NEPD Editor: Matthew Jones
Assuming that the Pittsburgh Steelers opt not to match the one-year, $2.5 million offer sheet the New England Patriots signed restricted free agent wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to earlier this week, it’s possible that, by signing Sanders along with free agent wide receivers Julian Edelman, Michael Jenkins, and Donald Jones, the Patriots feel that they have sufficiently addressed the position in free agency, which could have significant repercussions for New England in the 2013 NFL Draft. Today, we’ll discuss whether or not wide receiver is still a draft priority for the organization.
New England currently has eight wide receivers under contract through at least 2013: Kamar Aiken, Danny Amendola, Jeremy Ebert, Julian Edelman, Andre Holmes, Michael Jenkins, Donald Jones, and Matthew Slater. Signing Emmanuel Sanders would increase that figure to nine. At least three of those players (four with the addition of Sanders and his $2.5 million offer sheet) are owed contracts paying them over one million dollars in 2013. Amendola carries a cap figure of just over $3.5 million this season, while Slater is priced at almost $2.3 million, Jones is set to earn $1.19 million. The terms of Julian Edelman’s recent one-year agreement have yet to be announced, but it would come as no surprise if his contract paid him over $1 million in 2013 as well.
All of the above contracts include guaranteed money, meaning that the three players are all likely to make New England’s roster next season, while Julian Edelman’s one-year deal, the terms of which have not been announced yet, could very well include a cap figure over $1 million as well. Should Sanders sign, that would mean that the Patriots have at least five options at wide receiver who are projected to make the organization’s final 53-man roster (Sanders, Amendola, Edelman, Jones, and Slater.) Keep in mind that New England’s final 53-man roster last season following preseason’s conclusion included just four wide receivers: Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Edelman, and Slater; therefore, a decision to enter next season with as few as five receivers has some precedent within the organization.
If the Patriots are considering carrying a sixth receiver on roster, they could potentially opt to carry one of the other players currently signed in that capacity, perhaps Michael Jenkins. While Jenkins did not receive any guaranteed money on his one-year, $570,000 contract aside from a $15,000 workout bonus, he does have extensive NFL experience. In 2012, he caught 40 passes for 449 yards and two touchdowns over sixteen games with the Minnesota Vikings, including eight starts. Standing 6’4”, he would offer New England a taller option at receiver.
By offering Pittsburgh their third-round pick as compensation should the Steelers decline to match New England’s offer for Emmanuel Sanders, the Patriots will place themselves in a difficult position in this April’s draft, with just four picks remaining: their first-round choice (#29 overall), their second-round choice (#59 overall), and two seventh-round picks. Although New England has done an admirable job of limiting their draft needs by signing free agents such as Amendola, Edelman, Sebastian Vollmer, Armond Armstead, Tommy Kelly, Kyle Arrington, Aqib Talib, and Tavon Wilson, they may still find themselves unwilling to draft another wide receiver. Other possible directions in the first and second rounds include offensive guard, defensive end, and cornerback.
It would be wise of New England to take advantage of the top-end talent and considerable depth in this year’s wide receiver class, but with four highly-regarded weapons on offense already in Amendola, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Stevan Ridley, the Patriots can only integrate one other player into their offense without sidelining one of the aforementioned names. New England’s willingness to invest in Sanders, not only financially but also in terms of draft capital, seems to suggest that the Patriots view him as that fifth option.