Patriots

Patriots

FOXBORO - So, you're asking yourself, the Patriots were willing to bring in a once-traded, once-cut wide receiver -- about whom the most positive thing reported in the past couple months was that he was the owner of a majestic sneaker collection -- and not Dez Bryant? 

The Patriots have actually imported two wideouts while Bryant remains a free agent: Corey Coleman, sneaker-head, and Bennie Fowler. But Coleman is the headliner, a top 15 pick of the Browns in 2016, so let's focus on him at the moment. 

Why him and not Dez?

We don't know exactly what Bryant is looking for financially so we'll put that aside for now. He obviously is open to the idea of playing with Tom Brady and under Bill Belichick. 

To me, this could serve as a referendum of sorts on how the Patriots feel about Bryant's skill set at the moment. 

When I asked around in the preseason if Bryant's name had been bandied about at One Patriot Place as a potential option to help the team's numbers at receiver, I was told no. Not yet, at least. 

At that point, the Patriots had parted ways with Malcolm Mitchell, Jordan Matthews and Kenny Britt. Since then, they've acquired and released Chad Hansen. They've seen Amara Darboh quickly come and go. They've released Riley McCarron, signed him to the practice squad, promoted him to the active roster and cut him. They've worked out veteran slot Kendall Wright. 

Nick Caserio and his staff have been searching wherever they can for receiver help, and the rest of the league knows it. 

 

Still... no Dez.

I've heard from one NFC coach that Bryant's drop-off in terms of skill set is not to be ignored. That, to me, is key. 

At this point, the Patriots would probably be willing to put up with some level of knuckleheaded-ness if it meant meaningful, talented depth. Particularly if that talent was stretching the field. 

But that's not Bryant. Not anymore, at least. 

The Patriots have several intermediate and short pass-catching options on the roster right now. 

James White, Rex Burkhead and Chris Hogan all fit that bill. Phillip Dorsett was a 4.3-second 40-yard dash guy in the draft a few years ago, and he still has very good speed, but his average depth of target against the Texans on Sunday was 7.29, and he was targeted on a variety of in-cuts, speed-outs and quicker-hitting plays. 

While Rob Gronkowski is a big-play machine, he's not a classic down-the-field threat. 

Without more speed on the field, teams can do what the Texans did at times Sunday -- flood the middle of the field with defenders and goad Brady into going deep with lower-percentage throws. 

Gronkowski made Houston pay with routes down the seam, but those may be passes that the Patriots want to limit since catches that area of the field can lead to high-speed collisions. Rob Ninkovich pointed that out on Monday Night Patriots this week, calling that area of the field a "danger zone." Gronkowski's torn ACL in 2013, his monster collision with Earl Thomas that eventually ended his season in 2017, and his concussion in last year's AFC title game, for example, all came down the seam. 

A deep threat outside of Gronkowski? That's where Coleman could come in. 

Though he wasn't shown in the greatest light on HBO's "Hard Knocks", something Coleman pointed out after he was traded to Buffalo, and though there may be some questions about his personality fit in New England -- as there would be if Bryant was brought to Foxboro -- he still has the juice to draw safety attention.

Coleman ran a 4.37-second 40 coming out of Baylor and back then drew some comparisons to Steve Smith for his combination of speed and big-play ability despite his size (5-foot-11).

He's not guaranteed to contribute. And he may be one of the next to get a quick look, a pat on the back, and a farewell. But for all he's lacking in terms of a proven track record, Coleman has one thing Bryant doesn't, which helps explain why he's here and Bryant's not. 

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