Over the next few days here at Pats Pulpit, we will be profiling potential NFL Free Agents that the New England Patriots may decide to pursue. Assuming that this NFL Lockout does finally decide to end. We will be looking at several different areas where the Patriots could use an upgrade.
When the New England Patriots made the decision to trade Randy Moss, their offensive plan of attack was heavily altered. Without the 6-4 giant, the Patriots decided to go small at wide receiver by acquiring Deion Branch to replace Moss in the Patriots starting lineup. Branch joined the 5-9 Wes Welker to form one of the smallest receiving corps in the NFL.
While these two along with our trio of tight ends seemed to perform well enough to carry the Patriots to a 14-2 regular season record, they seemed to miss having a big receiver like Randy Moss in the lineup. Especially in the divisional playoff game against the Jets. Let's not go there.
I do applaud the Patriots trading Moss, as he went on to Minnesota and Tennessee and produced very little for both teams. However, the Patriots' need of a tall and athletic receiver still exists. With free agency set to begin soon, I believe the Patriots need to look into Moss' ex-teammate in Minnesota, now free-agent wide receiver Sidney Rice.
Rice's 2010 production was very limited due to an injury suffered in the preseason. After rehabbing most of the season, Rice was able to return to the Vikings to play the final six games of the season. In those six games, Rice caught 17 balls from Brett Favre, Tavaris Jackson, and Joe Webb for 280 yards and two touchdowns. Rice averaged about 47 receiving yards in 2010, but on limited opportunities.
With Favre being sidelined for a few games, the Vikings and coach Leslie Frasier decided to switch their focus to Adrian Peterson and the rushing attack. With two quick replacement quarterbacks that scramble a lot, it seemed to make since. Since the Vikings ran the ball more than pass, Rice 's chances started to dwindle.
In Favre's debut season with the Vikings in 2009, Rice's game went to a whole new level. He recorded career highs in every statistic including receptions (83), receiving yards (1,312), touchdowns (8), and yards per game (82.0). No other player benefited more than Rice did with Brett Favre as the quarterback, as he totally transformed his game all in one season. Rice was a 2009 Pro-Bowler as well.
Rice was also a very dominant force in the 2009 Vikings playoff run, where he recorded six receptions for 141 receiving yards and a playoff record three touchdowns in Minnesota's 34-3 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs. Many can point to Favre, Adrian Peterson, and the defense as the main factors that helped Minnesota achieve a 12-4 record that year. Sidney Rice needs to be mentioned in that conversation.
I see Rice as a fit for the Patriots because he is a big tall, athletic receiver that can pose a major mismatch against several corners and safeties. At 6-4 and 200 pounds, Rice can also fulfill the role as the deep threat the Patriots lacked in their offense after trading Moss. With Rice in the lineup, the Patriots could simply line him up along side Deion Branch on the outside, and use Wes Welker in the slot, where he is most effective.
Rice could easily settle in Bill Belichick and Bill O'Brien's offense in New England, as he was a part of the west-coast offense in Minnesota. Rice has also a Belichick kind of player, someone who doesn't come with a lot of baggage and a whole lot of character issues. In a more pass frequent offense run by Tom Brady, I could see Rice potentially reaching his 2009 pro-bowl totals he achieved with the Vikings.
While some people can say that Tom Brady did just fine without a big and tall receiver, that's what ultimately doomed him in the playoffs against the Jets. In that game, Branch was covered by "shutdown" corner Darrelle Revis and Welker marked up against the much taller Antonio Cromartie. Had the Patriots had a receiver like Rice in the lineup who could handle being marked up against Chromartie, Brady might not have had as much trouble trying to find an open receiver.
Rice would also pose as a major mismatch in most other AFC East secondaries. Rice could potentially have to face the undersized Vontae Davis (6-0) of the Miami Dolphins and Terrance McGee (5-9) of the Buffalo Bills. Antonio Cromartie seems to be the only corner that matches up with Rice high-wise at 6-2, but it's not a given that he will back with the Jets in 2011.
Having been Favre's favorite target in Minnesota, Rice could certainly develop the same relationship with Tom Brady in New England, and potentially could be that extra boost the receiving corp needs. A big, tall and very athletic receiver who can provide severe matchup problems against most secondaries.
Rice would come at a pretty high price for the Patriots. Rice doesn't expect to be back with the Vikings in 2011, and will likely go to the highest bidder. Teams like the Bears, Redskins, and Seahawks all make since. The Patriots don't necessarily need Rice, but he would certainly give the Brady and the Patriots a deep and physical threat to work with.