By Tom E. Curran
When and if the labor situation gets settled, the NFL's free agent shopping period will follow soon after. Who's out there? What do the Patriots need? What do the Patriots have? We'll go position-by-position to bring you up-to-speed. WIDE RECEIVERStatus Report: The Patriots scored 31 or more points in every game after the Cleveland debacle. 39, 31, 45, 45, 36, 31, 34, 38. Five players caught more than 30 balls, six players were over 375 yards receiving. Their passing game is excellent. Their wide receivers had a terrific year. But still...there's something that makes you feel they could be more complete at the position. And better stocked for the future.Who They Got: Wes Welker is entering the final year of his contract and is about to turn30.Coming off the ACL injury, he hada modest year by his recent standards - 86 catches for 848 yards and 9.9 average. His could be a sticky renegotiation.Deion Branch is 32. His presence kick-started the offense and - in an upset - opened things up for diversity the way Randy Moss didn't. Brandon Tate remains raw but he's their X receiver. Julian Edelman had a very disappointing second year and was plagued by drops. Taylor Price performed a season-long apprenticeship as a rookie before making three catches in the regular-season finale. What They Need:For one thing, they need to panic less than the region did after the playoff loss to the Jets. FIELD STRETCHAAAHHH! THEY NEED A FIELD STRETCHAAHHH! They do need a better outside the numbers threat than simply Tate, though. And they need better depth at all three receiver spots. But the transformation of the passing game from a wideout-based one to one that features tight ends means we have to redefine what they need going forward. The Patriots have made a habit of trying to find smart, veteran receivers who are advanced in the pro passing game. Those are the ones with whom Brady has most success. There have been misses - Torry Holt, Joey Galloway - but they are always looking for that kind of player. Who's Out There: Braylon Edwards (Jets),Sidney Rice(Vikings), Brad Smith (Jets), Steve Smith (Giants), Santonio Holmes (Jets), Santana Moss (Redskins), Terrell Owens (Bengals), Mike Sims-Walker (Jaguars), Randy Moss (Titans), Lance Moore (Saints), Jacoby Jones(Texans) Possible Targets: Santana Moss, Brad Smith, Lance Moore, Jacoby Jones. Braylon's a moron; Santonio and the Giants Steve Smith want to stay where they are. Santana Moss is a smart route runner. Smith is a Swiss Army knife and his gain would be the Jets' loss. One guy the Patriots should explore is the Panthers' Steve Smith. He turns 32 in May and has two years left on his contract. He's got nobody to throw to him in Carolina and his numbers reflect that 46 catches for 554 yards last year. He is the same as a Corey Dillon or Randy Moss - very talented, very competitive and combustible. New England would be Eden for him for a year or two. A third-round pick could get it done on draft day. More than Chad Ochocinco, who - a well-informed source recently told me - has lost his nerve and work ethic - Smith is the kind of player to target.