NFL free agency

Quick Slants The Podcast: Will Kraft take the plea deal? What's best way to get Brady WR help?

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Quick Slants The Podcast: Will Kraft take the plea deal? What's best way to get Brady WR help?

Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry discuss the latest with the Patriots. Including whether they expect Robert Kraft to take the plea deal in Florida, and what wide receiver options they like. 

1:00 - Will Robert Kraft take the plea deal that he was offered?
8:00 - Biggest reasons Kraft would NOT take the plea deal.
10:00 - How would taking the plea deal impact the way the NFL disciplines Kraft?
13:00 - What do we think about the Patriots signings so far? Which players can make an impact?
20:00 - Should the Patriots look for receivers in the draft or in free agency?
22:00 - Curran goes over possible free agents the Patriots could target at receiver.
30:00 - Curran answers questions from Twitter.

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Patriots need to explore WR trade market; who's out there?

Patriots need to explore WR trade market; who's out there?

An 83-catch season is pretty good, right?

What if it takes three guys to compile those 83 catches? Not so good.

That’s the sum total of receptions the three guys signed last week had in 2018. Hopefully, 5-foot-9 wideout Bruce Ellington, 6-3 wideout Maurice Harris and 6-6 tight end Matt Lacosse all have their best NFL days ahead of them. No reason to belittle them for having done little with their chances so far.

But the Patriots need to get creative at wide receiver now because the firm of Ellington, Harris and Lacosse is a little weak.

If the quick solution is not going to come in free agency (and it’s not) and it’s not going to come in the draft (it never has), the Patriots will have to pluck an asset from another team via trade.

It’s what they did in 2017 when they traded for Brandin Cooks. It’s what they did last September with Gordon. It’s what they tried to do at the trade deadline last October with Demaryius Thomas.

MORE FROM TOM E. CURRAN ON TRADING FOR A WR

The Patriots have draft assets (12 picks in April including six in the first three rounds) and an overflow of young talent in the secondary. What they need to do is find a willing team, a useful receiver and the resolve to pay a fat salary.

Because crossing their fingers as they did in 2018 only worked from an “end justifies the means” perspective.

The Patriots presented 41-year-old quarterback Tom Brady with a wide receiver group that had “SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED” on the package last year.

He opened it up and pieces like Kenny Britt, Jordan Matthews and Malcolm Mitchell were broken. Went back to the store. Picked up a Josh Gordon. He broke too.

THEY WON THE SUPER BOWL, NITWIT!!!!!

They did. Because Julian Edelman, Tom Brady, James White, Sony Michel, Rob Gronkowski, James Develin, the offensive line, Josh McDaniels and a defense that was daunting in the playoffs made that happen.

Their degree of difficulty on offense was unnecessarily high because the wide receiver fivesome of Edelman, Gordon (for a spell), Cordarelle Patterson, Phillip Dorsett and Chris Hogan could have been labeled Dynamic and The Limiteds.

With Gronk still uncommitted for 2019, the need is unmistakable.

In my opinion, there’s no reason to go berserk over the Patriots missing out on Adam Humphries or not getting in the game for Golden Tate, Antonio Brown or Odell Beckham.

They probably dodged a bullet with the pedestrian Humphries. Tate is slowing down. OBJ cost too much. Brown isn’t their kind of guy and the Steelers reportedly weren’t trading with New England anyway.

Shaking down another team for a declining asset is the way to go. Think “Cooks Deal” but with better execution because that kind of blew up in the Patriots face.

It’s actually a cautionary tale.

You’ll remember New England traded first-round and third-round picks to the Saints for Cooks and a fourth-rounder on March 11, 2017. Cooks was making just $1.56M in 2017 and was slated to make $8.5M in 2018 as part of the fifth-year option on his rookie deal (which the Patriots picked up in April of 2017).

Meanwhile, the Saints needed secondary help and Malcolm Butler, a restricted free agent at the time, was a viable solution for New Orleans.

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The hope was that the Pats would get Butler to sign his tender then send him to New Orleans and recoup the 32nd overall pick. But the Saints cooled to a Butler deal and the Patriots were minus one first-round pick and in possession of a corner who wanted out.

They got really good production from Cooks in 2017 and the Patriots felt lucky to move him to the Rams in exchange for a first-round pick last offseason. So there was no blood after all and the Patriots didn’t get stuck paying Cooks’ $8.5M salary last year or his expiring contract.

But New England still didn’t have his help last year and they could have used it.

Meanwhile, Butler was OK at best during the season and then at the center of a Super Bowl coaching decision that left him on the bench and the rest of the country dumbstruck.

The Patriots will look for a cleaner situation this time. A player whose contract expires after this season, ideally. Maybe a first-round pick who’s been marooned in a bad situation. Maybe a later-round pick who’s shown promise. Maybe a player who’s blocked out by the talent in front of him.

The Patriots can deal an asset then have control for a year to decide if they want to keep the player. A lease-to-own proposition.

Here are 10 wide receivers the Patriots could conceivably chase via trade this offseason, their contract status and the pros and cons of bringing them aboard.

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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.

MORE PATS FREE AGENCY

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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