You can’t say the Patriots haven’t done anything to bolster their weaponry for Tom Brady this off-season.
The free agent signings of Bruce Ellington, Maurice Harris and Matt LaCosse may as well have been nothing in March, but at the very least there’s tangible upside with the signings of tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas over the last week.
That said, neither Seferian-Jenkins nor Thomas are locks to make New England’s roster come Week 1 vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers. Both players ended last season on injured reserve and are guaranteed a combined $200,000. Pocket change.
With the NFL draft next week, there’s still time for the Patriots to address the positions not only with some of their 12 selections, but via trade. Randy Moss was acquired on the day of the draft once upon a time.
The names below aren’t quite Antonio Brown or Odell Beckham Jr. – two other prominent receivers who were traded earlier this off-season – but nevertheless would represent upgrades in Foxboro. For the most part, they come from teams in transition with seemingly little to play for in 2019.
Emmanuel Sanders, Denver Broncos
Sanders nearly came to the Patriots six years ago – while with the Pittsburgh Steelers, he visited Foxboro as a restricted free agent and received an offer sheet, with Mike Tomlin and Co. ultimately deciding to retain his services. He became an unrestricted free agent following the season and joined the Broncos, where he’s played ever since.
Though Denver acquired veteran Joe Flacco at quarterback with an eye on competing this season, the Broncos fall from grace since winning Super Bowl 50 after the 2015 season probably hasn’t even reached its lowest valley yet. Sanders just turned 32, and he’s been hampered by injuries to his ankle and Achilles in each of the last two seasons, so the cost for acquiring him shouldn’t be exorbitant. Sanders had more than 1,000 yards in each of his first three seasons in the Mile High City and ample experience playing in the slot. There’s one year left on his contract with a base salary of $10.25 million and a cap hit up just under $13 million.
Possible trade: Sanders to New England for a 2019 sixth-round draft pick.
A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
Despite the limitations of playing on a Marvin Lewis-coached and Andy Dalton-quarterbacked team, Green has been extremely productive during his first eight seasons. He played in at least 13 games in each of his first five seasons, topping 1,000 yards in all of them. Hamstring and toe injuries have limited Green in two of the last three seasons, however, totaling 35 of a possible 48 games over the stretch.
Still, it might be worth a call over to the Queen City for Green. With the Bengals (finally) moving on from Lewis this off-season, and Dalton carrying no more guaranteed money on his contract, Cincinnati would be wise to completely start over under new coach Zac Taylor. Green is a free agent after the 2019 season, for which he’s due a base salary of just under $12 million. He’ll be 31 on July 31.
Possible trade: Green to New England for a 2019 fourth-round draft pick.
Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
Trade rumors linking Fitzgerald to the Patriots used to be an annual rite of passage, with chatter swirling both in the off-season and in the leadup to the NFL trade deadline. At this point though, with Fitzgerald set to turn 36 on Aug. 31, he’s in the desert for life – unless he asks out in search of a ring that’s eluded him throughout a brilliant 15-year career. It’s hard to fathom this, but he’s basically the Tom Brady of the Arizona Cardinals.
Possible trade: Fitzgerald to New England for a 2019 sixth-round draft pick.
Torrey Smith, Carolina Panthers
Smith has had big games against the Patriots in the past when a member of the Baltimore Ravens, and was pretty good in Super Bowl LII with the Philadelphia Eagles (five catches, 49 yards). His first year with the Panthers was one to forget, dealing with a knee injury that limited him to 11 games and only 17 catches.
Smith, 30, is currently third on Carolina’s depth chart at receiver. There’s no guaranteed money left on his deal; he’s due a base salary of $5 million in 2019.
Possible trade: Smith to New England for a 2020 fifth-round draft pick.
Options at tight end may be even more scarce than what’s available at wide receiver. What’s more, some of the only realistic trade targets are old. As in, drafted four years before Rob Gronkowski: Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker were both drafted in 2006, coincidentally both by the San Francisco 49ers. Both players will be playing their age 35 seasons in 2019.
Davis, now with Washington, has one year left on his deal that will pay him $4.75 million with a cap hit of roughly $6.3 million. He caught only 25 passes in 2018, his lowest mark since catching 20 his rookie season, and two touchdowns.
Walker was a late-bloomer as a reliable receiving option – in part to being stuck behind Davis on the depth chart in San Francisco – and was injured in last year’s season opener for the Tennessee Titans. However, he was a Pro Bowler each of the three years prior, including a career-best 94 catches for 1,088 yards in 2015.
Walker has two years left on his contract totaling $17 million, with a cap hit north of $6 million this season and $8 million in 2020.
One more candidate could be Kyle Rudolph of the Minnesota Vikings, given the fact they’ve recently paid wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen monster extensions. Rudolph, who doesn’t turn 30 until Nov. 9, has one year left on a deal that’ll pay him $7.275 million. He had 64 catches for 634 yards in 2018, each mark the second-best of his eight-year career.
Possible trade for Davis: Davis to New England for a 2020 seventh-round pick.
Possible trade for Walker: Walker to New England for a 2019 seventh-round pick.
Possible trade for Rudolph: Rudolph to New England for a 2019 third-round pick.