NEPD Editor: Matthew Jones
New England’s primary concerns this offseaosn should be re-signing their own free agents and preparing for the 2013 NFL Draft, but the Patriots typically wade into free agency as well. Last season the team signed fifteen players from other teams; while that number should be smaller in 2013, a number of players appear logical possibilities. Today, offensive free agent options will be examined; be sure to check back tomorrow for the defensive list.
WR Danny Amendola, Rams
Amendola isn’t the biggest or fastest wide receiver, but his savvy route running could make him a younger, cheaper alternative to impending free agent Wes Welker, a fellow Texas Tech alum. While he is not quite as quick as Welker (10.6 yards per reception and an average of 4.1 gained after the catch compared to Welker’s 12.0 and 6.0), Amendola caught an impressive 66.3% of passes thrown towards him with just two drops on the season (Welker caught 70.2% but dropped a league-leading nineteen passes.) One cause for concern is Amendola’s injury history, which included a broken collarbone this season.
The 27 year-old Amendola is six years younger than Welker; he makes a lot of sense considering New England’s recent youth movement, as well as the money they already have tied up in Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Brandon Lloyd.
WR Donnie Avery, Colts
The St. Louis Rams shocked many onlookers back in 2008 when they made Donnie Avery the top wide receiver selected in his draft class; the Rams were evidently blown away by Avery’s combination of collegiate production and incomprehensible Pro Day results (4.27 in the 40-yard dash, 3.91 seconds in the short shuttle, 6.3 seconds in the cone drill, 37.5″ vertical.)
In 2008 and 2009, Avery was productive, averaging 50 catches and over 600 yards per season; however, his career was eventually threatened by a devastating knee injury suffered against New England during the 2010 preseason. The injury took essentially two seasons to recover from (he caught just three passes in 2011), but Avery rebounded by catching 62 passes this season for 793 yards (including playoffs.)
Avery’s speed could potentially help New England enhance their downfield passing game; however, he is a low-percentage receiver with a propensity for drops, having caught just 52.5% of his targets on the season and miffing fourteen potential catches.
WR Brian Hartline, Dolphins
Hartline, a 2009 fourth-round pick out of Ohio State, emerged as one of the most targeted receivers in the league this season, catching 74 passes on 118 throws in his direction (62.7%). The receiver gave New England some difficulty in both matchups with the Dolphins last season, catching five passes for 84 yards in week thirteen and five passes for 69 yards in the season finale.
Signing Hartline would weaken Miami’s offense and potentially provide New England with a deep threat; the receiver caught 13/25 deep throws for 421 yards and one touchdown this season. However, it may be risky to pay a possession receiver with only one season of production; last year Hartline caught just 35/66 passes (53%) with seven dropped passes. He has caught just two total touchdowns over the past two seasons and is not considered a threat after the catch, averaging just 3.4 yards after catch per reception.
WR Randy Moss, 49ers
The case for Randy Moss as a member of the New England Patriots can be easily made by reflecting upon his incredible production with the team from 2007-2009. New England’s offense lacks a tall receiver with the ability to get open downfield on a consistent basis, which is Moss’ specialty. He struggled through a weak 2010 campaign after being traded by the Patriots in midseason; upon being placed on waivers by the Minnesota Vikings, no teams aside from the Tennessee Titans put in a claim on Moss.
The future Hall of Famer sat out the 2011 season before returning to San Francisco as a member of the 49ers this season, where he was productive in limited time, catching 28/51 passes for 434 yards and three touchdowns (15.5 yards per reception.)
It appears that Bill Belichick has moved on from Moss, but nonetheless, re-signing bringing him back into the fold would be exciting, even if he turns 36 in February.
WR Steve Smith, Rams
Smith was on the field for just 181 snaps this season, catching 14/24 passes thrown his way. The season is the second straight disappointing performance since undergoing microfracture surgery in his knee following an injury sustained while playing with the New York Giants in 2010. However, at 27 years old, it’s possible that Smith could eventually recoup some of the athleticism that made him the 51st overall pick back in 2007 or one of the most dangerous slot receivers in the league back in 2009, when he caught 107 passes for 1,220 yards and seven touchdowns.
New England could likely sign Smith to a non-guaranteed one-year contract as inside depth; the receiver’s learning curve could be short after learning Kevin Gilbride’s difficult option-route offense in New York, which features some of the same concepts as Josh McDaniels’ scheme.
WR Mike Wallace, Steelers
Quite a few rumors prior to the 2012 NFL Draft had New England trading their first-round selection for Wallace, then a restricted free agent. The 26 year-old is considered one of the fastest, most dynamic receivers in the league, but held out this season and upon returning didn’t appear as critical to Pittsburgh’s offensive scheme as anticipated: he gained just 836 yards on the season, compared to 1,193 in 2011 and 1,257 in 2010. His yards per catch have been declining each of the past three seasons as well.
While Wallace would certainly inject some youth into New England’s receiver corps, it’s likely that his contract demands will prevent him from ending up as a member of the Patriots considering the money already invested in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
This season, adding Wallace is wishful thinking at best, especially because he is reportedly seeking a deal with an average annual value of $10 million or more.
TE Richard Quinn, Broncos
Quinn is a budget-priced optiojn who the Patriots could likely sign to a one-year contract should they decide that continuing to build tight end depth is in their best interests. He has appeared in just one game over the past two seasons, bouncing around between Washington (2011) and Cincinnati (2012).
The tight end, who turns 27 in September, is mostly appealing for his relationship with Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who drafted Quinn with the 64th overall pick in 2009. Quinn isn’t considered a dynamic receiving option, but he is an adequate run blocker who could potentially provide New England with some cheap, young roster depth in a move similar to the Patriots’ signing of Daniel Fells last offseason.
Quinn’s primary appeal to New England is as a low-risk player with low-to-moderate upside, although it’s somewhat difficult to imagine him unseating one of the Patriots’ various tight ends.
OT Ryan Harris, Texans
Harris entered the league as a third-round pick out of Notre Dame, where he was coached by former Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis; his quick feet appealed to Mike Shanahan, a longtime fan of the zone blocking scheme present in New England. In 2009 and 2010, Harris also played under current Patriots coordinator Josh McDaniels; he took over 400 snaps with the Houston Texans this season, primarily on the right side of Houston’s line.
Harris proved one of Denver’s most reliable offensive linemen early in his career, but has suffered a number of concerning injuries, most notably undergoing back surgery briefly after signing with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2011. While Harris is talented enough to start for most zone-blocking schemes, his inability to stay healthy (having played in just 62 of 96 possible games) will likely force him to sign a one-year deal.
He would make sense as a swing reserve option in New England, especially if Sebastian Vollmer opts to sign elsewhere.
OG Russ Hochstein, Chiefs
Despite the fact that he will turn 36 years old in October and has not been considered a starting option for the past two seasons, Russ Hochstein is a player whose familiarity with New England’s coaching staff could justify a camp invitation. Hochstein, who typically functions as a swing lineman at the three interior spots, has also lined up as a short-yardage fullback and even left tackle in a pinch.
The veteran joined New England back in 2002, eventually developing into a situational starter before following Josh McDaniels to Denver in 2009. The move resulted in his most substantial role yet: he started ten games with the Broncos that season and six more in 2010. Last season, Hochstein was signed to Kansas City by Scott Pioli, making one start at center.
Hochstein’s presence in New England would likely be as a veteran mentor if anything; his readiness is appealing, but it would not come as a surprise if he opted to retire instead.
OG Mike Pollak, Panthers
Pollak hasn’t seen the field for Carolina this season after signing with the team as a free agent this past offseason, but he remains another low-risk investment who could provide New England with an athletic swing reserve capable of playing either center or guard.
Pollak started eight games for the Colts last season, taking snaps at all three interior offensive line positions and allowing just one sack on the season. He previously contributed to the Colts as an offensive guard in the 2008, 2009, and 2010 seasons, primarily on the right side, having improved in each season.
With offensive guard Donald Thomas set to become a free agent who may be offered a starting job this offseason, the Patriots may be forced to find a more affordable alternative, which is how Pollak could become an option.