By Tom E. Curran
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran