The Patriots' 2010 season was heavily defined by a controversial midseason move at wide receiver. They traded Randy Moss to the Vikings for a third-round pick during the Week 5 bye, and a few days later, the Pats snagged Deion Branch from the Seahawks.
The series of trades signified New England's transition to a more efficient, workmanlike offense, and almost immediately, Branch and Tom Brady rekindled their old on-field connection.
Heading into the 2011 offseason, the Patriots' wide receivers have a nice mix of young and old.
Wide Receivers on Final Roster
Deion Branch, Julian Edelman, Taylor Price, Matthew Slater, Brandon Tate, Wes Welker, Buddy Farnham (practice squad), Darnell Jenkins (practice squad/injured)
Welker led the Patriots with 86 receptions and 848 receiving yards, and he was second on the team with seven receiving touchdowns.
Welker and Branch are each signed through 2011, and Branch has already told NESN.com he wants to play longer than that and eventually retire as a member of the Patriots. While the Pats can wait to deal with Branch, they should be more inclined to extend Welker's contract this offseason. Welker has been the heart and soul of this team for four years — although, surprisingly, he's never been elected captain — and his toughness in the middle of the football field helps drive the offense.
It would be risky to give Welker a contract extension now because of the amount of vicious hits he takes on a game-by-game basis, but his price will likely only increase in a year, especially if he is willing to test the open market. It isn't an absolute necessity to extend Welker's contract this offseason, but it would be a nice gesture of good faith.
Will the Patriots attempt to make an upgrade at the third receiver position?
Second-year receiver Brandon Tate showed potential on kickoff returns, and his speed is always going to be an asset. However, he only had 24 receptions — running back Danny Woodhead had 34 — for 432 yards and three touchdowns, and he only had 13 catches in the last 12 games of the regular season. By no means is Tate a finished product, which should create some optimism, and he spent much of his previous two years recovering from knee injuries.
Some of Tate's chances were lost due to the development of the rookie tight ends, but the Patriots still need more production out of their third wide receiver. If they aren’t sure that Tate can take a big step forward next season, they could go after an intriguing cast of free agents, such as Vincent Jackson, Sidney Rice, Malcom Floyd, Steve Smith (the Giants' version), Donte Stallworth, Mike Sims-Walker, Santana Moss or Chad Ochocinco, if he becomes available. There's also an intriguing crop of wide receivers available in the draft, headlined by A.J. Green (likely top-five pick), Julio Jones (somewhere in the 10-20 range) and Jonathan Baldwin (a late first-rounder).
The Patriots can stay in house and hope Tate, Price and/or Jenkins progress — obviously, New England's offense was just fine last season — but if they'd like to make an upgrade, they'll have plenty of avenues to search.
Tuesday, Jan. 25: Tight Ends
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