Just three years after they acquired him as a first-round draft pick, the writing appears to be on the wall: N’Keal Harry’s days as a member of the New England Patriots are numbered.
The 32nd selection in the 2019 draft, Harry has struggled to carve out a consistent role within the Patriots’ offense. While he has appeared in 35 games over his first three seasons in the league, he caught just 59 passes for 519 yards and four touchdowns — all while serving primarily as a depth option and blocking receiver.
In 2021, he was the team’s fourth option at the position. Taking the field for 331 of a possible 1,169 offensive snaps for a playing time share of just 28.3 percent, Harry registered 12 receptions for 184 yards; his most notable play might have been a lost fumble on a punt return against the Buffalo Bills in Week 13.
The 24-year-old appeared to be on his way out of Foxborough even before the Patriots acquired fellow wide receiver DeVante Parker via trade over the weekend. That move, however, makes it even clearer that the team is ready to move in a different direction at the X-receiver spot: Parker is projected to play the same basic role as Harry, but offers proven production at the NFL level plus a more versatile skillset.
As a result of this trade plus Harry’s disappointing last three years, a divorce seems to be coming sooner rather than later. If it happens, the Patriots will likely attempt to facilitate a trade: trading him would create more net cap savings ($1.17 million) than a straight-up release ($493,111).
The question, obviously, is who would be willing to invest resources in the former first-round pick. There are a few teams that come to mind.
With Calvin Ridley suspended for the year and Russell Gage leaving in free agency, the Falcons might be left with the worst wide receiver depth chart in the NFL.
Returning veterans Olamide Zaccheaus, Frank Darby, Austin Trammell and Chad Hansen have caught a combined 55 passes for the organization, while free agency signings Auden Tate, KhaDarel Hodge and Damiere Byrd are also not world-beaters. Needless to say that Atlanta has a definitive need to find additional bodies and potential upgrades at the position.
Would N’Keal Harry be just that? Probably not. However, he would offer experience and something still powerful even after three disappointing seasons: first-round pedigree.
Beggars, as the old saying goes, can’t be choosers. The Falcons might therefore be willing to part ways with a late-round selection in order to get their hands on a player who does have some talent but is obviously not in the right spot to live up to his potential.
As opposed to the Falcons, who recently traded away long-time starting quarterback Matt Ryan, the Bears have already found their quarterback of the future. However, the supporting cast surrounding Justin Fields is not necessarily filled with proven talent — especially following the departure of Allen Robinson in free agency.
While Darnell Mooney is a good receiver coming off two productive seasons, the depth behind him is suspect. At the moment, free agency additions Byron Pringle and Equanimeous St. Brown projects as the next best options. It goes without saying that additional upgrades are needed.
The Bears will likely take to the draft to find those, but there is a chance they miss out on the top-tier receiving talent after trading away their first-round pick to move up to select Fields last year. But even if they are able to get one of the better wideouts available on board, adding more potential playmakers might be on general manager Ryan Pace’s agenda.
Harry has not proven himself as such, but the Bears might be a team willing to find out if they can help him salvage his career — all while providing their young QB with a big-bodied and athletically intriguing receiving option.
Even though CeeDee Lamb is a superstar in the making, the rest of the Cowboys’ wide receiver group has plenty of space for improvement. That is why Dallas has actively been pursuing wideouts this offseason, including new Patriots acquisition DeVante Parker.
So far, however, only former Pittsburgh Steelers receiver James Washington has been added. That is exactly why David Howman of Blogging The Boys is lobbying for the team to swing a trade with New England and bring Harry aboard:
[W]hy should the Cowboys have any interest in Harry? Well, for starters, he’s exactly the type of player this team looks for. He’s a former first-round pick who can now be had at a very low cost. ... Given Harry’s elite production in college, his strong athletic and physical profile, and how things have unfolded for him thus far, it seems like a change of scenery is the only way to unlock this former first-rounder’s potential. That new scenery should be Dallas, where the Cowboys are in need of receivers after losing [Cedrick] Wilson in free agency, trading away Amari Cooper, and potentially not having Michael Gallup to start the season.
Harry would neither replace Wilson nor Cooper, and he would also not suddenly take over for the ailing Michael Gallup. That said, he would represent a low-risk/high-reward acquisition for the team:
If the Cowboys can get Harry for a late Day 3 pick, or even sign him to a very cheap deal in the event of his release, they’d be getting a player with elite traits and strong potential for a rare low cost. If it doesn’t work out, then the Cowboys haven’t lost any real value. But if it does, and Harry regains the form that made him a first-round pick, it’ll be a grand slam for a front office in desperate need of one.
Harry suddenly living up to his first-round label would be a surprise, but that chance alone might be worth a shot from Dallas’ perspective.
Aaron Rodgers is back, but the future Hall of Fame quarterback had to watch three of his top five wide receivers from a year ago depart in free agency. Among them is All-Pro Devante Adams, who was traded to the Las Vegas Raiders after catching more passes in 2021 than the rest of the Packers’ wide receivers combined.
N’Keal Harry would not help replace Rodgers’ favorite receiver, but he might help raise the floor of a position group that is unproven outside of Allen Lazard and a declining Randall Cobb. That alone might be worth a late-round draft pick in the Packers’ eyes — and if it is only to show Rodgers that something is being done to address the situation.
Long-time New England director of player personnel Nick Caserio has never shied away from looking at his former club for talent: at the moment, eight former Patriots are under contract with the Texans, who added Caserio as their general manager in 2021.
Among them are two wide receivers, Brandin Cooks and Phillip Dorsett, and they project as starters at the moment. The rest of the position depth chart looks no better: with the exception of second-year man Nico Collins and free agency pickup DaeSean Hamilton, Houston has no real proven talent under contract at the wide receiver spot.
Harry would not necessarily be an upgrade — at least not if judged by his performance in New England so far — but he offers far more potential than the likes of Jalen Camp, Damon Hazelton or Davion Davis. As with the other four teams on this list, that alone might be worth investing a late-round selection or depth player in a trade.
Jeremy Brener of Battle Red Blog already made that argument last offseason, after Harry’s agent publicly demanded his client be traded:
Coming to Houston could be the perfect mix of new scenery and familiarity. ... As a rebuilding team, the Texans should be welcoming as much talent as possible. Harry provides this, and Houston should look to make a trade for him. I can’t imagine Harry goes for more than a seventh-round pick at this point, so in the chance he doesn’t work out, the Texans wouldn’t have spent much. It’s a very low-risk, high-reward situation that should pique the interest of rebuilding teams like the Texans.
While the circumstances have changed over the last year — for starters, Houston fired head coach David Culley — the basic idea behind trading for Harry remains the same from Houston’s perspective. The difference between the Texans and the Falcons, Bears, Cowboys and Packers is that their GM knows Harry inside and out, and just three years ago deemed him worthy of a first-round draft pick.