FOXBORO – When free agency began last March, the Patriots were in on two of the most coveted wideouts on the market: Cincinnati’s Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu.
They signed neither. Jones signed a five-year, $40 million deal with the Lions. Sanu, a Rutgers product, signed a five-year, $32.5M deal with the Falcons.
But the Patriots had another iron in the fire. Restricted free agent Chris Hogan of the Bills.
Hogan, it turns out, was dying to join New England.
Asked Thursday if he expected any interest as a restricted free agent (he could sign an offer sheet with another team but the Bills would have a chance to match the offer), Hogan said, “I had hoped so. Just talking to my agent, there were a couple of things out there, a couple of teams interested in bringing me in but when I heard that the Patriots even had a chance, just to interview and meet Coach Belichick and walk around these halls because there’s a lot of history in this organization, that was a dream come true for me. Because playing against them for four years, I know how great an organization, how great a team this was.”
The Bills, strapped for salary cap room, couldn’t match the Patriots offer to Hogan of three years and $12M with $5.5M in the first year. The Patriots had pulled off an intra-divisional coup similar to the one they pulled with Wes Welker in 2007 when Welker was a Miami Dolphins RFA.
The early assumption on Hogan was that he’d be in the mold of Julian Edelman. But that was perhaps more based on appearance than skill. Hogan (6-1, 220) is bigger than Edelman (5-10, 198). He’s also more high-cut, as they say in the business, his long legs not as suitable for the waterbug quick moves Edelman, Danny Amendola, Troy Brown and Dion Lewis could conjure.
Because of his deep speed, Hogan’s become a downfield weapon for the Patriots. Hogan leads all receivers in the postseason in receptions of more than 20 yards (eight).
Eleven of his 38 regular-season catches were for more than 20 and he was tied for first in the NFL in yards per catch in the regular season (17.9, same as Washington’s DeSean Jackson). The player he ostensibly replaced with the Patriots – Brandon LaFell (who went to Cincy) had 11 receptions of more than 20 yards on 64 catches.
Only Rob Gronkowski had a greater percentage of receptions that went for more than 20 yards (12 of his 25).
Hogan hasn’t been the same kind of downfield threat as, say, Dez Bryant or Julio Jones. Many of his deep receptions came on second reads or after plays developed and he broke free of coverage as Tom Brady bought time. He’s not a “throw it up and he’ll go get it” target. That doesn’t make him limited. Or slow. Just different. And extremely effective in the New England offense.
To say things worked out would be an understatement.
“I let things happen the way that they happened,” he said of his free agency foray. “All that stuff was out of my control and when I came up here I wanted to make a good first impression that I was a team guy and I’d do whatever I was asked to win football games and whatever I was asked I was gonna be able to do it. Just kind of emphasize that whole thing where they knew I wanted to be on the team and that could help win football games.”
With 180 yards in the AFC Championship Game and 275 yards on 13 postseason receptions in two games (for an NFL best 21.9 yards per catch), he’s done that.