It seems like every few years the Patriots are desperately “thin” at wide receiver and Brady is forced to make something out of a whole lot of nothing.
Brady built the early part of his career off of solid-but-unspectacular guys like Deion Branch, David Givens, David Patten, Daniel Graham, Ben Watson, Christian Fauria, and, of course, my all-time-favorite Patriot Troy Brown. But in all honesty, while each of them had their moments, none of them could ever really be considered a stud, and they should all thank TB12 for giving them the notoriety they never would have had – and were never able to obtain again – without him behind center.
Then, in 2006, Brady got to the AFC Championship with Reche Caldwell and a 35-year-old Brown leading the way (before watching the defense blow a 21-point lead in vomit-inducing fashion, ultimately handing Peyton Manning his first ring.)
He finally got some pretty insane help at the age of 30 with the likes of Randy Moss and Wes Welker in 2007, before seeing the team draft players like Gronk, Aaron Hernandez (yeah, I know, but he was really good), and Julian Edelman over the next couple of years thereafter. But, again, before that Brady was always able to get it done no matter who was on the field.
There should be no doubt that Brady can always work with what’s in front of him, but over the years we’ve also seen plenty of highly-touted guys who simply can’t handle the Patriots “system” and flame out in a flash. Whether they were high draft picks or former standouts with other teams, here’s a short list of guys who came in with high expectations but just couldn’t hack it in Foxborough: Aaron Dobson; Joey Galloway; Bethel Johnson; Chad Ochocino; Brandon Tate; Reggie Wayne.
If you’ve been reading any Patriots news over the past week or two, it looks like Eric Decker might be the next guy to make that list.
After signing with the team two weeks ago, Decker has been having trouble just catching and holding on to the ball in camp, and a lot are starting to wonder if he’ll even make the team. Patriots Wire posted a story today highlighting Decker’s struggles while also offering some insight – via another free-agent wide-out addition that didn’t work out – as to why he’s been having such a tough time:
From experience, adjusting to the Patriots system has you thinking about what to do SO MUCH, that you lose concentration on routine things.
They (Coaches/Players) actually warned me about it ahead of time & told me when it happens “just keep pushing, it happens to everyone” https://t.co/ESr9O75Zd9
— Andrew Hawkins (@Hawk) August 13, 2018
So apparently, as some have alluded to over the years, Bill just asks too much of his receivers, and some guys can handle it more than others. I guess it’s as simple as that.
There’s still plenty of time for Decker to get it together, and the story even mentions that he made some nice plays at the end of yesterday’s practice, but there’s definitely reason for concern. Add that to the fact that Phillip Dorsett left practice due to injury on Tuesday afternoon (fortunately, it doesn’t look too bad from the sounds of it), and the Patriots current wide receiver situation looks potentially the worst it ever has throughout Brady’s entire career.
At this point, it looks like Chris Hogan and Cordarrelle Patterson are going to be the team’s top two receivers when the team kicks off the season against the Texans on September 9, and that can’t be giving anyone the warm and fuzzies.
Is it time to give Brandon LaFell a call?
Now, before Pats fans jump down my throat, let’s take another look at how it all really went down during his short two-year stint with the Pats.
LaFell finished his first season in New England with 74 catches, 953 yards, and seven touchdowns. Those are some very solid numbers, especially considering the previously mentioned issues with many of the team’s other free-agent additions. LaFell also caught the game-winning touchdown against the Ravens in the 2014 AFC Divisional Round playoff game. He was a really big part of the offense that year.
But something changed at the start of the 2015 season. LaFell started the year on the PUP list, and he was never able to overcome his nagging foot injury. He eventually finished the season with just 37 catches, before being cut by the Pats in the offseason.
It was a sad end to what looked like a promising career turnaround for the then-29-year-old, but he was fortunately able to catch on with Cincinnati only about a month after his release from the Patriots in March 2016. Over the past two seasons, he’s compiled a combined 116 receptions for 1,410 yards and nine scores – and all of that came while playing with Andy “Inconsistency is My Middle Name” Dalton.
I know I said last week that signing Dez Bryant would be a bad move for the Pats at this point, but that was solely because of Dez’s selfish attitude. LaFell has been nothing but a stand-up guy throughout his career, and the only reason he was cut by the Bengals this offseason is because he asked to be:
The #Bengals are cutting WR Brandon LaFell, his agent Jonathan Feinsod tells me. “We have been lobbying for his release for some time now and appreciate the Bengals granting our request,” Feinsod said.
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) August 2, 2018
(Why? I’m unsure. But again…Andy Dalton.)
(OK. Fine. Dalton’s not entirely terrible, but still.)
Taking a cheap flier on a guy who knows the “system” and has proven success with Brady can’t hurt. And as much as the team continues to say they’re impressed with some of what they’ve seen from the under-the-radar guys at camp, let’s not kid ourselves: this team needs some pass-catching help in a desperate way.
I, for one, would welcome LaFell back with open arms. Here’s to hoping Belichick and McDaniels will consider doing the same.