FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The New England Patriots have tried a lot of different options at wide receiver this year, and almost none of them have stuck.
Had the club not had such success in the past with underwhelming receiving corps -- and been able to rely on a talented group of running backs and tight ends -- the current situation might be cause for more alarm. Other than 2006, when Reche Caldwell was the No. 1 receiver, this year’s group is arguably as thin as it’s ever been.
On Tuesday morning, ESPN.com will unveil 53-man roster projections for each team, and my Patriots outlook has just three receivers on it when accounting for Julian Edelman serving a four-game suspension to open the season. The three receivers are Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson, and I view Patterson as more of a gadget-type option.
If my projection is ultimately correct, this means that Patriots almost have to make a move at the position – whether it’s in free agency or via trade or the waiver wire.
How did it get to this point?
Let’s re-trace the steps.
Receivers under contract when the 2017 league year was ending: Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Phillip Dorsett, Kenny Britt, Malcolm Mitchell, Bernard Reedy, Matthew Slater, Cody Hollister, Riley McCarron.
March 6: Britt’s option is picked up for 2018.
March 7: Reedy is released.
March 13: Amendola signs a two-year free-agent deal with Miami.
March 19: Patterson is acquired in a trade with Oakland.
March 21: Slater is re-signed to a two-year deal.
April 4: Cooks is traded to the Los Angeles Rams.
April 6: Jordan Matthews is signed to a one-year deal.
April 28: Braxton Berrios is selected in the sixth round (No. 210), the lone receiver the Patriots pick.
July 3: Edelman loses his appeal of a four-game NFL suspension.
July 23: Longshot Devin Lucien is signed.
July 26: Hollister is placed on injured reserve.
July 27: Longshot Paul Turner is signed.
Aug. 1: Matthews is released with an injury settlement.
Aug. 3: Eric Decker is signed to a one-year deal.
Aug. 6: Mitchell is released.
Aug. 22: Britt is released.
Aug. 26: Decker announces his retirement.
As the timeline shows, the Patriots have had a combination of injuries and missed personnel evaluations to go along with their own willingness to thin the position in the short-term for a long-term asset by trading Cooks, and by staying true to their financial discipline in not matching Amendola’s generous two-year, $12 million pact in Miami.
Asked in his weekly interview on sports radio WEEI’s “Kirk and Callahan” program Monday if it feels like the unit is undermanned, quarterback Tom Brady said, “Well, I think you go into camp, and there are things where you’re hopeful situations will work out. And then the competition has its way of weeding things out, and we had, certainly to start camp, depth. Then just certain things haven’t worked out the way we had hoped and certain players would have hoped. That’s football, too.”
They also didn’t aggressively target the position in the draft, passing on Alabama’s Calvin Ridley in the first round, and then Christian Kirk in the second round, after having both in town for pre-draft visits.
All of which has led them to where things stand today – a depleted group that hopes to buy some time through the first quarter of the season until Edelman, who is coming back from a torn ACL, returns.
But as Bill Belichick sometimes says, there is still time to fortify the roster through trades, waiver claims and free agency. And while I don’t see them in the mix for Dez Bryant, based in part on culture considerations, almost everything else figures to be in play.