FOXBORO - Nine NFL drafts have come and gone since the Patriots drafted Deion Branch and David Givens. And in those nine drafts, the Patriots have failed to find a wide receiver who can stick with their program for the long term. The latest to get flushed out came Saturday when Taylor Price, a third-round pick out of Ohio in 2010, was released. Price, like so many other receivers the Patriots have selected, was a bit of a project. Coming out of a run-based system at Ohio, he had a lot to learn about playing in a sophisticated and ever-evolving NFL passing offense like the Patriots'. The fact he wasn't able to join the Patriots until after his class at Ohio graduated put him three weeks behind going into the 2010 offseason training programs and head coach Bill Belichick cited that as a reason Price was slow to develop. He played in one game last season, the season finale, and had three catches. Those were the only three catches he made for the team. Belichick and offensive coordinator praised Price in August, saying,"He knows the offense better. His conditioning, his experience in the system last year. Of course, the offense that we run is quite a bit different than what he ran in college, so there's a lot of learning and technique work there. I think he's definitely way ahead of where he was last year."But he still couldn't get on the field. Last week against the Eagles, with Chad Ochocinco down because of a hamstring injury, the Patriots put Tiquan Underwood on the field instead of Price. Underwood's experience in New England was a cup of coffee at the end of training camp. So Price, who seemed to have the build and physical skills to be a player similar to Givens, washes out of the system. He joins Bethel Johnson, P.K. Sam, Chad Jackson, and Brandon Tate as wideouts New England's drafted with minimal returns on the investment. The other two wideouts they've taken - Matthew Slater and Julian Edelman - are still on the team and, thanks to their versatility, are making contributions elsewhere. What are the reasons for the Patriots' inability to develop wideouts? They've done great with their two young tight ends. They can pluck defensive linemen at the end of the draft and get terrific returns. They've done an outstanding job developing offensive linemen and running backs. But wideout is a blind spot. One reason is they don't put high value on the position and they always seem to be buying on the cheap. Sam was only 20 when the Patriots took him in the fifth round in 2004. He was immature. Tate was a third-round pick coming off a blown ACL when the Patriots took him in 2009. He didn't pan out and was released at the end of camp this year. The Patriots traded up to take Chad Jackson in the second round in 2006 but he was a disaster, uninterested in giving max effort and seemingly overmatched by the NFL. And Price was another dice roll. Living in the bargain bin has not yielded great results. The Patriots haven't really suffered. They are, after all, 22-5 since the start of last season. But with Wes Welker in his 30s and in the final year of his contract (he'll no doubt be franchised if the Patriots won't meet his contract demands) and Ochocinco a total non-factor, the wide receiver cupboard is virtually bare. Will this cause them to re-evaluate their stance and take awideout with a solid collegiate resume and a bright future in the NFL instead of taking projects and crossing their fingers that it works out? That's a question for after the season. Until then, we are in the Tiquan Underwood Era.
Like Bill Belichick says: jobs aren't won or lost during OTAs and minicamp. That doesn't mean we can't guess at who lands on the 53-man roster in September.
Mike Felger, Gary Tanguay, and Mike Giardi discuss the people criticizing Rob Gronkowski for the jokes he made at the David Ortiz roast.