Keyshawn & Pats fit
A common refrain among NFL observers yesterday was perhaps put best by an agent.
“Who the (expletive) is going to play receiver for the Patriots?” he said.
It’s a fair question, and one the Patriots presumably have a plan to answer. But surveying the free agent landscape, there doesn’t appear to be much left in the wake of David Givens signing with the Tennessee Titans. Making matters worse, the draft class is considered thin, too.
Given the spread formations that have served the offense so well during Tom Brady’s tenure, the Patriots can ill afford to field a subpar receiving corps.
The Patriots currently have two experienced receivers under contract - Deion Branch and Bethel Johnson. While they have not yet begun talks to extend the former’s contract, he’s clearly their present and future at the position.
Johnson has largely underachieved, however, and seemed a candidate to be cut. As things stand, though, he’s their No. 2 receiver.
So who’s out there? An interesting name appeared on the market yesterday when the Dallas Cowboys released Keyshawn Johnson, a favorite of coach Bill Parcells who was due a $1 million roster bonus and $1.5 million salary.
The Cowboys are presumed to be clearing the decks to make a run at Terrell Owens, whom the Eagles released yesterday. While it seems highly unlikely the Pats would pursue a player as divisive and highly paid as Owens, Johnson makes a lot of sense.
Reports out of Dallas said the former Jets and Buccaneers standout seeks a two-year contract worth between $2 million and $3 million annually. At age 34, he’s nearing the end of the line, but he posted excellent numbers last year, catching 71 passes for 839 yards and six touchdowns.
The 6-foot-4, 214-pounder’s style of play very much fits the Patriots mold - big, strong, tough and willing to block in the running game. He would provide an excellent complement to the smaller, speedier Branch.
Jerome Stanley, Johnson’s agent, did not return calls seeking comment.
After Johnson, the dropoff appears pretty steep. Vikings wide receiver Nate Burleson is a restricted free agent just one season removed from amassing 1,000 yards. He regressed last year after quarterback Daunte Culpepper fell to a knee injury, catching just 30 passes for 328 yards.cw0
The Vikings gave Burleson the lowest possible tender of $712,000, making him much more attractive to opposing teams because signing him will only cost a third-round draft pick. The Vikings would have the right to match any offer sheet he signed.
Another potentially undervalued possibility is Bills receiver Josh Reed, who danced through the Patriots’ secondary for a 51-yard garbage time touchdown in December. Reed is a hard-nosed receiver unafraid to go over the middle. His numbers have suffered during Buffalo’s quarterback shuffle of the last two seasons. Following a career-high 58 receptions in 2003, he dropped to 16 in 2004 and 32 last year.
Reed’s agent, Ben Dogra, said he hasn’t heard from the Patriots.
A name not to forget is Troy Brown. The 13-year veteran told a West Virginia TV station Monday that he hasn’t decided if he’s going to play or retire. He has yet to hear from the Pats.
The remaining free agents are uninspiring. Seattle’s Peter Warrick is a former No. 4 pick who caught 79 passes with Cincinnati in 2003, but has hauled in just 22 since.
San Diego’s Reche Caldwell, Houston’s Jabar Gaffney and New Orleans’ Az Hakim would seem to lack Patriots toughness, while Peerless Price and Rod Gardner are coming off woeful seasons.
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