Patriots free agent targets: Are these five WRs worth pursuing?


The New England Patriots took an important step toward rehabilitating their offense this offseason by replacing Matt Patricia with Bill O'Brien at offensive coordinator.

Now, they need to find O'Brien some new talent to work with.

The Patriots only had one wide receiver tally more than 550 yards in 2022, and he's about to hit unrestricted free agency. If New England can't re-sign Jakobi Meyers -- and there's a case for him earning a significant payday -- its wide receiver room will by led by two good-but-far-from-elite veterans (Kendrick Bourne, DeVante Parker) and a relatively unproven second-year wideout in Tyquan Thornton.

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Even if the Patriots retain Meyers, you could make the case that they need additional wide receiver help. That help could come in the 2023 NFL Draft, where several wideouts have been linked to New England in Round 1. It could also come via trade if the Patriots can stomach giving up draft assets to land a true No. 1 like Tee Higgins.

The third route is free agency, and while there isn't a wealth of talent in the 2023 class, there are a few names the Patriots could consider if they'd rather use their draft capital to address other needs.

Here are five wide receivers who are pending free agents and could make sense in New England. (All projected contracts courtesy of Pro Football Focus.)

1. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kansas City Chiefs

Age: 26

Projected contract: Three years, $ 36 million

Likelihood of joining Patriots (scale of 1 to 5): 2

If the Patriots want to splurge on a free-agent wideout, Smith-Schuster is their best option. Arguably the best free agent in this year's WR class outside Meyers, Smith-Schuster revived his career in 2022 by racking up 78 catches for 933 yards for the Super Bowl champion Chiefs.

Smith-Schuster won't make elite-WR money but played like an elite WR earlier in his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he appears to be back on the right track after a lost season in 2021. The question is whether New England would want to pay another wideout north of $ 10 million per year after getting little return from its investment in Nelson Agholor.

2. Allen Lazard, Green Bay Packers

Age: 29

Projected contract: Three years, $ 33 million

Likelihood of joining Patriots: 3

Lazard was Aaron Rodgers' No. 1 target in 2022, hauling in 60 passes for 788 yards and six touchdowns. At 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, he's almost built like a tight end, so perhaps Bill O'Brien could find some creative ways to use him if either Jonnu Smith or Hunter Henry aren't major factors in 2023.

Pairing Lazard with Parker also would give the Patriots two legitimate deep threats and give Mac Jones more confidence to air it out next season. Smith-Schuster might be a better on-field fit, but Lazard could cost less.

3. Kenny Golladay, New York Giants

Age: 29

Projected contract: TBD (Previous contract: four years, $ 72 million)

Likelihood of joining Patriots: 3

Like Smith-Schuster, Golladay was a Pro Bowl-caliber wideout earlier in his career, posting back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons with the Detroit Lions in 2018 and 2019. Unlike Smith-Schuster, he has yet to bounce back, and the Giants reportedly plan to release him after he caught just six passes in 12 games in 2022.

There's a reason Golladay is set to hit free agency, and he hasn't been productive since the 2019 campaign. He can be a No. 1 receiver at his best, however, so he could be a low-risk, high-reward addition if the Patriots can acquire him at a discount.

4. D.J. Chark, Detroit Lions

Age: 26

Projected contract: Three years, $ 35 million

Likelihood of joining Patriots: 3

Injuries have limited Chark to 15 games total over the past two seasons. But when he's healthy, the LSU product is a field-stretching burner; Chark averaged 16.7 yards per reception in Detroit last season (30 catches for 502 yards in 11 games), which would have ranked second on the Patriots behind only Parker.

Thornton could develop into a home run threat for New England, but Chark is a proven commodity with a 2019 Pro Bowl nod to his name who would add a dynamic dimension to O'Brien's offense, provided he can stay on the field.

5. Scotty Miller, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Age: 25

Projected contract: TBD (Previous contract: Four years, $ 2.6 million)

Likelihood of joining Patriots: 4

We wouldn't put it past Bill Belichick to go bargain-hunting for wide receivers, and Miller could be a potential target. He was buried on the Bucs' depth chart in 2021 and 2022 but caught 33 passes from Tom Brady for 501 yards during Tampa Bay's 2020 Super Bowl campaign and has the versatility to line up in the slot or the outside.

Miller would have much lower expectations than the four names above, and the Patriots would need to bring in additional help (and/or re-sign Meyers) to feel good about their WR room. But he's worth a look considering the cheap price tag.

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