The New England Patriots loaded up on wide receivers on Saturday.
Oddly, both players spent more than half their passing snaps as slot receivers in 2013 — a role that Danny Amendola will likely fill in 2014.
LaFell won’t play very often in the slot for the Patriots this season, despite his history at the position. He’s likely being brought in as competition for Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce. Both receivers had impressive flashes last season, but they’ll have to prove they’ve emerged to stick around for a second year.
Last year’s second-round pick Aaron Dobson had the best season for a Patriots rookie wide receiver, but he’s coming off a broken foot that could keep him out of minicamp. LaFell could just be a depth signing, but it might also signify a lack of trust in the development of all three second-year receivers.
Last year proved that quarterback Tom Brady lacked dependable options when he struggled to start the season without tight end Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski is a constant health risk, so it’s important for the Patriots to bring in veterans like LaFell who have proven to have NFL success.
The Patriots are obviously hoping Dobson, Thompkins and Boyce can take a second-year leap. But it wasn’t wise for head coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to depend on that.
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound LaFell had 49 catches for 627 yards and five touchdowns in 2013. He’s maintained consistency throughout his career, catching 36 to 49 passes for 468 to 677 yards in all four NFL seasons. LaFell has missed just four games during his career. He can likely play the “X”, “Z” and slot positions in the Patriots’ offense.
LaFell probably doesn’t have breakout potential with the Patriots, but his proven success helps a group that lacked his size plus experience.
LaFell ran a 4.54-second 40-yard dash at his pro day, coming out of LSU in 2010. He ran an impressive 6.81-second three-cone drill, which flashes his agility and change of direction.
The Patriots might not be done signing veteran wide receivers. They’re reportedly bringing Kenny Britt in for a workout on Sunday. Britt has a checkered history, but he’s a legit No. 1 “X” receiver when his head is screwed on straight.
LaFell isn’t quite as exciting of a free-agent pickup as cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, but if it helps Brady maintain his sanity in 2014, it will pay off. Brady was obviously flustered being forced to deal with a bunch of rookies in 2013.
The Patriots’ free-agent period started off slow, but they’ve been active in the second wave of signings when players are coming cheaper.