- Field Yates, ESPN Insider
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With Josina's Anderson's tweet that free-agent Jabar Gaffney will sign with the New England Patriots, the team’s total number of wide receivers will reach 12 (not including undrafted free agent Matt Roark, whose deal is not yet official). That’s certainly more than the team can afford to keep on its 53-man roster, which indicates a compelling position competition will ensue over the new few months before final cuts.
Earlier this offseason, Mike Reiss compiled one look at a projected depth chart for the Patriots wide receivers, which we will use at the framework for another attempt at it, taking into account Gaffney’s reported two-year deal.
Included next to each receiver is his age (in parentheses), contract status, and 2011 receiving stats, followed by a quick-hit analysis.
1. Wes Welker (30)
Contact Status: Received the franchise tag this offseason, entitling him to a one-year, $9.5 million deal for 2012. Welker has yet to sign the tender.
2011 production (with New England): 122 catches, 1,569 yards, 9 touchdowns.
Analysis: Tom Brady’s favorite target and a force in the slot. Whether Welker signs a multi-year extension or plays under the franchise-tag, he enters 2012 as the team’s top receiver again.
2. Brandon Lloyd (30)
Contract Status: Signed a three-year, $12 million deal on March 17 with New England, including a $3 million signing bonus and a base salary of $900,000 for 2012.
2011 production (with Denver/St. Louis): 70 catches, 966 yards, 5 touchdowns.
Analysis: Lloyd was brought in via free agency, and provides the Patriots and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels (who coached Lloyd in both Denver and St. Louis in previous seasons) with a veteran deep threat.
3. Jabar Gaffney (31)
Contract Status: Reported two-year deal, terms unknown.
2011 production (with Washington): 68 catches, 947 yards, 5 touchdowns.
Analysis: Gaffney was previously productive as a role player for New England from 2006-2008, and has actually had his best seasons as a pro since leaving the team to follow McDaniels when he became the head coach in Denver. He’s steady, reliable, and a trusted option for Brady.
4. Deion Branch (32)
Contract Status: Signed a one-year, $1.325 million contract on March 22.
2011 production (with New England): 51 catches, 702 yards, 5 touchdowns.
Analysis: Branch was brought back to New England in 2010 for a reason, and he’s revered by Brady and Bill Belichick for his understanding of the offense and dependability. Although not the athlete of old, Branch remained a key part of the Patriots offense in 2011.
5. Donte’ Stallworth (31)
Contract Status: Signed a one-year, $875,000 contract on March 19.
2011 production (with Washington): 22 catches, 309 yards, 2 touchdowns.
Analysis: Another receiver in his second go-around with New England, Stallworth came on down the stretch for Washington in 2011, including a four-catch, season-best 96-yard effort against New England in December. His speed and familiarity of the offense are two factors working in his favor.
6. Chad Ochocinco (34)
Contract Status: Renegotiated his contract with New England this offseason, and is now due to make $925,000 in 2012 (plus a $100,000 workout bonus), and $3 million in 2013 (plus another $100,000 workout bonus).
2011 production (with New England): 15 catches, 276 yards, 1 touchdown.
Analysis: Restructuring his contract aligns his pay with how veteran players around the league are being compensated in similar reserve roles elsewhere.
7. Julian Edelman (25)
Contract Status: Has one year and $615,000 remaining on his rookie contract signed in 2009.
2011 production (with New England): 4 catches, 34 yards, 0 touchdowns.
Analysis: Edelman’s receiving production was limited in 2011, but he assumed a jack-of-all-trades role as a returner and slot cornerback in addition to his offensive duties. It’s no secret that Bill Belichick loves versatility, and Edelman’s effectiveness in three phases of the game makes him a valuable contributor.
8. Anthony Gonzalez (27)
Contract Status: Signed a one-year, $716,000 contract on March 17. Deal has a split in the event of injury.
2011 production (with Indianapolis): 0 catches, 0 yards, 0 touchdowns.
Analysis: Injuries have plagued Gonzalez in recent seasons, but he was once a reliable slot option for Peyton Manning in Indianapolis. If he can stay healthy – and that’s a big if right now – Gonzalez has a chance to compete for a roster spot.
9. Matthew Slater (26)
Contract Status: Signed a three-year, $5.4 million contract on March 14 that included a $2 million signing bonus and a base salary of $700,000 for 2012.
2011 production (with New England): 1 reception, 46 yards, 0 touchdowns.
Analysis: Although technically a receiver on the roster, Slater’s value is showcased on special teams, where he was a captain for New England in 2011. He has very good speed, toughness, and takes smart angles, making him a productive coverage player.
10. Tiquan Underwood (25)
Contract status: Signed one-year deal with $615,000 base salary on Feb. 7.
2011 Production (with New England): 3 receptions, 30 yards, 0 touchdowns.
Analysis: Still known best for being released on the eve of Super Bowl XLVI, the lean 25-year old remains somewhat of an unknown in New England. Given the experience and talent ahead of him, he has an uphill climb to reserve a roster spot.
11. Britt Davis (25)
Contract Status: Signed to a reserve/future contract on Feb. 7 (one-year deal, $465,00 base salary)
2011 Production (with New England): Spent late part of the season on the Patriots practice squad.
Analysis: Intriguing because of his very good size (6-foot-3, 205 pounds), Davis finds himself in similar territory to Underwood. He’ll need to excel during training camp to stick around.
12. Jeremy Ebert (23)
Contract status: Unsigned
2011 production: Rookie (selected in seventh round of 2012 draft)
Analysis: Developmental prospect who projects to the slot, where Welker, Edelman and Gonzalez all have contracts that expire after the 2012 season. Could project to practice squad.