New England Patriots Need To Keep Pace in AFC East, Get a Wide Receiver

Phil Shore@@PShore15Correspondent IApril 15, 2010

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 10:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots looks on as Randy Moss #81 watches from the sideline against the Baltimore Ravens during the 2010 AFC wild-card playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 10, 2010 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Two of the New England Patriots divisional foes, the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets, have made trades for two of the elite wide receivers in the NFL, Brandon Marshall and Santonio Holmes respectively.

While other teams add, the Patriots seem to be getting thinner at that position.

Yes, if you look at just the roster the Patriots have two of the games very best at the position with Randy Moss and Wes Welker. However, with closer examination, those two are big question marks for this year and the future.

Thanks to knee and rotator-cuff injuries Wes Welker will most likely not return until at least November. When he does get back to the field, it’s difficult to imagine what kind of football-shape he’ll be in, especially since a lot of Welker’s game relies on his ability to cut, which could be hindered by the knee injury.

Randy Moss is healthy, and will again be one of the top wideouts in the NFL next season. His production could decline a little bit without the threat of Welker forcing teams to go into single-coverage against Moss. Even worse news is that Moss has publicly stated this will most likely be his last season with the Patriots.

This does not bode well for the Patriots who are a pass-happy team—as they should be with Tom Brady taking snaps—that does not run the ball well at all. Not to mention that not only can teams guard Moss in single-coverage, but they will have to face the Jets and Darrelle Revis, the game’s best shutdown corner, twice.

The Patriots also currently do not have a good pass catching tight end—Alge Crumpler has been reduced to a blocking tight end at this stage in his career—so it makes having additional receiving threats even more important.

So who is left?

Second-year player as well as wide receiver Julian Edelman filled in admirably in the last two games of the seasons for Welker, recording 103 yards receiving in the regular season finale and catching two touchdown passes in the playoffs.

However, outside of week two when he went off against the Jets for 98 yards, Edelman was not very productive the rest of the season. He caught only one touchdown pass the entire regular season and only once did he break 30 yards receiving. The experience and consistent performances aren’t there and it would be tough to rely on him.

The Patriots signed David Patten, who was with the team for its three Super Bowl championships. He was a productive player with the team, and that winning experience is invaluable, but since leaving after the 2004 season he has struggled to put up similar numbers and has had injury issues.

Sam Aiken made a few big plays for the team, but he makes more of an impact on special teams. Owner Robert Kraft likes youngster Brandon Tate, but he started the season rehabbing a torn ACL suffered in college, played in two games, and was sidelined the rest of the year with another knee injury. So who knows about Tate.

Depth at wide receiver, something in the past they had with guys like Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell, is now a big issue for the Patriots.

The trend in the NFL this season has been big name wide-receivers being traded. Marshall, Holmes, and Anquan Boldin have all been moved. Roy Williams and Braylon Edwards also were traded in the past couple of seasons.

Marshall and Boldin had been rumored to be on the block, but the Holmes move was a shock. So while it’s tough to imagine any more of the elite receivers—Larry Fitzgerald, Chad Ochocinco, Calvin Johnson—would be moved, we’ve seen that anything can happen.

Terrell Owens is still a free agent, but he had an awful season with the Bills and a Moss-Owens tandem could be disastrous in the locker room.

Miami is dangling Ted Ginn, Jr. to the league. He has great speed and could be attractive to double as a kick returner, especially in Welker’s absence, but he drops way too many passes and will have fans thinking of Joey Galloway’s failed tenure with the team.

There are some very attractive restricted free agents on the market, including Arizona’s Steve Breaston, San Diego’s Vincent Jackson, and Dallas’ Miles Austin. All three are tall receivers with good speed and who are also still relatively young, the oldest being Jackson, 27. The latter two are Pro-Bowlers.

However they also all come with huge price tags. Not only would they demand large salaries, but as restricted free agents, their current teams would also have to be compensated with draft picks. All three currently have been tendered with at least a first round pick.

The Patriots traditionally consider their picks very valuable and tend not to part with them. However, they do own four picks in the first two rounds this year. They could put together a package of picks this year and next year in hopes to pry away one of those guys.

Afterall, Holmes, a former Super Bowl MVP, did get traded for only a fifth rounder.

There are also a few talented prospects in the draft. Dez Bryant is considered to be the top prospect, but he may be off the board by the time the Patriots draft. Even if he is still there, it would be wiser for New England to focus on their defense with their first round pick.

Other talents include Notre Dame’s Golden Tate and Cincinnati’s Mardy Gilyard. Illinois’ Arrelious Benn had a very good pro day and has garnered a lot of interest recently.

College standouts Eric Decker, from Minnesota, and Jordan Shipley, from Texas, should also get some consideration.

They are all nice players and could be useful to build. But it may be difficult for any of them to step in right away and be immediate contributors. Regardless, New England cannot stand pat with its current stable of receivers.

We do not know who it will be and whether they will come from trade, free agency, or the draft, but the Patriots need to keep pace in the arms race and land themselves another receiver.


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