Brandon Lloyd, Wes Welker Only Safe Receivers for Patriots and 19 Other Thoughts


Brandon Lloyd, Wes Welker Only Safe Receivers for Patriots and 19 Other ThoughtsThe Patriots have gotten much more aggressive in free agency, and they're continuing to build the team as they get closer to the draft.

The Patriots have added depth at several positions, putting themselves in a place where they won't have to necessarily reach for a particular position, though if they do, it will probably be on defense.

But that's still a month away. For now, let's run through this week's Two-Minute Drill.

1. With the addition of three wide receivers in three days, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is clearly setting up a massive competition to make the roster out of camp. That will only benefit the team because there are some good players who are going to push themselves purely for jobs, whereas in the past, their only worries may have been their snap totals.

2. At this point, wide receivers Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd will be the only true locks to make the team out of camp. Matthew Slater can fall in that category, too, but he's a special teamer for all intents and purposes. From there, Chad Ochocinco, Donte Stallworth, Anthony Gonzalez, Tiquan Underwood, Julian Edelman and Deion Branch (I'm still assuming he re-signs) will battle for the last three or four spots.

3. I also think the Patriots will draft a receiver in the first three rounds. Obviously, if it's a first- or second-round pick, the player would essentially be a lock to make the team. Third-rounders usually get the benefit of the doubt, but they don't have the same clout.

4. The recent signings — but the Gonzalez one, in particular — puts one of the most surprising storylines of 2011 back into focus, and I think it's one of the best questions surrounding the Patriots this offseason. What is Edelman's positional fate? No, he doesn't have to line up at just one position, but if the Patriots are loading their depth at receiver, will Edelman even have a place on that side of the ball? And if not, is his punt returning ability enough to find him a more permanent role on defense? There are so many layers to this question, and it will be difficult to pinpoint an answer for a few months.

5. There's plenty of speculation that Gonzalez could be depth for Welker in the event of a holdout, and I think that's fair. But at the end of the day, from everything I know about him, I'd be stunned if Welker held out.

6. I spoke with Stallworth on Monday, and he's genuinely ecstatic to rejoin the Patriots. I thought it was a good signing, and those who have read my stuff over the last couple of years probably already knew that. He's a good complementary player who has proven that he can step in and learn the offense, which has obviously been a challenge for other successful veterans in recent seasons.

7. I also understand plenty of Patriots fans don't like the move, but it didn't cost the Patriots much to bring him back. And if he doesn't make the team, hey, that means there was someone better. That's all you can ask for, right?

8. Anyway, I had two leftover quotes from the Stallworth interview that I thought were worth sharing. First, he noted the hype that's been building up in Washington over the eventual arrival of Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, whom the Redskins will draft with the second pick. Washington acquired the pick from St. Louis for three first-round picks and a second-rounder.

"I know the fans were very excited about that," Stallworth said. The fans were wanting that even before they knew what the Redskins had to give up. They have a lot riding on that kid, and I hope he does well. I'm sure he will. He's going to bring a lot of excitement to the city and the organization, so good for them. I'm excited to watch that kid play, and I hope he does well. I'm a big fan of his."

9. Second, Stallworth said it was pretty fun to have a big game against his former team last season. The wideout had four receptions for a season-high 96 yards during the Redskins' loss to the Patriots, and he also beat cornerback Devin McCourty for a season-long 51-yard catch.

"It felt pretty good," Stallworth said. "It's always good. Obviously, there were no harsh feelings with me leaving [New England], but any time you have your old team, you always want to play with a competitive drive. You always want to play well against your old team. Obviously, I always feel I can play better, but it was good to make a couple plays and give our team a chance to win that ballgame."

10. Since the Patriots are approaching double digits in the first week of free agency, it's worth noting how advantageous it will be for every team to run through a full offseason of camps. It will help on so many levels, and I'm only pointing out this obvious fact because I've heard from players who are really excited about it.

11. The question I keep hearing is, "Why have the Patriots signed so many offensive players when they should be focusing on defense?" Well, give it time.

12. The top defensive players off the board have landed sizeable contracts: defensive end Mario Williams (six years, $100 million), defensive end Kamerion Wimbley (five years, $35 million), defensive end John Abraham (three years, $17 million, give or take), defensive tackle Red Bryant (five years, $35 million), defensive tackle Kendall Langford (four years, $24 million), outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks (six years, $44.5 million), outside linebacker Jarret Johnson (four years, $19 million), cornerback Brandon Carr (five years, $50.1 million), cornerback Cortland Finnegan (five years, $50 million), cornerback Carlos Rogers (four years, $29.3 million) and safety Reggie Nelson (four years, $18 million). (All dollar amounts came from various reports.)

13. Just looking at that group, Abraham and Nelson may have been the only two players who could have drawn interest from New England, based on the values of the contracts. However, Abraham stayed with the Falcons for less money than anticipated, so he probably took a discounted deal. And Nelson got some pretty good money for a player who has just scratched the surface and could still go either way on his career arc.

14. There are a handful of talented players still available, including 4-3 outside linebacker Erin Henderson, inside linebacker London Fletcher, cornerback Tracy Porter and safety O.J. Atogwe. Porter is coming off a down year, so he'd be a logical candidate on a low-risk deal. And Atogwe fits an obvious need, so he could be on the Patriots' radar, too.

15. One more thing to consider: Jerod Mayo (five years, $48.5 million) and Vince Wilfork (five years, $40 million) set the pace for the Patriots' defensive contracts. Because the Patriots are dedicated to a hierarchy among salaries, they wouldn't give an outside player more money unless he was absolutely, truly worth it. That's just how it is.

16. So far, the only players the Patriots have appeared to lose out on, according to the team's interest, have been wide receiver Reggie Wayne, safety LaRon Landry and Bryant. Wayne's motives are sketchy. It's really difficult to criticize a player for being loyal to the only team he's ever known, but this case is different because the Colts just unloaded a number of homegrown players, namely Peyton Manning. Unless we find out how much money Wayne turned down elsewhere, it will be difficult to draw a full conclusion on his decision to stay in Indy.

17. Landry is an interesting case, too, and it will be easy to play armchair general manager in a few months when the world is able to assess his health. The Jets signed Landry for $4 million right after he visited the Patriots, and each team needed health at safety. But remember, it was less than a year ago when the Patriots spent $4 million to pry defensive end Shaun Ellis from the Jets.

18. It's a tough time for players who are trying to sign with a team that has been in the running for Manning or Tim Tebow. As one source put it, "Manning Mania has led to Tebowmania, and that has slowed the process."

19. Speaking of Tebow, I'd be stunned if the Patriots showed any interest in adding him for anything more than a fifth- or sixth-round pick, and that's totally dependent on his market anyway. But my question is this: Since Belichick has the utmost respect for Tebow, would Belichick really be interested in stunting Tebow's development as a quarterback by giving him an H-back role as someone who would line up all over the map? My guess would be no, regardless of how Belichick views Tebow as a quarterback.

20. And maybe Tebow wants to sing the company line and say he'll play any position if it helps the team win. If so, that's great to an extent. But also, if Tebow believes in his own ability as a quarterback, why would he even be interested in playing a different position? Until Tebow is told that no team is willing to pay him to play quarterback, it would be a red flag if he gave up on himself, especially after he helped the Broncos win a playoff game.

Have a question for Jeff Howe? Send it to him via Twitter at @jeffphowe or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

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