Free Agent Primer: Wide Receivers

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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

When it comes to Gronkowski's restructured deal, 15 is the magic number

When it comes to Gronkowski's restructured deal, 15 is the magic number

Rob Gronkowski's contract looked like one of the NFL's best bargains not too long ago. Now, after agreeing to a contract restructure, he could be paid as the top tight end in the league if he stays healthy.

Granted, it's a gargantuan "if."

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Gronkowski's restructured deal will bump his salary for this upcoming season from $5.25 million to $10.75 million should he hit certain statistical thresholds or be named an All-Pro.

Per Schefter, Gronkowski earns $10.75 million if he plays 90 percent of the offensive snaps (which he's done once before in his career), or makes 80 catches (which he's done twice), or gains 1,200 yards receiving (once), or is named an All-Pro (three times). 

Those seem like lofty goals for the 28-year-old who's entering his eighth year as a pro. But history shows that if he stays on the field for a full season or thereabouts -- 15 games to be specific -- he'll get to where he wants to be. 

If you take out his rookie year, before he had established himself as a go-to option in the Patriots offense, Gronkowski has played in three seasons during which he's reached at least 15 games. In each of those three seasons, he's been named an All-Pro. In 2011, he hit all three statistical markers. In 2014, he hit one. In 2015, he hit none. 

The lesson? When Gronkowski stays relatively healthy throughout a given season, even if he doesn't reach the astronomical statistical heights he reached in his second year, there's a very good chance he's considered the best tight end in the NFL. 

And if that's the case again in 2017, he'll be paid like the best tight end in the NFL.

To hit the second tier of his restructured deal -- which would pay him $8.75 million, per Schefter -- Gronkowski needs to play 80 percent of the offensive snaps (which he's done twice), or make 70 catches (three times), or gain 1,000 receiving yards (three times), or catch 12 touchdowns (twice). 

To hit the third tier of his new deal and get $6.75 million, Gronkowski needs to play 70 percent of the snaps (which he's done four times), or make 60 catches (three times), or gain 800 receiving yards (three times), or score 10 touchdowns (five times). 

According to Spotrac, Jimmy Graham of the Seahawks is currently scheduled to be the tight end position's top earner next season at $10 million. Odds are that if Gronkowski avoids disaster and stays on the field, he'll eclipse that.

But the odds of him staying on the field are what they are: He's played in 15 games in four of seven pro seasons. 

The restructured deal seems to be the ultimate incentive for Gronkowski to get healthy and stay that way following last year's season-ending back surgery. If he can, the Patriots will reap the benefits of having the game's most dynamic offensive weapon on the field, and the player will be paid a far cry from what he was scheduled to make when the week began.