2006: Talk about Mr. Reliable, Brown was running crisp routes and showing sure hands on third downs all season long. In his 14th year with the franchise, Brown became the Patriots all-time receptions leader, also tying fellow veteran Kevin Faulk as the team's third leading receiver with 43 catches for 384 yards. He continued his role as the team's answer man, returning punts and helping out infrequently on defense in the Patriots nickel package.
Outlook: According to the NFL Players Association, Brown will be an unrestricted free agent on March 2. He showed he's still got some of that Patriots mystique flowing through his veins in the playoff game against the Chargers when he made a heads-up play by stripping defensive back Marlon McCree of the football following a Tom Brady interception late in the fourth quarter. Brady called it the best play he's ever seen. An unnamed source recently told the *Boston Herald that Brown is considering returning next season, but the Patriots will need to re-sign him.
Reche Caldwell2006:Caldwell, a former Chargers receiver, arrived at Patriots Training Camp in the Fall as one of the nameless faces in the oversized crowd of players, but by the end of the regular season, he had more than made a name for himself as Brady's go-to guy. He had a career year, leading the team with 61 receptions for 760 yards and four touchdowns during the regular season, and superceded former PatriotDavid Givens** (9 catches for 738 yards in 2005), who left for the Titans as a free agent last year. Caldwell was a steady contributor, and finished the regular season with a bang, catching the Patriots longest pass of the year, a 62-yard touchdown, in the finale against Tennessee.
Outlook: Caldwell is under contract until the end of next season. He caught some flack from fans and the media after dropping two potential touchdown passes in the AFC Championship game, but he was consistent throughout most of the season and earned another go-round with the Pats.
2006: After finishing out a four-year contract with the Texans, Gaffney found himself without a team in the '06 season. That is, until the Patriots smartly picked him up on Oct. 9. It took Gaffney a while to find a role and earn the trust of his teammates – he only caught 11 passes for 142 yards during the regular season – but he heated up big time in the playoffs. He led the team with 21 receptions for 244 yards and two touchdowns in the Pats three postseason games after recording just six starts during the regular season.
Outlook: Gaffney's showed the kind of team mentality and work ethic that the Patriots like. He's locked up until the end of next season, and a strong offseason could do him well. As he continues to get on the same page with Brady his role could increase.
2006: After he ran a 4.32 second 40-yard dash and blew the competition out of the water in the pass catching drills at the 2006 NFL Scouting combine, Jackson became a hot commodity. The Patriots made a deal with Green Bay to move up in the second round, and grabbed him with the 36th overall pick. Unfortunately, leg and hamstring injuries kept him sidelined during training camp and into the beginning of the season. The 21-year old rookie caught 13 passes for 152 yards and three touchdowns, but never seemed to rebound from the late start. His role was reduced to mostly blocking toward the end of the year, and he didn't catch a pass in the playoffs.
Outlook: Jackson will need to work hard this offseason to live up to his potential in 2007. He'll definitely return, but his opportunity with the Patriots can't last forever if he fails to deliver.
Bam Childress and Kelvin Kight
2006: Both of these guys were added to the Patriots roster from the practice squad, which didn't carry any wideouts into the postseason. Childress caught two passes in the regular season for seven total yards and Kight snared one for nine yards. Neither of these guys looks to be much more than a practice squad player, though both of them worked hard this year.
Outlook: Either or both of these guys could be back next year, but neither of them is locked into a contract. They're both really in the same boat, since they were only used in the Jacksonville game on Christmas Eve.
Analysis: The most pressing issue facing the Pats receiving corps is the potential return of Brown. He's just done so much for the team, plugging personnel holes all over the field. He may not be as spry as he once was, but he's still an excellent possession receiver. The team was really thin at the wide receiver position all year, though the group worked well together, seemed to stay focused and got the job done surprisingly well. The team is probably going to have no choice but to make a few acquisitions in this department, by way of free agency and the upcoming draft to give Brady more to work with. He talked a lot this year about how he worked to perfect his long passes in the '06 offseason, but he hardly got to showcase the newly acquired skill this year.
Notes: The Patriots can designate a franchise player starting tomorrow (Feb. 8), but they have until Feb. 22 to do so. Patriots defensive lineman Jarvis Green was seen walking through the business offices at Gillette Stadium today around lunch time.