Arbella Early Edition

Why Pats can't afford to wait until NFL Draft to address WR needs

The Patriots need to show some urgency in free agency at a key position.

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After the New England Patriots watched Calvin Ridley sign a lucrative contract with the Tennessee Titans, CBS Sports' Josina Anderson reported the Patriots will "mainly turn their attention to the (NFL) Draft" to address the wide receiver position.

If you're skeptical of that potential plan, you're not alone.

Wide receiver is one of New England's biggest offseason needs, and while the team re-signed Kendrick Bourne on a three-year contract, it also released DeVante Parker, leaving behind a relatively uninspiring core of Bourne, JuJu Smith-Schuster, DeMario Douglas, Tyquan Thornton and Jalen Reagor.

Fortunately, the 2024 NFL Draft receiver class is incredibly deep, led by top prospects Marvin Harrison Jr., Rome Odunze and Malik Nabers. But can de facto general manager Eliot Wolf really rely on the draft to build a solid receiver group, or should he look to add a quality wideout in free agency first?

Our Phil Perry made the case for the latter Wednesday on NBC Sports Boston's Arbella Early Edition, advocating for New England to target the recently-released Mike Williams.

"In my opinion, you need two starting-caliber receivers, not one," Perry said, as seen in the video above. "(Williams) would be one, then maybe you get another in the second or third round of the draft. But you have to start somewhere. You can't hope that you bring in three or four rookies at that position and hope two of them hit. That's not a viable plan."

Williams is a dynamic deep threat when healthy who racked up 139 catches, 2,041 yards and 13 touchdowns over the 2021 and 2022 seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers. While his 2023 season ended in Week 3 due to a torn ACL, he'd still fill a specific need for New England, our Tom E. Curran argued.

"You need an 'X' receiver, a boundary receiver, a DeVante Parker (type)," Curran said. "You can absolutely go in with a straight face saying DeMario Douglas is a starting-level slot, no question. But to me, you have to fill out those other spots."

The Patriots have other options if they're not keen on Williams. They've reportedly expressed interest in former Cincinnati Bengals receiver Tyler Boyd, while Marquise Brown and K.J. Osborn are free agents as well. New England also could look to the trade market, where Tee Higgins, Brandon Aiyuk and Keenan Allen all reportedly could be available.

But if Wolf and Co. want to be somewhat competitive in 2024, Perry and Curran both believe they can't bank on the draft to fill their many roster needs.

"If this window passes, which it appears it's going to, with no high end talent, you're left looking at the end of April for a bunch of 22-year-olds," Curran said.

The Patriots still had more than $50 million in cap space as of Thursday, so they have the resources -- and the motivation -- to add at wide receiver in free agency.

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