Despite free agency starting to slow down, the New England Patriots remain a team to keep a close eye on. Not only are there still multiple players on the open market potentially worth pursuing, the team has also been linked to some high-profile wide receivers.
The position remains a need for the Patriots even after they signed JuJu Smith-Schuster to a three-year contract. At the moment, after all, they do not have an “alpha option” in the lineup: a WR1-type capable of making life easier not just for quarterback Mac Jones but also the team’s other receiving talent.
Players like that are not lying around just waiting to be picked up; it would supposedly take a significant investment to bring them aboard — financially, in the form of draft capital, or both. So, where do things currently stand on that front? Let’s go though each of the players linked to New England one-by-one to get a better feel and assess the current situation.
DeAndre Hopkins (Arizona Cardinals): Bill Belichick’s respect for Hopkins is well-documented, so the Patriots being linked to him is not a surprise. They indeed inquired about his availability, but nothing have come of it so far.
In fact, there are questions about just how serious New England really is involved in his market. One thing seems obvious, though: the Patriots paying the initially reported asking price — a second-round pick plus either a player or another draft selection — is unlikely to happen. What could help get things moving, though, was the recent trade involving Brandin Cooks.
The ex-Patriot was moved from Houston to Dallas this weekend, with the Cowboys trading a fifth-round pick in the 2023 draft as well as a sixth-rounder in 2024 to acquire the 29-year-old. Cooks is younger than the soon-to-be 31-year-old Hopkins, but does not have the same pedigree; the Texans also agreed to paid parts of his salary pre-trade.
All in all, though, it could serve as a benchmark for a potential Hopkins trade. The Patriots giving up lower-level draft capital seems a lot more realistic, especially for a player on the wrong side of 30 whose contract would have to be restructured.
Jerry Jeudy (Denver Broncos): The Patriots have expressed interest in the former first-round draft pick, but so far have not been willing to meet the Broncos’ asking price: the team is reportedly looking for either a first-round selection back, or a high second-rounder plus a player. Given that any club acquiring Jeudy would sill have control over his rookie contract for the next two seasons, it makes sense Denver is not giving him up for cheap.
That said, these demands have so far not only scared away the Patriots. The Cowboys were also rumored to be in the market, but they ended up acquiring the aforementioned Brandin Cooks instead. The Cleveland Browns also reportedly had an eye on Jeudy, but eventually made a trade with the New York Jets to bring Elijah Moore on board.
That leaves the Patriots as the only team standing, at least among those whose interest has been reported. However, with the Broncos in no apparent rush to move on from him and New England not willing to pay up, the two teams appear to be at an impasse of sorts.
Odell Beckham Jr. (UFA): After sitting out all of 2022 following an ACL injury, Beckham Jr. is ready to return to the NFL. He already held a free agent workout in Los Angeles earlier this month that was visited by 12 teams, the Patriots among them.
New England and Beckham Jr. have been linked for years, but so far nothing has transpired. One of the main reasons in the past was contractual demands, and those will again be a deciding factor. How much the 30-year-old really is looking for remains unknown at this point, but it is clear he will not get the rumored $15-plus million he was looking for earlier in the offseason — especially from the Patriots.
In fact, it seems more likely that they would offer a lower-level salary with incentives to possibly push the deal into the mid-single-digits. How that would compare to other clubs having expressed interest such as the Jets or Kansas City Chiefs remains to be seen. But New England should not be expected to bend over backwards just to get the former Pro Bowler on board.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba (Ohio State): The Patriots could go the free agency or trade route to acquire premier wide receiver talent, but they very much could also just look at the draft. Sitting at No. 14 in the first round, after all, they might be in position to get arguably the top prospect available: Ohio States’ Jaxon Smith-Njigba.
How real the Patriots’ interest really is is hard to gauge. However, they are certainly doing their homework: not only did they meet with him at the Scouting Combine, they also sent five representatives to the Ohio State Pro Day on Wednesday — including members of their offensive coaching staff as well as director of player personnel Matt Groh and college scouting director Camren Williams.