Justin Hunter is one of two Tennessee receivers with the size and speed to put defensive backs instantly at a disadvantage.
At the crux of the financial gulf between Wes Welker and the New England Patriots was the fact that Welker wanted to be paid like a No. 1 receiver (around the $9.515 million franchise tag he was paid in 2012) while New England defined Welker as a slot receiver.
In the end, New England wouldn’t budge from the two-year, $5 million offer to Welker and decided the younger, and probably faster, Danny Amendola is worth their value of a slot receiver.
Now that the Patriots filled the slot role, it’s time to turn their attention toward acquiring a true primary receiver. This offense has lacked a big go-to receiver with the speed to take the top off a defense since New England traded Randy Moss in 2010. Letting Welker go should be the first step toward altering the offensive approach.
Amendola might have deep speed, but he lacks the size for a physical advantage against the average cornerback. The Patriots have an interest in Pittsburgh’s Emmanuel Sanders. Sanders is fast, but he’s no physical specimen (5’11”, 186 lbs).
The hangup with Sanders is that he’s a restricted free agent and the Steelers can match any offer he receives to retain him. If Pittsburgh lets Sanders leave, they get a third round draft pick in return.
The remaining free-agent receivers that are 6’2” or taller (Braylon Edwards, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Michael Jenkins, just to name a few) don’t look promising.
If the stock in the free-agent waters aren’t to New England’s liking, it should cast a line into the draft pool. While the Patriots have a poor record at drafting receivers, 2013 is a solid class.
There are more than a dozen receivers to choose from that measure at 6’2” or taller. The ones with length and speed are rare. Tennessee’s Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter, Rutgers’ Mark Harrison and Virginia Tech’s Corey Fuller all clocked in under 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine (top receiver prospect Keenan Allen from California did not run).
The loss of Welker and his average 112 receptions per season can be absorbed by the offense if those receptions are distributed among the receivers. Amendola will see most of Welker’s passes, but tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez should get more opportunities.
And a new receiver should get his share as well. A receiver that can out-muscle defensive backs and pluck jump balls over defenders’ heads while in a crowd. A receiver that can outrun coverage down the sidelines. A younger version of Welker is needed, but to complete the alterations, the offense needs their version of a Calvin Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald.
New England didn’t want to pay Welker primary receiver money. They need to now go find someone who is worth that kind of money.
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