With Gunner Olszewski non-tendered and hitting unrestricted free agency, the New England Patriots could be in the market for a new punt returner this offseason.
One veteran who reportedly has caught their eye: wide receiver Dede Westbrook.
The Patriots “have shown interest in” the 28-year-old Westbrook, according to a report Wednesday from the Providence Journal’s Mark Daniels.
“There are several teams interested and the Patrs aren’t considered the favorites,” Daniels reported,” but they’ve checked in.”
Westbrook caught just 10 passes in 15 games for the Minnesota Vikings this season but saw plenty of work as a return man, returning 22 punts for 183 yards with a long of 45. He averaged 8.3 yards per runback to Olszewski’s 11.9.
Olszewski led the NFL in that category in 2020, averaging 17.3 yards per return to earn first-team All-Pro honors. But while Olszewski has yet to show much offensive capability in his three-year Patriots career, Westbrook enjoyed two productive seasons as a pass-catcher for the Jacksonville Jaguars, catching 66 passes for 717 yards and five touchdowns in 2018 and 66-660-3 in 2019 before an injury wiped out most of his 2020 campaign.
Patriots fans might remember Westbrook as the Jaguars receiver who was targeted on Stephon Gilmore’s iconic fourth-down pass breakup in the 2017 AFC Championship.
Olszewski still could return to the Patriots on a more affordable contract, as the cheapest restricted free agent tender would have paid him $2.4 million.
NFL free agency officially opened Wednesday afternoon.