Things moved fast for the Alliance of American Football this week. On Tuesday, reports broke that the league would suspend its operations just eight weeks into its inaugural regular season amidst internal turmoil. Yesterday, it announced that its players were now free to sign with any NFL team — and the first players already were able to leave the sinking ship for new jobs in the established league.
Of those still available on the open market, some should spark the interest of the New England Patriots as potential low-risk, high-reward options. Let’s take a look at six players who should be on the reigning world champions’ radar — and if only for a visit to find out whether or not they actually have something in the NFL tank. Obviously, they should not be expected to be starting material for a team like the Patriots but could carve out depth roles nevertheless.
WR Charles Johnson
A seventh-round draft pick by the Green Bay Packers in 2013, Charles Johnson finished as the AAF’s leader in passing targets (70), receptions (45), and receiving yards (687) while also catching 5 touchdowns. Playing alongside ex-Patriots quarterback Garrett Gilbert, the Orlando Apollos wideout earned a 123.8 passer rating when targeted and proved that he might be worth a low-level investment as a potential Y-receiver at the next level — one at which the 30-year-old has caught 60 passes for 834 yards and 2 scores in three seasons.
WR Quinton Patton
Like Charles Johnson, Quinton Patton also has smelled NFL air before: as a former fourth-round draft pick, he spent four years with the San Francisco 49ers and caught 73 passes for 880 yards and 1 touchdown in 40 games — all while also gaining some experience as a kickoff returner. In the AAF, where he played for the Birmingham Iron, he caught 33 passes for 372 yards while serving primarily as a deep threat. As such, he could challenge New England’s current receiving depth options.
TE Gavin Escobar
Selected in the second round of the 2013 draft, Gavin Escobar spent four years with the Dallas Cowboys — during which he caught 30 passes for 333 yards and 8 touchdowns — before ultimately ending up with the AAF’s San Diego Fleet. While his season ended prematurely when he was placed on injured reserve earlier this week due to an undisclosed injury, he has the size and experience to find some success as a receiving tight end.
DE Damontre Moore
Damontre Moore registered 7.0 sacks — second most in the league — through eight games as well as an AAF-high 25 quarterback hits. The former New York Giants third-round draft pick, who was let go after numerous violations of team rules, also deflected four passes and forced a pair of fumbles. While the 26-year-old carries some red flags from his past, he has the size (6’4, 260 lbs) and NFL experience to find success again as a rotational edge rusher at the next level.
DB Derron Smith
Pro Football Focus’ AAF player of the year, the San Antonio Commander defender has both the range to work as a deep-field safety and the versatility to also play man-to-man coverage. While not outstanding in either category, the former Cincinnati Bengals sixth-round draft pick could be worth a shot after a season during which he proved himself a playmaker: the 27-year-old registered 3 interceptions and 8 pass breakups.
K Nick Rose
With Stephen Gostkowski still unsigned, New England might opt to at least explore the AAF’s best placekicker as a developmental option or potential challenger once the veteran gets re-signed: former NFL journeyman Nick Rose. Still only 24 years old, Rose had a tremendous season during which he made all 14 of his field goal attempts with a long of 54 yards. While he didn’t have to kick the football off — one of Gostkowski’s strengths — in the kickoff-less AAF, Rose showed plenty of potential.