Patriots position-by-position breakdown: Wide receiver
Julian Edelman is – along with Gronk and Tom Brady – instrumental to the Patriots offense and while signed for two more seasons is actually pretty underpaid relative to his importance. He’ll make $2.5M in salary on his four-year, $17M contract which expires in 2017. He’ll be 30 in May. His ability to uncover in tight spots, take punishment and work in concert with Brady remains astounding but you have to wonder at this point how many seasons he can remain an elite player with the physical punishment he takes. Danny Amendola has played his best football for the Patriots from the end of last year through this season. He played through injury down the stretch and into the playoffs because, really, there was no other choice. While he’s paid pretty handsomely – at $5M in salary he’ll have the 19th-highest base pay this season – at least you know he’s working to earn it. Still, the Patriots asked him to restructure last year and may do so again. If accord can’t be reached, the Patriots will have to get active in free agency or look for in-the-program help to replace Amendola. That’s daunting because plug-and-play doesn’t seem to work in the Patriots’ offense when it comes to wideouts. Brandon LaFell is entering the final year of his deal as well. A player who was a terrific addition as a complementary wideout in 2014 had an underwhelming and injury-impacted 2015. He’s not adept as a downfield guy that can threaten the back of a defense because he doesn’t have elite speed or a knack for high-pointing balls. His hands are average. His strength is as an intermediate receiver who can block and run after the catch, but his toe injury nagged him all year. He seemed frustrated by the end of the season. Aaron Dobson’s done next to nothing with the opportunities he’s been given since getting here. His hands are unsteady and his body’s brittle. He’ll be hard-pressed to make the team. Brian Tyms was a tough loss during camp because he’s such a tough player who does have downfield ability. He still needs to gain Tom Brady’s trust, though. Keshawn Martin is a complementary player and nice to have as a third or fourth option but he’s not a front-line guy. We’ll see what Chris Harper looks like after his second camp. He needs to get stronger and more confident. He is worth focusing on. Finally, if the Patriots do have to look at free agents, a player I’d like to see them target (and one I banged the drum for back in 2012) is the Bengals versatile wideout Mohamed Sanu. But it would be tough to bring in a free agent and pay him money that drastically outpaces Edelman.
The Patriots may have some tinkering to do at this spot. Julian Edelman will be back as the team's No. 1 option at a relatively low cost, but after that, it gets a little cloudy. One of the uncertainties that faces this position group this offseason will be how the Patriots handle Danny Amendola's contract. Since last year's playoff run he has proved to be highly effective in the slot, he has produced in the clutch, he's played injured, and he's provided significant value as a returner. The team likes what he brings to the table, but how do they view his skill set relative to his price tag?
They could approach him to restructure, as they did last offseason, but if Amendola gets a sense he could make more elsewhere after a solid season, he could refuse. That would leave the Patriots perilously thin at a highly-valuable spot in their offense. They'll have Keshawn Martin and Chris Harper under contract next season, but should Edelman miss any time, both of those players would represent a downgrade compared to what Amendola can do when at his best. If Amendola and the Patriots were to part ways, it would come as no surprise if the Patriots opted to look for more help in the slot in the draft or free agency. That's how important that position is to this offense with Tom Brady behind center. The Patriots could look to adjust Brandon LaFell's contract as well. He carries a cap hit of about $3.7 million, and if the team decided to move on from him, it would save them $2.5 million in salary-cap space. LaFell ended up losing playing time to Martin late in the season, and he was essentially a non-factor down in the playoffs, but how the Patriots move forward with him could depend on how they saw last season play out. Was it an injury that limited him, or was he fazed out of the offense for other reasons? When healthy in 2014, he provided the kind of strong outside presence -- though not necessarily a down-the-field presence -- that the offense needed. If he can get healthy and repeat that performance, he'd be money well spent in 2016.