The stars have aligned. It’s time for the Patriots to sign the best wide receiver on the free agent market.
Since his April 13th release from the organization that drafted him with the 24th overall pick in 2010, Dez Bryant has been testing the waters carefully. He reportedly turned down a “multi-year offer” from Baltimore’s Ozzie Newsome in hopes for a one year “prove-it” deal and a chance to hit the open market again in 2019.
On Monday, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that Bryant only wants to play for a contender this season. Hours later, news of Malcolm Mitchell’s latest medical procedure and Kenny Britt’s placement on the active PUP list became public, further exacerbating the impact of Julian Edelman’s four-game suspension on the Patriots’ wide receiver group.
For those new to the ‘sign-Dez’ bandwagon, the timing of these events and their close calendar-proximity to training camp couldn’t be more perfect. They now have the opportunity to “sign off” on his acquisition under the cover of a mere knee-jerk reaction — a small act of desperation following a tidal wave of bad wide receiver luck. For the small faction who have been ringing the ‘sign-Dez’ bell since April — those believing that only financials and timing have stood in the way — these events only serve to support the true rationale for acquiring the three-time Pro Bowler: if signed, he instantly becomes the most talented all-around wide receiver on the roster.
According to the blasphemous results of the poll below (taken the day after Dez’s release), there are more than a few out there who have fallen victim to the derogatory narratives regarding Bryant’s current level of ability level and his potential fit with the Patriots.
*Takes deep breath*— Brian Phillips (@BPhillips_SB) April 14, 2018
If money wasn't a factor, who would you rather have as the #Patriots #2 WR in 2018?
“Dez is washed!”
No one is suggesting that Dez Bryant is in his prime anymore — a prime, mind you, that saw him averaging 84 catches for 1,215 yards and 12.5 touchdowns from 2011 to 2014. But in 16 games last season, while drawing number-one corners each week as the focal point of an anemic passing attack, Dez still managed to put up a 69/838/6 line on 84 catchable targets (according to PFF) and a PFF grade of 75.2 — nearly 20 points higher than Chris Hogan, and just two points lower than Brandon Cooks.
In New England, Dez wouldn’t be tasked with being the primary weapon in the passing attack.
“Too many drops!”
This is narrative derived from a small sample size. Dez’s hands had never been in question until last season, where he had nine drops on 132 targets. The year prior, he had just two drops on 89 looks. For a reference point, in 2017, Brandin Cooks had six drops on 118 targets, and Odell Beckham Jr. had six on just 41 targets.
“His attitude stinks!”
Please. Dallas beat writers have long said that no one cares more about the team, and winning, than Dez Bryant. The issues lies in the fact that, at times, he fails to adequately express those feelings. Many of the same things were said about Martellus Bennett. There is no reason to believe that Dez’s addition would impact the locker room any differently.
In 2014, Brandon LaFell was brought in to play the “X”-WR role. He did so valiantly, to the tune of a 74/953/7 stat line, helping the Patriots win a championship in the process. At 6’2’’, 220 pounds, Dez Bryant immediately brings a frame to the wide receiver position that the Patriots haven’t had since LaFell, but with a more diverse skill set, and a more physical edge.
Not only can Dez be counted on as a serious weapon in the red zone, but perhaps the best aspect of his game is the punishing nature in which he runs after the catch. This makes him a terror for defenses on well-executed tunnel screens and rub plays, particularly when a personnel mismatch is diagnosed — something that no QB in the NFL does better than Tom Brady.
Currently the Patriots have $8,808,840 in 2018 cap space according to Miguel Benzan. They will need roughly $5-6 million for in-season expenditures (fielding a practice squad, 52nd and 53rd players on the roster, replacing players put on IR, etc.). But they can also create cap space in a variety of different ways. Simply cutting Cordarrelle Patterson and Mike Gillislee would create $5.15 million in space before factoring in replacement players on the roster. An extension for Tom Brady or Rob Gronkowski could also create cap space.
The amount that Dez and his team are currently looking for on a one year “prove-it” deal to a contender isn’t known, but as the regular season grows closer, his leverage becomes diminished. If a one year, $8-10 million offer were available to him at any point this offseason, the likelihood is very low that he’d still be on the market.
The point is, the Patriots can certainly afford to sign Dez Bryant to a modest one year deal, particularly if the deal is incentive-laden, which one would expect from New England’s front office. Even if the Patriots have to part ways with $5-6 million in 2018 cash, so be it. Imagine what a rejuvenated, properly-used Dez Bryant could do when surrounded by New England’s talented personnel, and with a quarterback like Tom Brady getting him the football.
Whatever the perceived risks are, the ceiling of this potential move is simply too high to ignore.