Wide receiver Brandon LaFell took a back seat for the New England Patriots in 2015 after he was a critical factor in the team’s Super Bowl season in 2014. He will now have the chance to help a new squad chase a Lombardi Trophy, as his agent Neil Schwartz announced that he has agreed to a contract with the Cincinnati Bengals, according to Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports on Wednesday.
The Patriots released LaFell on March 2 after he finished with 515 receiving yards and no touchdowns last year as he battled through a foot injury that forced him to miss five games. It was a far cry from his 2014 campaign, in which he played all 16 games and tallied career highs in receiving yards and touchdowns.
The Carolina Panthers selected him with a third-round pick in the 2010 draft, and he played for them for four seasons as a solid possession receiver who tallied consistent totals:
|Season||Team||Catches||Targets||Receiving Yards||Touchdown Catches|
|2014||New England Patriots||74||119||953||7|
|2015||New England Patriots||37||74||515||0|
However, it wasn’t just the total numbers in 2014 that likely caught LaFell’s new team’s eyes this offseason.
The receiver notched 119 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the playoffs that season. He also scored in the Super Bowl and had a critical catch that set up the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Pro Football Focus graded LaFell's performance last season:
Recent Bengals WR addition Brandon LaFell finished the 2015 season as PFF's 119th-ranked WR; earned a 47.0 overall grade (scale of 1–100).— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) March 30, 2016
That LaFell chose to sign with the Bengals isn't particularly surprising considering that Rand Getlin of NFL Network reported he was visiting the team on March 16. What's more, Jim Owczarski of Cincinnati.com highlighted the fact that the Bengals lost wide receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu during the offseason and need more pass-catchers alongside superstar A.J. Green.
The realization that LaFell came through in the biggest moments with a Lombardi Trophy on the line will likely help Cincinnati fans forget the fact that only five players had more drops in 2015 than the receiver, per Marc Sessler of NFL.com.
Even with those 2015 struggles, LaFell will be only 29 years old for the start of the 2016 campaign and should be fully healed from the foot injury that ailed him at times last season. He isn’t a burner who will beat many cornerbacks one-on-one with pure speed, but he is a physical red-zone threat at 6’3” and 210 pounds who understands how to perform in the most pressure-packed moments.
He will also face plenty of single coverage with opposing secondaries focusing on Green, which should open him up down the field more often.
Perhaps he can help the Bengals finally take the next step and compete for a Super Bowl title after flaming out in the first round of the playoffs the past five seasons.