Part of the fun of free agency is attempting to match a team’s style of play, needs, and available resources with players.
A player is cut and immediately the thought becomes, “Might he be a fit?” That almost seemed to take on a life of its own with recent reports that the Packers won’t be bringing back veteran defensive back Charles Woodson.
Of all the recent reports, one that stood out from this perspective was receiver David Nelson and the Bills. General manager Buddy Nix said Sunday that the club is not planning to tender him a contract as a restricted free agent, which will make Nelson an unrestricted free agent on March 12.
Nelson is the type of player I could see the Patriots targeting, and here’s why:
1. They targeted him before. When Nelson went undrafted in 2010, he received phone calls after the draft from two head coaches – then-Bills coach Chan Gailey and Patriots coach Bill Belichick. The Patriots were hoping to sign Nelson as part of their rookie free agent class, but Nelson saw a greater opportunity with the Bills.
2. They have a need at the position. Brandon Lloyd and Matthew Slater are the lone veterans currently under contract at the position, and Slater is similar to Larry Izzo in the sense that while Izzo was listed as a linebacker on the roster, he was really a pure special teamer (and a very good one at that).
3. They won’t have to spend a lot. Nelson missed almost all of last season with a knee injury. He’s not in position to command big dollars, but in terms of his health, he felt he would be ready to participate in OTAs.
4. They like the Florida pipeline. Nelson played at Florida, where the Patriots haven’t been shy at tapping a pipeline that has produced tight end Aaron Hernandez, linebacker Brandon Spikes and defensive end Jermaine Cunningham, among others.
5. They were hurt by Nelson in the past. In 2011, Nelson totaled six catches for 84 yards in a 34-31 win over the Patriots. The quickest way to catch Belichick’s eye is to hurt his team in a game situation (e.g. Wes Welker prior to 2007 trade when he played with the Dolphins). Nelson has some solid NFL production (61 receptions in 2011; 31 receptions in 2010), which is also important to the Patriots.
6. They could use some size. Nelson is 6-foot-5 -- that type of presence helps in the red zone -- and this is what Belichick said when asked about him back in 2010: “What he did with Florida is pretty much what he's doing with Buffalo in this league. He's a big target. He's got great range. He can get to a lot of balls, excellent hands. He's not the fastest receiver, but he's deceptive, and he's got a good burst and good quickness. If the quarterback puts the ball away from the defender, he can adjust and make the play, that kind of thing. He's a very crafty guy, and he's a smart football player. He knows coverages. He knows how to get open.”
For these reasons and more, Nelson is a player high on my free-agent possibilities list for the Patriots.