NFL free agency begins tomorrow as roughly 600 NFL players without a contract will hit the market. The Patriots, like every team, enters the period with many needs to address. Unlike every other team, the Patriots do have some wiggle room with roughly $16 million to spend.
Importantly, that $16 million takes into account the franchise tag of Wes Welker.
Despite Welker's return, the Patriots greatest offensive need remains at the receiver position. I would be surprised if Deion Branch returned, as Chad Ochocinco should be able to fill his role with another off-season under his belt.
There are plenty of options available for the Patriots in this free agency class to fill that very need.
At the top of the pile, Vincent Jackson may not be the ideal fit for the Patriots as they can't realistically commit the kind of money Jackson will be looking for in the long-term. Past Jackson, Mario Manningham will likely see a bidding war for his signature which would not be worth entering, Marques Colston is a possibility, depending on how the team thinks he would adjust to playing in the cold weather in Boston opposed to a dome in New Orleans.
Reggie Wayne and Randy Moss are unlikely to land in New England for very different reasons, while seemingly everybody expects Brandon Lloyd to follow Josh McDaniels to his new job.
There is one potential dark horse in this race however.
Bill Belichick has never been one to give up potential additions based on previous situations. Last year he was intelligent enough to bring in Mark Anderson and Andre Carter despite them not performing the prior seasons, while half the roster has seemingly been pulled from other team's practice squads.
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For this reason, I simply cannot rule out Braylon Edwards or Lee Evans as potential additions to solve the Patriots' receiving issues.
The first thing that comes to mind with Edwards is drops, drops and more drops. The first thing that comes to mind with Evans is that drop against the Patriots which sent them to the Super Bowl this past season.
However, what should also be noted about the two receivers is that they perfectly fit the role that the Patriots need to add to their receiving corp. Edwards and Evans have the speed to stretch the field and also the ability to take advantage of the single coverage they would likely receive.
Firstly, let's take a look at Lee Evans.
Evans, prior to last season, was a number one receiver in Buffalo with the Bills. Evans never had the supporting cast to properly flourish in Buffalo. Last season, with the Ravens, he had the opportunity to put up better numbers with the Ravens.
Unfortunately for Evans, he never got going as he got injured during the second game of the season and didn't return until Week 11. Moving to a new team, after years of being in one place, requires a certain level of adjustment which Evans was never afforded.
He did indeed drop what would have been a game winning touchdown pass in the AFC Championship, but one moment doesn't define a player and Bill Belichick will undoubtedly be intrigued by the option which Evans offers.
Despite being 31 years of age, Evans showed during his short spells on the field in Baltimore that he hasn't lost much of his speed. He can still consistently stretch defenses and has enough experience to use that speed to beat defenders in single coverage, something he would definitely get playing in an offense potentially featuring Chad Ochocinco, Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowksi and Aaron Hernandez.
Edwards had a similar season to Evans last year as injuries prevented him from ever really adjusting to his new home.
Edwards finished the season with only 15 receptions in five starts. The Prior season however, Edwards had finished the season with over 900 receiving yards and seven touchdowns averaging 17.1 yards per catch.
For all of his drop issues with the Cleveland Browns, Edwards was actually a decent receiver in New York with the Jets. Standing at 6-3, Edwards is a major match-up problem for defenses in the end-zone. Edwards is a receiver in the mold of Randy Moss even if he never reached the same heights of production.
Surprisingly, Edwards is still only 29 years of age and could really benefit from playing with an elite quarterback for the first time in his career.
The Patriots have a lot of work to do on their defense, offensively their only major weakness comes at receiver. As such, they will be hoping to improve that area without heavily investing in the position.
It may be unlikely that the team brings in either of these free agents, but you never know with Bill Belichick.