Michael Crabtree

Full Nelson? A look at wide receiver options remaining for Patriots after first wave of free agency

Full Nelson? A look at wide receiver options remaining for Patriots after first wave of free agency

The Patriots haven't landed a go-to receiver in free agency yet. They added Bruce Ellington and Maurice Harris last week. They re-signed Phillip Dorsett. Maybe they're done. Maybe not. Maybe they'd rather execute a trade or dip into the draft at this position. 

There are still opportunities for the team to pick up a free-agent pass-catcher you've heard of before, though.

None of the receivers remaining may be at the same level talent-wise as Golden Tate, Adam Humphries, Jamison Crowder or Cole Beasley. But there are a few who may provide Bill Belichick's receiver room another level of depth. Below we lay out some of the bigger names available, their ages, and a stat that might indicate how they could provide the Patriots some value. All stats are courtesy of Pro Football Focus unless otherwise noted.

Randall Cobb, 28, 87.9 percent of snaps in the slot in 2018
(Update: Cobb has reportedly signed a one-year deal with Dallas)
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 other slots have this offseason considering he played in just nine games last season. Spotrac has his market value estimated at two years and about $8 million per year. Cobb will be 29 when the 2019 season begins.

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Jordy Nelson, 33, 100.9 rating when targeted in 2018
Nelson makes sense on a few different fronts, despite the fact he'd be among the oldest players on the Patriots roster. Like Cobb, he understands what it's like to play with a meticulous quarterback. Like Cobb, he has some slot experience, though not nearly as much. Last season, just over a third of his snaps (34.3) were run from the inside. That versatility, though, would suit Nelson in New England. Nelson's next team might also be intrigued by his production in a below-average offense. His 100.9 rating when targeted placed him ahead of Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham, Larry Fitzgerald, Mike Evans and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Signing Nelson would not count against New England's compensatory-pick formula since he was released by Oakland. He'll be 34 when the season begins.

Jermaine Kearse, 29, 1.79 yards per slot route run in 2017
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. His 1.79 yards per route run from the slot that season put him ahead of Doug Baldwin, Jarvis Landry, Tyler Locket, Emmanuel Sanders and Crowder. Can he still hit that level? Kearse's pace slowed significantly last year, as he caught 37 passes for 371 yards with rookie Sam Darnold behind 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. He played 77.5 percent of his snaps in the slot in 2018.

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Robby Anderson, 25, 16.5 average air yards per target in 2018
Anderson (6-3, 190) doesn't fit the profile of the types of receivers the Patriots have been after. He's not immune to slot work, but he saw just under 24 percent of his snaps come from the inside last season. He's more of a classic deep threat, as his 16.5 average air yards per target -- third in the league, per Next Gen Stats -- would indicate. The Patriots could benefit from that type of "X" receiver presence, especially with the uncertainty surrounding Josh Gordon's availability for next season. Anderson is a restricted free agent and has been given a second-round tender so not only would the Patriots need to give Anderson a contract, but they'd also have to relinquish a second-rounder. That might be a price to steep to pay, especially for someone who is just over a year removed from a high-profile arrest. Anderson will be 26 when the season begins. 

Pierre Garcon, 32, No. 19 receiver by PFF grade in 2017
This would be a lightning-in-a-bottle signing if it ever came to be. Garcon will be 33 when the 2019 season begins. He's played eight games in each of the last two seasons and 809 snaps total. He's had lingering knee issues, and he had to have arthroscopic knee surgery in December. In 2017, before his season was cut short, he hit a 1.79 yards per route run mark, placing him just ahead of then-Patriots wideout Brandin Cooks (1.78). If there's any chance he could get back to where he was before getting injured that season, he'd give the Patriots a boundary presence should Gordon be unavailable. 

Michael Crabtree, 31, 11.2 yards per catch in 2018
Hard to know where Crabtree's game is at given the situation he found himself in last year. He graded out as one of the worst receivers in the league among regulars, according to PFF, but when he caught passes, they usually resulted in chunks of yardage. That's saying something considering Baltimore's offense. His 13.2 percent of snaps in the slot last season won't put him on many radars for those looking for quick-hitting options, and there's not much about his recent past that screams he's deserving of a shot in New England. He did "squash" his beef with Aqib Talib, though, reportedly. At a go-kart track. So there's that.

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Crabtree, Talib have suspensions reduced to 1 game

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Crabtree, Talib have suspensions reduced to 1 game

ALAMEDA, Calif. - Oakland receiver Michael Crabtree and Denver cornerback Aqib Talib have had their suspensions reduced to one game on appeal.

The NFL announced Tuesday that appeals officers Derrick Brooks and James Thrash cut down the two-game suspensions after hearings. Brooks heard Crabtree's case, while Thrash heard Talib's appeal.

The fight during Oakland's 21-14 win was a continuation of a dispute that started last season when Talib ripped Crabtree's chain off during the season finale. Crabtree missed the first game between the teams this year but went after Talib early Sunday.

On the second play of Oakland's second drive, Crabtree aggressively blocked Talib on a running play and drove him to the ground on the Broncos sideline, setting off the brawl. Talib ripped Crabtree's chain off again.

Talib, Crabtree suspended two games each for fighting

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Talib, Crabtree suspended two games each for fighting

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Oakland receiver Michael Crabtree and Denver cornerback Aqib Talib were suspended two games each without pay on Monday for fighting during the recent game between the two teams.

NFL Vice President of Football Operations Jon Runyan announced the suspensions a day after the two players brawled during Oakland's 21-14 victory. Both players can appeal the suspensions.

The fight was a continuation of a dispute that started last season when Talib ripped Crabtree's chain off during the season finale. Crabtree missed the first game between the teams this year but didn't wait long to seek revenge.

Crabtree punched Denver cornerback Chris Harris Jr. while blocking him on the first play of Oakland's second drive. He then aggressively blocked Talib on a running play and drove him to the ground on the Broncos' sideline on the following play, starting the brawl.

"Your actions triggered a melee and endangered various sideline and league personnel, including one of our game officials who was injured trying to maintain control of the situation," Runyan said in his letter to Crabtree. "Finally, during the ensuing altercation, you grabbed and twisted that same opponent's facemask and threw a punch at him. Such actions have no place in this game, engender ill will between teams, and lead to further confrontations."

Talib once again ripped Crabtree's chain off his neck. He also took Crabtree's helmet off and threw it, as well as exchanging punches with Crabtree.

"You deliberately ripped your opponent's chain from his neck just as you did last year when you played against him," Runyan wrote in his letter to Talib. "Then, when the two of you went to the ground after a subsequent play, you aggressively removed his helmet and threw it in his direction, endangering him and various sideline personnel in the near vicinity. Finally, once you were momentarily separated from your opponent, you again engaged him and threw a punch."

Both players are eligible to return on Dec. 11. Crabtree will miss games against the New York Giants and Kansas City, while Talib will have to sit out against Miami and the New York Jets.

The suspension is costly to the Raiders (5-6), who are one game out of a playoff spot and now will be without a starting receiver for two weeks. Crabtree is tied for the team lead with 42 catches and has 502 yards receiving and a team-high six touchdowns.

Raiders coach Jack Del Rio disagreed with the ruling, pointing to a fight earlier this season between Jacksonville cornerback Jalen Ramsey and Cincinnati receiver A.J. Green that led to no suspensions.

"Hard to understand the reasoning for this," Del Rio wrote on his Twitter account, "based on most recent ruling w/ altercation."

The Raiders also could be without their other starting receiver in Amari Cooper, who suffered a concussion and a sprained ankle later in Sunday's game after a hard hit by safety Darian Stewart that drew a penalty.

Talib is perhaps Denver's top cover cornerback. His replacement, rookie Brendan Langley, surrendered a touchdown pass and a critical third-down completion that kept Denver from getting a shot at tying the game.

"I hope the league sees basically how it started and sees I didn't come out there to fight and wrestle with him," Talib said earlier in the day.

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