When the New England Patriots released Kenny Britt yesterday, it was just the latest move affecting the team’s wide receiver position. Earlier this offseason – after already moving on from last year’s starters Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola – the Patriots’ position group saw Julian Edelman get suspended for four games, while both Malcolm Mitchell and Jordan Matthews had to be let go because of injuries.
Britt, who missed virtually all of training camp due to a nagging hamstring injury of his own, became the latest subtraction from what once was supposed to be a deep position depth chart yesterday. Naturally, this adds to the growing concern about the wide receiver situation: Chris Hogan is a lock to make the opening day roster, with former first-round draft picks Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson safe bets to join him.
As high as the group’s ceiling is, it is one that lacks depth and has not consistently been productive at the NFL level over the years. Getting Edelman back in week five will help, and so would an outside addition (with Dez Bryant being the most popular candidate) – but overall, the muddy outlook makes for a situation which might bring back memories of the 2006 and 2013 seasons: their lack of wide receiver depth cost the Patriots both times.
Here’s the thing, though: 2018 is not 2006 or 2013. In 2018, New England will be fine after all despite a plethora of questions at wideout. How come, you may ask? For multiple reasons, the biggest of which naturally being Tom Brady – the greatest quarterback of all time, who played a huge role in dragging the two aforementioned teams and their questionable wide receiver depth all the way to those years’ conference title games.
Even though he turned 41 earlier this month, Brady is again expected to bring his A-game this season and play on a level similar to the one that earned him NFL MVP honors last year. With Brady under the center and as projected being his usual self, the entire Patriots’ offense immediately is among the best and most dangerous in the league. The quarterback is not the only reason why the offense will continue to be productive, however.
Unlike in 2006 and 2013, Brady also has a highly talented supporting cast around him. Even without Britt, Mitchell, Matthews, and at least temporarily Edelman as well, the Patriots’ wide receiver position appears to be in solid shape. After all, the top three remaining options – Hogan, Dorsett, and Patterson – form a solid core that has the potential to be productive and work well alongside the NFL’s best passer.
But while a lot of this sentiment is based on projection and talent, the team has real established presences elsewhere among its skill position groups. Just look at tight end, where Rob Gronkowski remains one of the league’s most dangerous offensive players and a talent unlike any the team had in 2006. He is also in a better physical shape than he was back in 2013, when he was coming off season-ending injury.
Together with rotational depth options Dwayne Allen and Jacob Hollister, Gronkowski forms a good tight end corps – one that is similarly structured to the Patriots’ running back group led by James White and Rex Burkhead. And even though first-round rookie Sony Michel is still dealing with an injury of his own, New England’s backfield has the talent and more importantly the versatility to make up for any potential shortcomings at other positions.
This, in turn, gives one of the NFL’s best and most creative offensive coordinators – Josh McDaniels – far more play calling options than in 2006 or 2013. McDaniels can run two tight end sets with Gronkowski and Hollister as legitimate threats in the passing game, or two running back formations with both White and Burkhead aligning near the line of scrimmage. There certainly are multiple possibilities to make up for what seems to be a lack of depth at wide receiver at the moment.
And while it is disappointing to see Mitchell, Matthews, and now Britt gone after the expectations and potential they brought with them, those losses will not derail the Patriots offense in 2018. They put more pressure on the depth and the rotation, sure, but the team as a whole is very well equipped to handle them and continue doing what it always does: putting points on the board.