The moves came quickly on the first day of the legal tampering period. Danny Amendola signed a deal with the Detroit Lions. Jamison Crowder agreed to terms with the New York Jets. Adam Humphries, reportedly pursued by the Patriots, ended up coming to terms on a deal with the Tennessee Titans.
Just like that, some of the best slot-receiver options on the free-agent market were off the board.
The Patriots could certainly be in the market for an interior weapon in the passing game -- someone who might allow Julian Edelman to play more on the outside and avoid the punishment of playing between the numbers on a snap-to-snap basis -- but who's available?
There are a variety of receivers available in free agency, including boundary players like Demaryius Thomas, Pierre Garcon, Donte Moncrief and John Brown. And the Patriots could use a variety of receivers to help fill out their depth chart around Edelman. But let's look specifically at some of the names who could end up helping the Patriots in the slot . . .
Golden Tate, 30, 70.2 percent of snaps in the slot in 2018
Tate came into free agency as the biggest name available. He remains that way through one day of legal tampering. Perhaps sensing his market wasn't where he wanted it to be, tweeted a Pro Football Focus graphic Monday that highlighted his ability to create yards after the catch. Though he's headed into his age 31 season, Tate still has the ability to play both outside and inside. He also has experience as a punt-returner, which could free Edelman from those responsibilities. One would think that given the deals issued to Crowder ($9.5 million annually on average) and Humphries ($9 million), that Tate would fall into that range as well. Tate is older than those players, though, so might teams be looking to offer him something that would split the difference between those salaries and the one Amendola will receive ($4.5 million) from the Lions? Spotrac.com doesn't think so. Based on its calculations, Tate could land a three-year deal worth about $10.2 million annually. Tate indicated he'd like to catch passes from Tom Brady earlier this offseason.
Randall Cobb, 28, 87.9 percent of snaps in the slot in 2018
Cobb has dealt with injuries in recent seasons, but he understands leverage and knows how to operate among the safeties and linebackers who occupy the middle of the field. He's also accustomed to working with a demanding quarterback, which might make a potential transition to New England a little smoother than it would be for others. Cobb likely won't command as much as Tate considering he played in just nine games last season, but Spotrac has his market value estimated at two years and about $8 million per year. Cobb will be 29 when the 2019 season begins.
*Cole Beasley, 29, 88.3 percent of snaps in the slot in 2018
Only three players in the NFL ran more routes from the slot than Beasley did last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Beasley has similar per-game numbers when compared to Cobb (10.3 yards per catch, 4.1 catches per game, 42.0 yards per game), but he's been more durable of late. While Cobb has missed 11 games the last three years, Beasley has missed one game since the start of 2014. Would he see a contract offer in a range similar to the one Spotrac projected for Cobb? Beasley will be 30 when the 2019 season begins.
*UPDATE: Beasley is headed to Buffalo on a four-year deal.
Jermaine Kearse, 29, 77.5 percent of snaps in the slot in 2018
The former Seahawks and Jets wideout is two years removed from a career year in which he had 65 grabs on 102 targets for 810 yards and five touchdowns. Kearse's pace slowed significantly last year, as he caught 37 passes for 371 yards with rookie Sam Darnold under center in New York. In five career games against the Patriots, Kearse has 20 catches for 275 yards, including a 45-yard effort for Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX.
*Tyrell Williams, 27, 40.7 percent of snaps in the slot in 2018
Williams won't be classified as a slot receiver by anyone, but he has the ability to play inside and was used there relatively frequently by the Chargers last season. Though Williams is more of an outside-the-numbers threat, if it's versatility the Patriots are seeking then he could be worth an offer. According to Spotrac, Williams is looking like one of the most valuable receivers remaining in free agency, and he could be looking at a three-year deal for $9.6 million. Williams caught 41 passes last year for 653 yards and five scores. He reeled in five catches for 94 yards in last year's Divisional Round game against the Patriots.
UPDATE: Williams is headed to Oakland on a four-year deal.
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