Free-agent fit: Receivers

First in a multi-part series on free-agent fits at various positions leading into the start of free agency March 13.

Position: Wide receiver

Players under contract for 2012: Wes Welker (franchise tag), Chad Ochocinco, Julian Edelman, Tiquan Underwood, Britt Davis

Level of need: High

Projected top targets: Deion Branch (Patriots), Brandon Lloyd (Rams), Matthew Slater (Patriots)

Why Branch fits: He knows the offense and remains a favorite target of Tom Brady. He was the No. 2 receiver last year, but in the perfect Patriots world, he'd return in a more complementary type role at a reasonable salary.

Why Lloyd fits: He thrived in Josh McDaniels' system, which takes out a variable that has been challenging for the Patriots -- how a veteran receiver will acclimate in a challenging offense. He'd add an outside presence that defenses would have to respect, and presumably at a more reasonable cost than some of the top options on the market.

Why Slater fits: The special teams captain is a depth/niche option at receiver, but an important cog who projects to the 45-man game-day roster as a core special teamer.

Other names of note: Marques Colston (Saints), Robert Meachem (Saints), Laurent Robinson (Cowboys), Donte' Stallworth (Redskins), Reggie Wayne (Colts)

Market conditions: This is considered one of the deeper classes in free agency. When factoring in how aggressive the Patriots might be, Welker's $9.4 million franchise tag figure has to be taken into consideration. The Patriots are unlikely to pay two receivers in that high-rent district, which would seemingly eliminate the likes of Mike Wallace and Vincent Jackson from consideration.

Questions to answer at position: How important is an outside-the-numbers threat? ... Does Welker sign the franchise tag? ... Will Ochocinco be back at a restructured/reduced salary? ... Can the Patriots break their slump when it comes to drafting and developing a top-rated receiver?

YOUR TURN: Which of these would you like to see in a Patriots uniform? Share your thoughts in the comments section of this blog entry.