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Patriots 2023 free agency targets: 12 wide receivers New England might be interested in

The Patriots need to upgrade the position, but free agency might not be the best place to do so.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots made some big investments in their wide receiver group the last two years. In 2021, the team signed Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor in free agency; one year later, it acquired DeVante Parker via trade and selected Tyquan Thornton in the second round of the draft.

Despite those moves, and the team still having ol’ reliable Jakobi Meyers in the lineup, the unit as a whole did not meet expectations in 2022. Part of it had to do with a general disconnect within the passing offense in Year 1 after long-time coordinator Josh McDaniels, but the Patriots also lacked any true difference-makers at the position.

New England addressing the spot this offseason would therefore not be a surprise, especially given who it has under contract at the moment:

  • DeVante Parker: 30 | Signed through 2023
  • Kendrick Bourne: 27 | Signed through 2023
  • Tyquan Thornton: 22 | Signed through 2025
  • Matthew Slater: 37 | Signed through 2023
  • Raleigh Webb: 25 | Signed through 2023
  • Lynn Bowden Jr.: 25 | Signed through 2023
  • Tre Nixon: 25 | Signed through 2023

Parker, Bourne and Thornton are the current top three in the Patriots’ wide receiver room, but they are far from an established starting group. Parker looked solid in 2022, but missed four games due to injury; Bourne’s role decreased significantly last season and there are questions about his long-term future with the team; Thornton is still unproven coming off a promising but inconsistent rookie campaign.

Meanwhile, two other members of the Patriots’ 2022 group are headed for free agency.

Agholor is entering the open market after back-to-back disappointing seasons that did not see him live up to his price tag. Meyers, meanwhile, is a player worth watching closely: within a thin crop of free agent wideouts, he might just be one of the top options available and as such subject to intense recruiting.

New England losing both players is certainly possible, which in turn would put further stress on the team’s efforts to find help at the position. That help coming via free agency is not a guarantee, despite the Patriots having considerable resources available.

Nonetheless, here are a few candidates that might be on the team’s radar once the market opens on March 15.

Parris Campbell (UFA): After a quiet first three years in Indianapolis, Campbell broke out in 2022. His 63-catch, 623-yard season that also saw him score three touchdowns set him up well for free agency. He will not break the bank even in a depressed receiver market, but has some potential as a rotational piece.

D.J. Chark (UFA): A former second-round draft pick who had a bounce-back season of sorts with the Detroit Lions in 2022, Chark has the size and speed to attack the field from the X-receiver position. The 26-year-old would likely not compete for a starting spot, but might find a role as a package-specific deep threat.

Kenny Golladay (UFA): As opposed to the other players on this list, Golladay is not entering free agency via an expiring contract: the New York Giants are planning to release him after he caught just six passes for 81 yards and a touchdown in 2022. This means that he will not count against the compensatory draft picks formula if picked up, which might just be worth a low-level flier just to see whether or not he can return to the levels of play he showed earlier in his career.

Mecole Hardman (UFA): An abdomen injury bothered him for much of the season, and contributed to Hardman having the worst statistical season of his career. However, the Kansas City Chiefs wideout should still find a robust market as a speedy and experienced inside/out receiver with a track record of production.

Deonte Harty (UFA): Harty was limited to only 24 snaps over four games in 2022. The year before that, however, he had 611 yards and three touchdowns on 41 touches. His size — 5-foot-6, 170 pounds — might be an issue for teams, but he has shown that he can make plays against NFL competition.

Mack Hollins (UFA): Hollins had a relatively nondescript career over his first four years in the NFL before breaking out in 2022 with the Las Vegas Raiders. Playing in a Patriots-like scheme under head coach Josh McDaniels, he caught 57 passes for 690 yards and four touchdowns. While not a WR1, his 6-foot-4, 221-pound frame makes him an interesting package player.

Richie James (UFA): James’ career progression is a lot like Mack Hollins’ albeit on a smaller scale, literally. At 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, he is more of a slot guy than a perimeter receiver. With a 6.87-second three-cone time, however, the Patriots might just give him a look particularly if they lose chain-mover Jakobi Meyers.

Allen Lazard (UFA): A former rookie free agent, Lazard showed some steady growth ever since his arrival in the NFL in 2018. His 2022 campaign was his best one to date, with him catching 60 passes for 788 yards and six scores. He is a similar player type than Kenny Golladay and Mack Hollins based on his size, but with better versatility and a much more promising overall résumé. He will also command more money as a result.

Zach Pascal (UFA): Pascal showed some promise earlier in his career, when he was still with the Indianapolis Colts. His one-year stint in Philadelphia in 2022 was a disappointment, but the hope is that he would regain his mojo in a new environment. Additionally, the 28-year-old offers some special teams value.

Darius Slayton (UFA): Another member of the Giants offense, Slayton was a much more productive player than Kenny Golladay in 2022. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound wideout caught 46 passes for 724 yards and two touchdowns, crossing the 700-yard mark for a third time in his four seasons in the league. Given his productivity and relative youth — he just turned 26 in January — Slayton projects as one of the more popular free agency wideouts this year.

Juju Smith-Schuster (UFA): One of the top-tier wide receivers available this year alongside Jakobi Meyers, Smith-Schuster offers a similar skillset and would be able to fill the Z-receiver spot in New England’s offense as well. The question is how much more cost-effective signing him versus retaining Meyers would really be. There is no denying he can be a productive player, though.

Olamide Zaccheaus (UFA): A former undrafted free agent, Zaccheaus improved every year since entering the NFL in 2019. The 2022 season was his best to date, seeing him catch 40 passes for 533 yards and three touchdowns for the Atlanta Falcons — all while catching passes from the likes of Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder.

There are a handful of wide receiver options in free agency that are certainly interesting and would make some sense from a Patriots perspective. However, if the team truly wants to make a splash to improve the position it would have to come differently: the only ways to get a real WR1 this offseason is either via the trade market of the draft, and even the latter lacks clear-cut blue-chip prospects.

As for free agency, meanwhile, New England’s biggest question is what will happen with Jakobi Meyers. If he stays put, the team likely will not make any major moves in free agency. But even if he leaves, replacing his production — and upgrading the wide receiver corps as a whole — through the open market might not happen.