The New England Patriots lack of receiving prowess is well known going into this offseason. Currently the Patriots only have four wide receivers signed for 2012 and only one with any significant playing time. Britt Davis was a practice squad member in 2011 who has only played in three NFL games with no receptions. Julian Edelman had 37 receptions in 2009 but has had only 11 receptions over the last two seasons. The former college quarterback played most of the 2011 season as a defensive back for the Patriots struggling secondary. Tiquan Underwood was signed and released three different times during the 2011 season. He has only had 11 career receptions in parts of three seasons between Jacksonville and New England. The only player with any experience currently under contract with the Patriots is Chad Ochocinco who was more than disappointing in 2011 only recording 15 receptions for 276 yards and one touchdown. It’s likely the six-time pro bowler will not be back in 2012.
The Patriots have two primary receivers that are set to be free agents in 2012. Wes Welker was the leading receiver in 2011 with 122 receptions for 1,569 yards and nine touchdowns. The Patriots will almost certainly re-sign Welker or place the franchise tag on him ensuring his return. The Patriots are in desperate need of a deep threat receiver and will likely be signing one through free agency. Some of the candidates include Reggie Wayne, Brandon Lloyd, and Vincent Jackson. They may also draft a receiver in the NFL Draft but with more pressing needs on defense, the first round picks will likely go in that direction.
The other wide receiver free agent the Patriots have is Deion Branch. Branch played his first four seasons in New England before leaving for Seattle. The former Super Bowl MVP returned to the franchise that drafted him in 2010 tallying 48 receptions for 706 yards. In 2011, Branch had 51 receptions for 702 yards and five touchdowns. If Branch does re-sign, he will likely be the third receiver behind Welker and a new free agent signing but can the Patriots really afford to lose him?
The Patriots do use tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez a lot in their passing game but if the offseason signings and departures go as expected, the Patriots will have only two receivers on their roster other than Branch with any significant NFL experience. If Branch isn’t re-signed, the third receiver for the Patriots would likely be either a player who has only participated in 18 games over three NFL seasons or a former college quarterback who spent most of 2011 on the defensive side of the ball.
Possibly the best reason for the re-signing of Branch is that he has stated he wants a return to New England in 2012. Shortly after the Super Bowl, Branch told the media that New England is “where I want to retire”. Branch knows that Welker is higher on the depth chart than him and that the Patriots will be looking to free agency for a receiver which would also be higher than him. But Branch likes playing in New England and would like to continue his career there. Besides his desire to return, Branch is a more than capable third receiver and would be an asset to the 2012 New England Patriots.