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Offseason preview: Patriots’ wide receiver position needs a quick turnaround after a disappointing 2019 season

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Related: Offseason preview: Patriots projected to have a deep backfield heading into 2020

Kansas City Chiefs v New England Patriots Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images

While the NFL playoffs are still underway with four teams left standing, the New England Patriots will have to set their sights on the season to come: after being eliminated from the postseason on wild card weekend, the offseason has arrived at Gillette Stadium — and it will be one of major intrigue considering that the AFC East champions have a long list of players scheduled to enter free agency once the new league year begins on March 18.

With that being said, let’s break down where the team stands at this point in time one position after the other. Today, we continue with the wide receiver position where the Patriots have nine players currently (still) under contract.

Quincy Adeboyejo

Position: Z-receiver

Age: 24

Contract status: Under contract through the 2020 season. Adeboyejo has a salary cap hit of $585,000 in 2020.

2019 review: Adeboyejo spent 2019’s training camp with the Baltimore Ravens before joining the New York Jets in late August. He did not survive roster cutdowns, however, and remained on the open market before the Patriots picked him up in November. The third-year man was signed to the team’s practice squad and stayed there for the remainder of the season.

2020 preview: Adeboyejo signed a reserve/futures contract with the Patriots after their season came to an end and could get a chance to compete for a roster spot in 2020.

Phillip Dorsett II

Position: X-receiver

Age: 27

Contract status: Set to enter free unrestricted agency on March 18.

2019 review: Coming off an up-and-down 2018 season, Dorsett’s 2019 was off to a hot start as he caught four passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns in the season opener. However, he failed to build on the momentum and by the time the playoffs started severed as only a rotational fourth option on the depth chart. Dorsett did finish with 29 catches for 397 yards and five touchdowns — his statistically best season since coming to New England in 2017 — but he was unable to carve out a regular role within the offense.

2020 preview: The Patriots did bring Dorsett back as a free agent last offseason, but a similar outcome would still be a surprise this time around given his diminishing role and lack of consistent production. Therefore, he will likely play elsewhere in 2020.

Julian Edelman

Position: Z-receiver

Age: 33

Contract status: Under contract through the 2021 season. Edelman has a salary cap hit of $7.17 million in 2020.

2019 review: The wide receiver position was one of instability in 2019 — be it in terms of personnel or production — but Edelman still proved to be a reliable player for quarterback Tom Brady. Serving as the team’s number one receiving option, the Super Bowl MVP appeared in all 17 of the team’s games despite fighting through a number of injuries and finished the season with a playing time share of 87.4% (1,057 of 1,210 offensive snaps).

When the regular season was said and done, Edelman had 100 receptions for 1,117 yards — a new career-high — and six touchdowns on his résumé before adding three more catches for 30 yards during New England’s lone playoff game. The players around him struggled at times, but the veteran receiver was as steady as they come and a big reason why the Patriots offense still had its moments in 2019.

2020 preview: Edelman is expected to have offseason surgery to repair a separated AC joint in his left shoulder and also to undergo a knee scope. The procedures could limit his availability during spring practices but his outlook for the 2020 season remains unchanged: despite his comparatively advanced age, he is expected to play a big role in the Patriots’ passing offense and as the elder statesman in a potential no-look wide receiver room.

N’Keal Harry

Position: X-receiver

Age: 22

Contract status: Under contract through the 2022 season (plus a fifth-year team option for 2023). Harry has a salary cap hit of $2.3 million in 2020.

2019 review: The Patriots’ first-round draft pick, Harry’s career got off to a slow start after he hurt his ankle just three snaps into the preseason. New England later placed the rookie on temporary injured reserve after roster cutdown day before reactivating him in early November. Harry went on to see irregular snaps early on but eventually settled into the third receiver role — finishing the season with 14 receptions for 126 yards and two touchdowns as well as five carries for an additional 49 rushing yards.

2020 preview: Given his draft status and the upside he showed in 2019, Harry is expected to play a big role in the Patriots’ offensive attack in his second year. Getting healthy and carving out considerable practice reps with the starting quarterback — whether it is impending free agent Tom Brady or somebody else — will be the key, but the flashes during his rookie season make the 22-year-old an intriguing player to watch heading into the next season. He does need a quick turnaround, though.

Jakobi Meyers

Position: Z-receiver

Age: 23

Contract status: Under contract through the 2021 season. Meyers has a salary cap hit of $588,333 in 2020.

2019 review: Signed as a free agent after going undrafted, Meyers carved out a role on the Patriots’ 53-man roster following a string of impressive performances during training camp and the preseason. New England primarily used him as a role-specific Z-receiver that saw most of his action from the slot, which led to the rookie seeing only irregular playing time while fighting through some obvious growing pains. Nevertheless, he still caught 26 passes for 359 yards

2020 preview: Meyers showed his potential as a depth receiver in 2019, but he is still not guaranteed a roster spot in year two: too inconsistent were his performances and his playing time despite the Patriots’ wide receiver position as a whole struggling. If Meyers can get better against press-man coverage, become a more consistent receiver — he was credited with three drops last year — and contribute more on special teams, however, he should at least be in a position again to find a role as a third/fourth receiver.

Gunner Olszewski

Position: Slot receiver

Age: 23

Contract status: Under contract through the 2021 season. Olszewski has a salary cap hit of $585,833 in 2020.

2019 review: Another undrafted free agent that made his way onto the Patriots’ 53-man roster, Olszewski’s first year in the league had its ups and downs: he did serve as New England’s primary punt returner and averaged 9.0 yards on his 20 runbacks, but also had a muff that was returned for a touchdown before eventually being placed on season-ending injured reserve in mid-November after sustaining hamstring and ankle injuries.

2020 preview: Like Jakobi Meyers, Olszewski is far from guaranteed a spot on the team in 2020. As solid as his special teams contributions may have been, his limited offensive usage might make it tough for him to make the roster again — especially if the Patriots invest in the receiver position over the course of the offseason. Nevertheless, he will get another shot at proving his worth during spring practices and in training camp.

Devin Ross

Position: X-receiver

Age: 24

Contract status: Under contract through the 2020 season. Ross has a salary cap hit of $510,000 in 2020.

2019 review: Another former undrafted free agent that found his way to New England, Ross joined the Patriots’ practice squad in mid-October after being on the open market since his release from the Philadelphia Eagles three months earlier. He spent the rest of the regular season and the playoffs on the developmental roster.

2020 preview: Ross signed a reserve/futures contract with the Patriots after their season came to an end and could get a chance to compete for a roster spot in 2020.

Mohamed Sanu

Position: Slot receiver

Age: 30

Contract status: Under contract through the 2020 season. Sanu has a salary cap hit of $6.5 million in 2020.

2019 review: Sanu started the 2019 season with the Atlanta Falcons, but was moved to the Patriots in exchange for a second-round draft choice prior to the NFL’s trade deadline in October. Once in New England, the veteran immediately made an impact by filling the second receiver role alongside Julian Edelman and catching 12 passes for 104 yards and a touchdown in his first two games with the club.

An ankle injury suffered in Week 11, however, forced Sanu to miss one game and limited him for the rest of the season. He eventually improved again towards the end of the regular season, but failed to get on the same page as Tom Brady on numerous occasions. Despite his quick start, therefore, the ex-Falcon ultimately finished his first half-season in New England with nine in-game appearances and just 27 receptions for 218 yards and one touchdown.

2020 preview: Coming off a mostly disappointing season, the Patriots could opt to part ways with Sanu and in turn save $6.5 million against their salary cap. Such a move would be a minor surprise, though, given that the team invested a second-round draft selection in him just three months ago. What seems more likely therefore is the 30-year-old getting a full offseason to prove his value to the club before any decisions are being made.

Matthew Slater

Position: X-receiver

Age: 34

Contract status: Set to enter free unrestricted agency on March 18.

2019 review: Earning his second first-team All-Pro nomination, Slater showed that he was still among the league’s premier special teams players even at age 34. The team captain registered not just 10 special teams tackles, he also forced one fumble, recovered another, blocked a punt and scored the first touchdown of his NFL career. Throughout the year, Slater played a big role in the Patriots fielding one of the best kick coverage units in all of football.

2020 preview: Even though he is scheduled to enter free agency, it is hard to see Slater play somewhere else next season: he is still performing at a high level, is one of the most respected players in the locker room, and will likely not command top dollar. Add it all up, and the only way that he is not back in 2020 appears to be a retirement.