Finishing the 2022 season with an 8-9 record and out of the playoffs, the New England Patriots have plenty of work to do to return to postseason contention. One big part of this process will be taking care of their own class of free agents.
Quite a few players are headed for the open market, with a total of 21 players that were with New England last year in need of a new contract. Among them is wide receiver Nelson Agholor, who is an unrestricted free agent and will therefore hit the open market on March 15.
Name: Nelson Agholor
Position: Wide receiver
Jersey number: 15
Opening day age: 30
Size: 6-foot-0, 200 pounds
Contract status: Unrestricted free agent
What is his experience? After three impressive seasons at USC, Agholor decided to forgo his 2015 senior campaign in order to enter the NFL Draft. The decision was a good one as he heard his name called in the first round; the Philadelphia Eagles made him the 20th overall player and fourth wide receiver to come off the board. Agholor saw prominent playing time right away, and over the next few seasons developed into a productive member of the Eagles’ passing offense and top-two option at the wide receiver position.
Over his five years with the Eagles — Philadelphia opted to exercise the fifth-year option in his rookie pact — Agholor appeared in a combined 76 regular season and playoff games and caught 243 passes for 2,720 yards and 18 touchdowns. Unfortunately, however, he produced a sub-par season while playing for a new contract in 2019: Agholor posted his worst receiving numbers since his second year in the league, and eventually had to sign a minimum-salary deal with the Las Vegas Raiders as a free agent.
Agholor rebounded nicely during his lone season in Las Vegas and established himself as a bona fide deep threat in the team’s offensive system. Catching 48 passes for 896 yards — an impressive 18.7-yard average per catch — as well as eight touchdowns, he also set himself up nicely for yet another trip to free agency. Agholor ended up signing a $22 million contract with the Patriots, but eventually registered only 69 catches for 853 yards and five touchdowns in his two seasons with the club.
What did his 2022 season look like? Coming off a somewhat disappointing first season with the Patriots, Agholor was seen as a candidate to have his contract modified in order to decrease a salary cap number of $14.88 million. No such move happened, however, and the team apparently felt comfortable heading into the 2022 year with the veteran wideout at his original price tag. There was good reason for that: Agholor looked good in training camp, and showed some solid chemistry with quarterback Mac Jones.
It only partially carried over into the regular season. Playing a more nuanced role than he had the previous year, Agholor appeared in 16 of 17 games and was on the field for 476 of a possible 1,052 offensive snaps (45.3%). His usage and, in turn, production fluctuated quite a bit throughout the season, however: most of his output happened over the first four weeks of the season, when he caught 14 passes for 225 yards and a touchdown. From Week 5 on, meanwhile, his numbers took a nosedive.
That day against the Detroit Lions, he did not catch any passes before suffering a hamstring injury. The issue knocked him out for the next game, and limited him over the subsequent weeks as well. Was that the only reason for his downturn in production, though? Probably not. After all, Agholor had also lost a pair of fumbles by that point and additionally saw his lone target versus Detroit result in an interception. Add the emergence of rookie Tyquan Thornton and you can see why he failed to keep up his production.
In total, Agholor finished the season with 31 catches on 50 targets for 362 yards and two touchdowns. Despite playing the same number of games as in 2022, his stats took a step back across the board. He did have encouraging moments — his games against Pittsburgh (Week 2) and Minnesota (Week 12) were among his best in a Patriots uniform — but they were few and far between: he failed to register even a single catch in six of his games. In fact, he had more tackles than receptions over the final three weeks of the season.
Free agency preview
What is his contract history? Even though he never quite lived up to his label as a first-round draft pick, Agholor has earned quite a bit of money since entering the NFL in 2015. He signed a four-year, $9.38 million rookie contract with the Eagles, followed by a one-year, $1.05 million deal in Las Vegas and his $22 million pact over two years with the Patriots. In total, Over the Cap estimates he has earned $41.64 million in contractual money through his career.
Which teams might be in the running? Several teams are in the market for some wide receiver help this offseason. The Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys come to mind as potential landing spots for an experienced if at times underwhelming option at the position.
Why should he be expected back? The 2022 season was a mulligan of sorts for the Patriots, with the coaching change from Josh McDaniels to Matt Patricia/Joe Judge not going well. Now that an experienced coordinator is back in the mix again in Bill O’Brien, the team could try to build on the talent it has in the building and its system already. Keeping Agholor would make sense from that point of view, and also if the team wants to build on its intentions to target the deeper parts of the field.
Why should he be expected to leave? Regardless of who was calling the shots on offense the last two years, Agholor’s production and price tag did not match. New England recognizing that and effectively moving on from the soon-to-be 30-year-old would not be a surprise, especially if other teams are willing to invest resources beyond the minimum level. Add the fact that the team is high on Tyquan Thornton and still has DeVante Parker under contract as a perimeter option for another year, and Agholor’s days in New England might be numbered.
What is his projected free agency outcome? The Patriots are likely not categorically opposed to bringing Agholor back despite his moderate output the last two years. However, they will not enter any bidding wars for a player of his age mostly used in a rotational capacity. As a result, it would not be a surprise to see him leave for another team on a one-year deal that pays him around $3 million.
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