

Brandon Lloyd (right) said he wants to play for Josh McDaniels again, like he did in Denver.
Brandon Lloyd (right) said he wants to play for Josh McDaniels again, like he did in Denver.Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Lloyd had his best season with McDaniels when McDaniels was head coach of the Denver Broncos. Lloyd totaled 77-1,448-11 in 2010, including a robust 18.8 yards per reception average.

This union makes complete sense. Lloyd is familiar with the offense coached by McDaniels. He won’t struggle with the playbook like Ochocinco did. Lloyd with Welker, Gronkowski and Hernandez just sounds scary good. The Patriots should make it happen.

The receiving corps wouldn’t be complete without a developmental receiver. Year after year head coach Bill Belichick brings in a young player, hoping to bring out his potential.

And year after year Belichick reminds everyone that he is a defensive coach. New England drafted Bethel Johnson, Chad Jackson, Brandon Tate and most recently Taylor Price over the years. The closest one to being an impact player is Tate, but as a punt/kick returner.

At some point in the draft, the Patriots will select a receiver. It’s possible South Carolina’s Ashon Jeffrey could fall to New England’s 27th selection. More likely the Patriots will wait to pluck a wideout, but you’re never certain with Belichick.


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