The leaves are starting to change colors, Dunkin’ released its fall flavors, and the Patriots need additional help at wide receiver. It’s September in New England, folks.
For the last three years, the Patriots have at least attempted to address their need at wide receiver around this time of year. The Patriots traded for Phillip Dorsett, a 2015 first-round pick, on Sept. 2, 2017. On Sept. 17, 2018 — the day after the Patriots’ Week 2 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, New England swung a deal for Josh Gordon, a 2013 Pro Bowl selection. Last year, the Patriots signed Antonio Brown, seven-time Pro Bowler, the day before their season opener. Brown played for New England in Week 2 and was released five days later.
The Patriots skipped 2016, but they did trade for Keshawn Martin On Sept. 17, 2015. So, given recent patterns, it would actually be odd if the Patriots didn’t try to trade wide receiver.
Taking a look at the Patriots’ wide receiver depth chart, the franchise should be even more desperate for another pass catcher this season. It’s Julian Edelman, who played just 58 percent of Week 1 snaps, at the top, followed by 2019 first-round pick N’Keal Harry, veteran free-agent addition Damiere Byrd and 2019 undrafted free agent Jakobi Meyers. Another 2019 UDFA, Gunner Olszewski, in on injured reserve. Devin Ross, Isaiah Zuber, Kristian Wilkerson and Mason Kinsey are on the practice squad.
That’s a lot of names with very little NFL production. And if Edelman is going to see a reduction in playing time, then that increases the need for another starting-caliber receiver even more.
The Patriots did run on 64 percent of Week 1 offensive snaps, which lessens the need for experienced pass-catchers, but that’s probably not sustainable for the entire season. Patriots quarterback Cam Newton currently is on pace for just 336 dropbacks. The fewest number of dropbacks Newton has taken in a 16-game season came in 2013 with 516 combined passing attempts and sacks. The Patriots went run-heavy in 2016 when quarterback Tom Brady dropped back 489 times, but that’s still over 30 passing plays per game.
So, who’s available for the Patriots? The popular names bandied about are Cleveland Browns wideout Odell Beckham Jr. and Chicago Bears receiver Allen Robinson.
Beckham is coming off of a four-catch, 74-yard one-touchdown performance on “Thursday Night Football” in Cleveland’s win over the Cincinnati Bengals. It was one of his more productive games in a Browns uniform and gave some hope for the 2020 Cleveland offense. The Browns could sell high, but why?
Robinson seems more attainable. He wants a contract, doesn’t seem particularly happy without one, and Chicago has some other starting-caliber receivers on their roster like Anthony Miller and Ted Ginn Jr. Running back Tarik Cohen even played 225 snaps outside of the backfield last season.
The Patriots have salary cap room to not only add Robinson via trade but also give him the extension he desires. Outside of those two options, the Patriots would probably be shopping via the scrap heap.
Bengals rookie quarterback Joe Burrow has thrown for 509 yards in two games, but only 17 of those have gone to 2017 first-round pick John Ross, who played behind Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins, A.J. Green and even Mike Thomas — the other Mike Thomas — on Thursday night. He might be an upgrade over Byrd if the Patriots are looking for pure speed. It’s tough to imagine him passing Boyd, Higgins and Green on that depth chart any time soon.
Perhaps the Patriots could pry Curtis Samuel away from the Carolina Panthers. Samuel is playing third fiddle behind D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson in Carolina, and his targets will also be limited with running back Christian McCaffrey heavily in the mix. Samuel played well with Newton in 2018, when he caught 39 passes for 494 yards with five touchdowns. He’d add another rushing threat, as well.
The Patriots don’t necessarily need to add another wide receiver, but their passing upside is limited with the current options. Rookie tight ends Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene have yet to pass Ryan Izzo on the depth chart. The Patriots do have solid pass catchers in their running-back stable with James White, Rex Burkhead, J.J. Taylor and, eventually, Damien Harris.
Perhaps Newton and the Patriots are high on Byrd, but they didn’t show it in Week 1. Byrd led receivers in snaps and wasn’t targeted. Harry certainly has upside, and Newton likes him, but ideally the Patriots would have another top option. It takes two to tango, so even if the Patriots want another wide receiver, another team will have to be willing to let one go.