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Patriots 2021 free agency profile: Will Donte Moncrief become more than a half-year rental? Don’t count on it.

Related: Patriots free agency profile: CB Jason McCourty

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New England Patriots v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Coming off a disappointing 2020 campaign, the New England Patriots are headed into a pivotal offseason: they need to rebuild a roster that went just 7-9 last year and is in need of some major upgrades across the board. Part of those could be bringing back the players scheduled to enter free agency — and there are quite a few of them.

All in all, 26 players that were with New England in one way last season are in need of a new contract. Among them is wide receiver Donte Moncrief, who is an unrestricted free agent and will therefore hit the open market on March 17.

Hard facts

Name: Donte Moncrief

Position: Wide receiver/Kickoff returner

Jersey number: 14

Opening day age: 28

Size: 6-foot-2, 215 pounds

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent

Experience

What is his experience? Following a productive three years at Ole Miss during which he caught 156 passes for 2,371 yards and 20 touchdowns, Moncrief decided to forgo his final season of college eligibility to enter the 2014 NFL draft. The decision paid off, as he heard his name called in the third round when the Indianapolis Colts made him the 90th overall selection. Moncrief went on to spend the entirety of his four-year rookie pact in Indianapolis, appearing in 56 games for the organization.

While he had a productive stint with the Colts — 157 catches for 1,961 yards and 19 scores — he left for the Jacksonville Jaguars during the 2018 offseason. Playing on a one-year, $9.6 million deal, Moncrief caught 48 passes for 668 yards and three touchdowns — his most productive season since 2015. However, his career took a turn for the worse at that point. After half a season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Moncrief spent time with the Carolina Panthers and New York Jets before finding his way to New England.

What did his 2020 season look like? Coming off a 2019 campaign that saw him spend time with two teams and catch just four passes for 18 yards, Moncrief did not generate much interest during the 2020 offseason. He remained unsigned through free agency and started training camp without a team. While he did work out with the San Francisco 49ers and the Jets, it took until late August before the latter signed him to a one-year deal. Just six days later, he was cut again and added to New York’s practice squad.

Moncrief stayed with the Jets until mid-October — even though he spent most of the time on the practice squad injured reserve list — before getting released for good. In early November, however, he received another opportunity when the Patriots added him to their own practice squad following a workout. The former third-round pick spent a month on the developmental roster before officially being signed to the 53-man squad. Before that move, he had already been elevated to the game day roster twice.

All in all, Moncrief therefore appeared in six games for New England. While his contributions on the offensive side of the ball were almost non-existent — he played 25 of 557 possible snaps after joining the team (4.5%), caught one 15-yard pass, and had a 4-yard run — the veteran did have some positive moments serving as a kickoff returner: Moncrief ran back seven kicks for an average of 23.6 yards per return. Also serving on the punt return and punt coverage units, he played a total of 75 special teams snaps (of 224; 33.5%).

Free agency preview

What is his contract history? Moncrief started his career by playing on a four-year, $2.8 million deal in Indianapolis but he did get his first big payday in 2018 when he signed the aforementioned one-year, $9.6 million pact — one that was fully guaranteed — with the Jaguars. The Steelers gave him $9 million over two years the following offseason, with the Panthers inheriting that contract after claiming him off waivers. Since then, however, he has only signed lower-level deals in New York and New England. All in all, however, his contractual career earnings are estimated at almost $19 million by Over the Cap.

Which teams might be in the running? Just like last year, the expectation is that Moncrief will likely not be considered a Phase One free agent once he hits the open market on March 17. That said, teams looking to add experienced wide receiver and return game depth might be interested. The Baltimore Ravens, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants and Washington Football Team are all potential suitors via Pro Football Focus.

Why should he be expected back? Even though he joined New England midway through the process, Moncrief was able to carve out a role in the kicking game and as a backup option at the wide receiver position. With the team having questions in both areas, resigning him on a cost-effective deal might be in the Patriots’ best interest — and if only to provide some experienced depth over the course of training camp.

Why should he be expected to leave? While Moncrief has some solid production on his career résumé, the Patriots need to overhaul their wide receiver room and focus on players that either have established themself in the system or have the upside to become future contributors. The 27-year-old has neither, and is therefore unlikely to emerge past reserve status even with a full offseason in New England under his belt.

What is his projected free agency outcome? Moncrief was a surprisingly solid contributor as a kickoff returner in 2020, but it would not be a surprise if the Patriots decided against retaining him — at least early on in the process. They do have plenty of resources, but those should primarily be invested in some higher-upside talent able of helping out in the passing game right away. Despite his past production, Moncrief does not appear to be such a player at this stage in his career.