As free agency is expected to begin this week, barring any last-minute Coronavirus delays, the New England Patriots seem ready to add several offensive weapons this offseason, especially if they want help in convincing free-agent quarterback Tom Brady to stay around.
According to MMQB’s Albert Breer, the Patriots were “sniffing around” the trade market in hope to find some new pass catchers. Breer went on to mention that Brady was hoping to play with a better supporting cast than he did last season. And even with an extremely talented draft class of wide receivers, it might be expected Brady would prefer more veteran help, especially after the Patriots took N’Keal Harry in the first round of last year’s draft.
Despite only around $19.5 million in salary cap available at the moment, a plethora of draft picks in this upcoming draft, including three third-round selections, makes New England fully capable of swinging a deal for a new wide receiver. It might also make more sense than breaking the bank for the top talent on the open market, such as Amari Cooper.
Where New England would start to look for veteran help is undecided. One could imagine they would check in with teams they are familiar with, such as the Houston Texans, Detroit Lions, and Miami Dolphins, who all have former Patriots assistants as their head coach. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons could also be in play, as respective general managers Jason Licht and Thomas Dimitroff come from New England.
So then, where do the Patriots start with trade candidates? In the past, New England has targeted players who are former first-round picks who that set to play under their fifth-year options (Brandin Cooks, Jonathan Cooper, Phillip Dorsett, Danny Shelton). This year, receivers from the 2017 draft fall under that category.
While Odell Beckham Jr. and Stefon Diggs would be the most ideal targets for New England, they might not be the most realistic options. Here is therefore a list of more sensible players that could interest the Patriots.
Davis falls under the bill of a 2017 first-round selection that Tennessee must decide if it wants to pick up his fifth-year option by May 30. Taken fifth overall, Davis has never lived up to the hype, but showed signs of his potential in 2018 with 65 receptions for 891 yards and four touchdowns.
After the Titans selected A.J. Brown in the second round of last year’s draft, however, Davis regressed as he was passed on the depth chart, hauling in just 43 passes for 601 yards and two touchdowns. New England has seen his abilities first hand, as Davis lit up Stephon Gilmore and the Patriots’ secondary for 125 yards and a touchdown back in 2018.
With Tennessee having difficult decisions coming with free agents such as Derrick Henry and Logan Ryan, while just agreeing on a new $118 million deal with quarterback Ryan Tannehill, they could choose to trade Davis and save $3.9 million on the cap, which would be his salary with the Patriots.
Davis would give New England a receiver with strong size on the outside (6-foot-3, 209 pounds) and a potentially high upside.
John Ross, Cincinnati Bengals
Ross is another 2017 first-round pick that has never been able to put it together in the NFL. The ninth overall pick in 2017 has been slowed by injuries throughout his career and was reportedly being shopped by the Bengals last offseason.
Trading Ross would save Cincinnati $2.8 million in cap space instead of the $5.4 million-dollar salary he currently holds. A trade could be likely, as releasing the five-year veteran would save Cincinnati no cap space.
Ross’ best season came last year, when he caught 28 passes for 506 yards with three touchdowns in eight games. He recorded just 210 yards and seven touchdowns in 2018, and was held catchless in his three games rookie year.
A Ross acquisition wouldn’t exactly solve all of the Patriots offensive issues, but if Ross could stay healthy, his 4.22 40-yard speed would provide an element to the offense New England has not had in years past. It would be an interesting move, but not the only one New England could make.
Will Fuller V, Houston Texans
One of the most intriguing options that could be available is Texans wide receiver Will Fuller. Fuller is in the last year of his rookie deal that will pay him slightly north of $10 million.
Another receiver who has battled injuries throughout his career, but when healthy, Fuller is one of the best deep ball receivers in the league. He has averaged 14.3 yards per catch throughout his career, and would provide burner like speed with big play potential to the Patriots offense that was anything but explosive last season.
During the 2019 season, Houston averaged 296.8 passing yards per game with Fuller on the field, per ESPN Stats & Information. That number was nearly cut in half (158.3) when Fuller was not on the field.
His impact is extremely noticeable, but the 25-year-old has never suited up for all 16 games in a season. If Bill O’Brien and Co. don’t believe they can trust him long-term, they could move on and use the money towards expected contract extensions to quarterback Deshaun Watson and left tackle Laremy Tunsil.
Marvin Jones Jr, Detroit Lions
Swinging a deal for Marvin Jones would provide New England with much needed depth, reliability and experience at the wide receiver position. Entering his age 30 season, Jones is in the last year of his current deal worth $6.5 million, similar to Mohamed Sanu.
Jones would provide a big-bodied outside receiver, standing at 6-foot-2, 198 pounds, who is able to make plays down the field. His career yards per catch totals at 14.5 yards, and he led the league in this category in 2017 when he had 18.0 yards per reception. While Jones ranked third lowest in yards of separation before a season-ending injury in Week 14, he was the second highest rated receiver in contested catch rate.
Said ankle injury forced him to miss the Lions’ last three games in 2019, but he was on his way to eclipsing 1,000 yards for the second time in his career before being shut down: he tallied 62 receptions for 779 yards and nine scores in 13 games. He is still an extremely capable player who provides value to any NFL roster.
With Kenny Golladay establishing himself as Detroit’s clear cut No. 1 receiver and the renewed deal with Danny Amendola, Detroit easily afford to trade away Jones. The Lions could most likely use a day two or day three pick and choose a receiver from the talented class to help replace his production, and use the cap savings to help fill out their roster in other areas.
Marquise Goodwin, San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers made it clear they will not release Marquise Goodwin, but they might trade him.
“We wouldn’t release Marquise. He’s too valuable,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said, via Matt Barrows of The Athletic. “We could [trade Goodwin], yeah. You also don’t get rid of valuable people just for nothing. So we’ll have him come back and compete and if that doesn’t work out we could always possibly trade him. There are lots of things that are open. But I don’t know that exact answer yet.”
Goodwin had a career year back in 2017 with San Francisco, nearly eclipsing 1,000 yards while averaging 17.2 yards per catch. However, due to injuries and personal reasons he has struggled in his last two seasons, combining for just under 600 receiving yards in 20 games.
Goodwin, much like Ross, has blazing fast speed (4.27 40-yard dash) that the Patriots offense has not had of late. He wouldn’t fix all their issues at the position, but the speed element could be worth a flier.
While the 49ers’ young core of wide receivers is emerging quickly, Goodwin could be had for a late round draft pick. He has two years remaining on his contract, where he’ll be owed roughly over $10 million.
Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, Los Angeles Rams
The Rams are in all sorts of trouble between their ugly unofficial new logo and contract management. After losing in the Super Bowl to New England and paying out mega deals to the likes of Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, Brandin Cooks, and Aaron Donald, the Rams finished 9-7 last year and missed the playoffs.
After dealing an assortment of draft picks to Jacksonville for cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who is in need of his own mega contract extension, Los Angeles is without a first-round pick until 2022. Currently, the team is also projected to lose offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth in free agency, as defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. could also be out the door.
Next offseason, arguably Los Angeles’ best offensive player, Cooper Kupp, will be seeking a new deal. However, it might not come from Los Angeles with other players eating up large chucks of cap space. The Rams could be forced to move Kupp for draft capital instead of watching him leave in free agency the following year.
Enter New England, who would be a dream match for the 26-year-old.
Kupp is in the last year of his deal with a $2.1 million cap hit, and is one of the best route runners in the league who has a knack for getting open (a big struggle for New England receivers last year). Just a year removed from tearing his ACL, Kupp posted 94 receptions for 1,161 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2019.
The two sides have familiarity with these types of deals, as New England sent wide receiver Brandin Cooks in the last year of his deal to Los Angeles back in 2018. This potential trade could look awfully similar, as the Patriots’ 23rd overall pick and one of their three third-round selections could entice the Rams to budge.
However, if Los Angeles believes Kupp is too valuable to deal no matter what the return is, New England could shift its focus to Robert Woods. Woods has two years remaining on his contract, where he’d be owed $5.5 million this season and just over $9 million next year.
While Woods doesn’t get the attention of the other Los Angeles stars, his play deserves it. In 15 games last season, he recorded 90 catches for 1,134 yards but just two touchdowns. According to Pro Football Focus, he also recorded the 10th highest run blocking grade of any wide receiver. The year before, the 27-year-old tallied 86 receptions for 1,219 yards and six scores.
Woods is an extremely reliable and talented wide receiver, and one the Rams could let go in order to obtain draft capital, while saving nearly $5 million in salary cap space.
New England recently hired former Rams assistant offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, who is quite familiar with utilizing either wideout. Acquiring either Woods or Kupp would be valuable additions for New England, and would take some of the pressure off of Julian Edelman, Mohamed Sanu and N’Keal Harry.
Who would you like to see the Patriots acquire? Leave a comment below or let me know on Twitter @iambrianhines