PATS REPORTER

Perry: Which free-agent WRs are realistic options for Pats?

PATS REPORTER

When it comes to the receiver group in this year's class of free agents, there's good news and bad news for Bill Belichick.

The good news? There are all kinds of talented options available. Among the league leaders in free cap space this offseason, the Patriots could make a splash at a position in dire need of an infusion of talent. Maybe they could even splurge and spend on a couple of capable pass-catchers in March.

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The bad news? The best of the best seem like good options to receive the franchise tag from their current clubs (deadline Mar. 9). Factor in the uncertainty at quarterback in Foxboro, and it could be hard to lure some of the bigger names to One Patriot Place.

Let's take a look at some of the top options, how they would fit in the Patriots offense, and how much they might cost were they to come to New England. 

CHRIS GODWIN, 25

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"Your ass ain't goin' nowhere," Bruce Arians told Chris Godwin at the Bucs championship celebration. Seems as though Godwin is destined to receive the franchise tag, even though the Bucs have a No. 1 receiver on a big-money contract in Mike Evans.

The tag this year is expected to pay about $16 million. For Godwin, who could command $20 million or more in average annual value on a new contract, that'd be a steal. Try to win one more with Tom Brady? It'd make sense if that was Tampa's plan. They're scheduled to see both Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski hit free agency as well.

 

Had Godwin shaken free, he'd have been the perfect fit in New England as an inside-out threat who can run every route and create explosive plays. He was better in 2019 after dealing with injury in 2020. But when healthy, he's special.

Our odds of Godwin landing with the Patriots: 30/1

ALLEN ROBINSON, 27

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What happens with Robinson could hinge on whether or not members of the Bears front office feel as though they need to do whatever they can to remain employed. That's often how these things go, and it looks like everyone in Chicago is skating on thin ice.

If that's the case, then Robinson could be tagged. He's another in-his-prime force who could make about $20 million per year on a new deal. Playing with subpar quarterbacks throughout his pro career -- Blake Bortles and Mitch Trubisky among them -- he has still managed to establish himself as one of the best in the game.

He'd be able to do whatever the Patriots ask, but will he be free? And even if he hits the market, would the Patriots be willing to meet his demands? They paid out $11 million in cash for Julian Edelman in 2019. They'd have to go way above and beyond that for a player like Robinson. 

Our odds of Robinson landing with the Patriots: 25/1

KENNY GOLLADAY, 27

Here's another potential $20 million-per-year player at this spot. (For reference, Amari Cooper, Keenan Allen, Julio Jones and DeAndre Hopkins are the $20 million-or-more wideouts in the league at the moment.)

Golladay dealt with injury in 2019, but he was a top-20 wideout according to Pro Football Focus' WAR (wins above replacement) metric in both 2018 and 2019. He has the size and contested-catch ability to be a game-changing threat outside the numbers. But as is the case with each of the first two names listed here, he could be tagged.

Lions receivers Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola are also scheduled to hit free agency this offseason. Do they want to start completely fresh with Jared Goff now behind center? 

Our odds of Golladay landing with the Patriots: 20/1

WILL FULLER, 27

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We may be getting into a more realistic price range here, but Fuller should still be expensive. Even as he faces a one-game suspension to start next season for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy. Fuller has also dealt with a variety of soft-tissue injuries over the course of his career. But when healthy, he's a true take-the-top-off-the-defense threat.

For the Patriots, an offense that has not had a weapon that demands safety help deep, he'd be an ideal plug-and-play option. And he'd be familiar with Patriots terminology coming from Houston. But the price will be a hindrance here if he wants to be paid in the Evans territory of about $16.5 million per year. 

Our odds of Fuller landing with the Patriots: 15/1

JUJU SMITH-SCHUSTER, 24

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Tough evaluation here. Is it on Smith-Schuster that his average yards per catch fell from 13.1 in 2019 to 8.6 in 2020? Ben Roethlisberger was not himself and was getting rid of the football quicker than any quarterback in football. Explosive pass plays were hard to come by in Pittsburgh. But Smith-Schuster looks like a big slot without a ton of versatility. He'll block like a banshee. He's a threat to run after the catch. But I'm not sure he has enough in the way of true dynamism to be paid like a top-end guy. 

 

Our odds of Smith-Schuster landing with the Patriots: 10/1  

COREY DAVIS, 26

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Now we may be getting into the sweet spot for the Patriots. It's taken a while for Davis to pop after being drafted No. 5 overall in 2017. In his fourth season -- his fifth-year option was not picked up by Tennessee prior to the 2020 campaign -- he caught 65 passes for 984 yards and five touchdowns. A lot of that might've been helped by defenses focusing on Davis' teammate AJ Brown, but Davis is pretty clearly a solid No. 2.

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What if the Patriots don't already have a No. 1? Well, that's a question the Patriots may have to ask themselves. Better to have a true No. 1 and pay him as such? Or better to sign someone like Davis -- who they might be able to get for somewhere between $11 and $13 million per year (Stefon Diggs makes $14.4 million per year) -- and one other starting-caliber player for the same price as a true No. 1? Would feel somewhat Belichickian for the Patriots to go with two starting-caliber players for the price of one star.

Our odds of Davis landing with the Patriots: 6/1  

CURTIS SAMUEL, 25

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Here's a good complement for Davis should the Patriots go in that direction. The 5-foot-11, 200-pounder posted 851 yards on 77 catches in 2020 under new Carolina offensive coordinator Joe Brady. He can play inside and had 66 slot targets last year (11th in the NFL), catching 82 percent (3rd), and he averaged 1.84 yards per route run from the interior (2nd), according to PFF.

If he could be had to play on the inside for $8 million per year, with Davis on the outside at about $12 million per year, that's a significant amount of money doled out at that position -- but the position has also gotten significantly better. One argument for that kind of approach would be that with one star and a few other more middling talents, it's not all that complicated to slow down a passing game: double the star. We saw the Bucs take away Tyreek Hill in the Super Bowl. The Chiefs actually did OK against Evans and Godwin in the Super Bowl. But one group of pass-catchers, Tampa's, was clearly deeper. And they won the thing. More might be better at the receiver spot.

Our odds of Samuel landing with the Patriots: 5/1

MARVIN JONES, 31

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Another intriguing option for the Patriots in that they would know what they'd be getting. Jones has caught at least 55 passes in five of the last six seasons (he played just nine games in 2018 and failed to reach that mark), and he's had nine touchdown grabs in three of the last four years.

 

Hitting free-agency at this stage in his career would make him little more than a short-term fix, but he'd represent a significant outside-the-numbers improvement for Belichick and Josh McDaniels. He'd likely be available for less than $10 million per year. 

Our odds of Jones landing with the Patriots: 8/1

T.Y. HILTON, 31

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Another receiver here on the wrong side of 30, who may cost around the same amount as Jones on an average-annual basis, but still might have something left in the tank. Hilton got hot late last year, and in Indy's final seven regular-season games he had 29 catches for 467 yards and five touchdowns. He was a non-factor against the Bills in the playoffs, though, catching just two passes on five targets.

Even if he's a cost-effective option, he's more route-runner than athlete at this point in his career and might be hard to make a real commitment to him as his speed starts to wane. 

Our odds of Hilton landing with the Patriots: 9/1  

NELSON AGHOLOR, 28

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Don't laugh and immediately think back to that meme of the Philly hero saving babies from a burning building.

Agholor was pretty good in 2020. He caught 48 passes for 896 yards and eight touchdowns as one of the top deep threats in a productive Raiders offense. He's another receiver who should fall into that short-term, less-than-$10-million bucket of pass-catchers who could make sense in Foxboro. He has experience playing in the slot as well as outside and if he could replicate his 2020 production he'd be a suitable No. 2 or 3.

Our odds of Agholor landing with the Patriots: 7/1  

KEELAN COLE, 28

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An undrafted free agent back in 2017, Cole has toiled away in relative anonymity in Jacksonville. But he's given the Jags solid production when given an opportunity. He hasn't missed a game in four years. He has the size (6-1, 194) to pose a threat outside the numbers, as the Patriots found out in Week 2 back in 2018 when he went off for 116 yards and a touchdown on seven grabs. And he set a career-high in catches last season with 55, leading the team in snaps among receivers with 785.

As an inside-out option as a No. 3, and in a different situation, Cole could provide real value on a low-money deal. 

Our odds of Cole landing with the Patriots: 5/1  

SAMMY WATKINS, 28

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Hard to believe Watkins has been around as long as he has and he's still just 28. Should be a little scary, though, that he was a forgotten man in an offense like Kansas City's that is just bursting at the seams with yards and touchdowns to spread among its weapons.

If the Patriots were to give him real money, they'd be banking on the fact he can get back to his 2015 form, when he reeled in 1,047 yards and nine scores.

Our odds of Watkins landing with the Patriots: 10/1  

BRESHAD PERRIMAN, 27

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If it's an outside-the-numbers threat the Patriots want . . . they could do worse. Perriman has all kinds of straight-line speed, which hurt the Patriots when he was a member of the Jets last year. He's turned into a real journeyman, having played for five teams already since being drafted by the Ravens in the first round in 2015.

 

If he's available on a one-year deal (maybe the market isn't real hot on giving him what he wants with the cap coming down) and if the Patriots are able to nab an interior player with some promise (Smith-Schuster?) then he might be a band-aid solution on the outside. The Patriots might rather make that kind of move than invest in an older free agent like 32-year-old AJ Green, who looks like a contested-catch-only type of target at this stage of his career.

Our odds of Perriman landing with the Patriots: 9/1