Free Agent Primer: Wide Receivers

191543.jpg

Free Agent Primer: Wide Receivers

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com

This is the second in a series of looks at the Patriots' position-by-position needs after the draft, and who's available to fill them via free agency . . . whenever free agency might come. Today's position: Wide receiver. Who's here?
Wes Welker, DeionBranch, Brandon Tate, Julian Edelman, Taylor Price, Matthew Slater, Darnell Jenkins, Buddy Farnham. Who's out there?
Legedu Nanee (Chargers), Steve Breaston (Cardinals), Malcom Floyd (Chargers), Lance Moore (Saints), Steve Smith (Giants), Brad Smith (Jets), Santonio Holmes (Jets), Dane Sanzenbacher (Ohio State), What's the need?
Let's call it a 7.5
Wes Welker is entering the final year of his contract and he just turned 30. He's caught an amazing total of 432 balls in four seasons with the Patriots and averages seven catches and 70 yards a game. Despite all that, I have the feeling he's in for a contractual mud-wrestle with the Patriots. His productivity is going to decline, he is not the most surehanded receiver (he led the league with 13 dropped passes in 2010), his skill set is - while wondrous - not entirely unique (in three games replacing Welker, Julian Edelman has 24 catches for 245 yards and two touchdowns). Time to think about life post-Welker. Meanwhile, Branch turns 32 in July. Tate doesn't have the route-running skills of Branch or Welker. Taylor Price remains a developmental prospect. Slater is a special teams guy. Farnham is roster fodder. Darnell Jenkins (write it down) is going to be a big contributor. The Patriots are going to need a slot guy (Edelman can be that) and a route-runner that can be physical, precise and Givens-esque. I'm not sure Price can be that. Who do they chase?
The best wide receiver available is Santonio Holmes. His hands, speed, route-running and big-game experience make him attractice. He's also leaning toward rejoining the Jets when the labor mess gets solved so, unless the Patriots want to pay through the nose for a guy who has had some off-field issues, he'd be off the board. Steve Smith of the Giants would be the best fit but he said he's been promised by New York that he'll be given a new deal even if he falls into the RFA net and sounds inclined to stay. Lance Moore, Brad Smith and Sanzenbacher would be good targets. Moore because he can play the slot but also be a downfield threat (his speed is greater than Welker's). Smith would give them versatility and rob the Jets of a weapon. Sanzenbacher is an ideal Patriots-style pickup. Who do we look at next?
Offensive linemenTom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

It's official: Patriots nab third-round compensatory pick in Collins trade

browns-collins-jamie-collins-012017x.jpg

It's official: Patriots nab third-round compensatory pick in Collins trade

The Patriots received a conditional fourth-round pick in 2018 from the Browns in return for Jamie Collins. That's how the trade was described on the league's transaction wire. 

The "condition" of that fourth-rounder? Well, if the Browns received a third-round compensatory pick in 2017, the Patriots would nab that pick instead. 

On Friday, the NFL announced that the Browns had in fact been awarded a third-round compensatory pick, which meant that almost three full weeks after Super Bowl LI, everything was still coming up Patriots.

In actuality, the odds were pretty good all along that the Patriots would get what they got

Cleveland lost Pro Bowl center Alex Mack in free agency last offseason when he opted to sign with the Falcons. Because compensatory picks are based on free agents lost and free agents acquired, and because the Browns did not sign any similarly-impactful free agents, there was a good chance Mack's departure would render a third-round comp pick that would be shipped to New England.

Had Mack suffered a significant injury that forced his play to drop off or limited his time on the field, a third-rounder may have been out of the question, but he played well (named a Pro Bowler and a Second Team All-Pro) and stayed healthy -- lucky for the Patriots -- missing just 17 total snaps in the regular season. 

The Browns comp pick that will be sent to New England is No. 103 overall. The Patriots were also awarded a fifth-round comp pick, No. 185 overall. That was a result of the league weighing the departures of Akiem Hicks and Tavon Wilson against the arrival of Shea McClellin.

The Patriots now have nine selections in this year's draft: One first-rounder; one second-rounder; two third-rounders; one fourth-rounder*; two fifth-rounders; two seventh-rounders.

The third-round compensatory pick acquired by the Patriots carries additional value this year in that it is the first year in which compensatory picks can be traded. A near top-100 overall selection may allow the Patriots to move up the draft board or build assets in the middle rounds should they be inclined to deal. And we know they oftentimes are. 

* The Patriots forfeited their highest fourth-round selection in this year's draft as part of their Deflategate punishment. They acquired a fourth-round pick from the Seahawks last year. Because that would have been the higher of their two selections, that's the one they'll lose. They will make their own fourth-round pick at No. 137 overall.

Gronkowski says he has 'no doubt' he'll be ready for start of next season

Gronkowski says he has 'no doubt' he'll be ready for start of next season

When it comes to projecting Rob Gronkowski's health, it's been best to steer clear of absolutes. There have been too many injuries, too many surgeries, to predict exactly how he'll feel months in advance. 

Still, in speaking with ESPN's Cari Champion recently, he said he had "no doubt" he'll be ready for Week 1 of the 2017 regular season. 

"Yes, for sure," he replied when asked if he expected to be good to go. 

Gronkowski also fielded a question about his long-term future in the sit-down. Lately it's been his coach Bill Belichick and his quarterback Tom  Brady who receiver all the life-after-football queries, but Gronkowski, 27, was asked how much longer he'd like to play. 

"I’m not really sure," he said. "I mean, I still love playing the game, and as of right now, I want to play as long as I possibly could play. My mindset is to keep on going."

Gronkowski landed on season-ending injured reserve in December after undergoing a procedure on his back -- his third back surgery since 2009. He's had nine reported surgeries -- including procedures on his knee, forearm and ankle -- since his final year at the University of Arizona.