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New England Patriots: Hyped Pursuit of Free-Agent Wide Receivers an Early Bust

ST. LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 30: Brandon Lloyd #83 of the St. Louis Rams catches a pass against Tracy Porter #22 of the New Orleans Saints at the Edward Jones Dome on October 30, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri.  The Rams beat the Saints 31-21.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Drew BonifantAnalyst IIMarch 15, 2012

The New England Patriots got their wide receiver. On just the second day of free agency, the Patriots landed...drumroll please...

Matthew Slater.

Wait, the Matthew Slater who played for New England last year? Who caught one pass all season? That's their big, prized receiver signing?

Get used to it. Get ready to read things like "Signing your own players is as important as signing new ones." It's true, sure, but what's the fun in that?

This year was supposed to be different. There was a bumper crop of big-name receivers available on the open market, and the Patriots were tied to all of them. Mike Wallace. Vincent Jackson. Brandon Lloyd. Reggie Wayne. Pierre Garcon. The Patriots showed a need for a surefire No. 1 receiver last year, and free agency was supposed to hold the answer.

Then the market opened March 13 and...nothing. The rumor mill in Foxborough was quiet while, one by one, the cupboard emptied. Garcon went to Washington. Jackson went to Tampa Bay. Wayne returned to Indianapolis. Lloyd, considered a favorite to land in New England, is instead visiting San Francisco. And there's not even a peep on the Wallace front.

Where are the big bucks? The big contracts? What's going on here?

What's going on is that the Patriots are just being themselves. They're starting off in house and taking care of their own. In that sense, they've been busy.

Slater, a valuable special teamer who was a Pro Bowl selection for his work, was re-signed, as was linebacker Tracy White. Defensive lineman Kyle Love, who emerged as a key man on the line last year, was given an exclusive rights tender, and the team did bring in defensive lineman Jonathan Fanene from Cincinnati.

It's a diligent and smart approach, one that has helped the Patriots be one of the league's most consistent teams. New England was predicted to cut loose this season, though, and it's already clear that the hype over the team spending big was a dud. Instead, the norm prevailed. And some fans weren't in the mood for more of the same.

The possibility of going big at the receiver position isn't done with just yet. Lloyd, the most likely Patriot of all of the hypothetical wideouts, is still on the market, and unless he just raises a deal-killing red flag somewhere, it's hard to think that New England, with the coach who had the most success with Lloyd on its own staff, hasn't kicked the tires on the receiver at some point.

And the Patriots do, at some point, have to get a receiver. If the season began today, the top receiver on the outside would be either Chad Ochocinco, Slater or Tiquan Underwood. Call me crazy, but I can't think Tom Brady would be too satisfied with that.

So a receiver is coming. It may be a low-key signing, it could be a draft pick. Who knows? It could yet be that big ticket signing.

It just hasn't been yet. Seemingly in the running for several stars, the Patriots have been as quiet as ever.

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