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2024 Free Agent Forecast: Wide Receivers 

The new NFL league year begins Wednesday, March 13, and with it, the advent of 2024’s free agency marketplace. Leading up to that day, we’ll examine the landscape from a Patriots perspective. Today, we analyze the wide receivers. 

Patriots wide receiver Kendrick Bourne
Patriots wide receiver Kendrick Bourne

Patriots Free Agents: Kendrick Bourne (UFA), Jalen Reagor (UFA)

Notable External Free Agents: Hollywood Brown, Calvin Ridley, Gabe Davis, Tyler Boyd, Josh Reynolds, Noah Brown

Positional Analysis: The Patriots are heading into yet another offseason where a top priority is adding offensive playmakers, which feels like a sentence we type every year in New England.

Patriots director of scouting Eliot Wolf said it best during combine week when he proclaimed that New England needs to "weaponize" their offense this offseason. The lack of playmakers for the Patriots has been a multi-year issue that has caused their offense to sink to the bottom in terms of overall efficiency and scoring, a problem that head coach Jerod Mayo addressed as well. 

"It's putting people on the offensive side of the ball that the defense has to prepare for," Mayo told reporters. "Whether that's double-teaming or anything like that."

Patriots wide receiver Demario Douglas
Patriots wide receiver Demario Douglas

To better understand a plan at wide receiver, let's discuss the Pats current roster. First, the only receiver under contract who should have a guaranteed role in the 2024 offense is second-year WR Demario Douglas. Douglas led the team with 561 receiving yards last season. From this perspective, Douglas would fit best moving forward as a pure slot with pass-game and gadget-play talents. Douglas's separation quickness and burst as a ball carrier make him a viable top-three receiver, but his size limits his upside as a three-down featured receiver.

With that in mind, it brings us to top in-house free-agent Kendrick Bourne. When healthy, Bourne was on pace for a career-high 864 receiving yards before tearing his ACL in late October. Bourne is on track to be medically cleared for the start of next season. He brings an infectious energy to the locker room and is a productive player when given opportunities.

Although the Patriots should entertain re-signing Bourne and continue integrating Pop Douglas into the offense, it becomes harder to upgrade offensively with only one spot up for grabs. New England needs to think bigger at receiver, so Douglas becomes a situational player, and Bourne is more high-upside depth behind a significant addition or two at the position.

As for the external free-agent market, the unfortunate reality for the Patriots is that the top-tier talent on expiring contracts didn't reach unrestricted free agency. The Bengals (Tee Higgins) and Colts (Michael Pittman Jr.) tagged their big-name wideouts, while the Bucs agreed to a contract extension with longtime star receiver Mike Evans. Although it would be nice to upgrade at wide receiver in free agency, the market is scarce when it comes to immediate impact talent. Due to the value in having those blue-chip receivers in today's NFL, teams aren't letting those pass-catchers walk for nothing. Nowadays, wide receiver-needy teams need to draft or trade for high-end playmakers. 

With that said, Jags receiver Calvin Ridley is the one impact receiver who will be on the open market, and he has always been a dream Patriots acquisition. Ridley is a premier route-runner coming off a 1,000-yard season after returning from a one-year suspension in 2022. A major stipulation in the trade that landed Ridley with the Jaguars from Atlanta is that the pick the Falcons received escalates to a second-rounder if Ridley signs an extension in Jacksonville. The Jags could end up valuing the second-rounder more than Ridley, even though the former first-rounder still has a knack for explosive plays. If he's available, the Pats should pounce.

Besides making a run at Ridley, what's left on the free-agent market for New England is mostly in a similar tier to their in-house veterans. We'd be wary of overpaying mid-level receivers such as Gabe Davis or Darnell Mooney, especially in a year where the NFL Draft is loaded with talent at the position -- you can find those guys in April. 

The bottom line for the Patriots is all avenues to upgrading their supporting cast for the next quarterback need to be on the table, including eating roughly $10 million in dead cap to release JuJu Smith-Schuster or $6 million in dead money to walk away from DeVante Parker. At this point, both are sunken costs that need to be cleared off the books.

New England's options aren't as robust as one would hope for an offense that needs playmakers and has the cap space to absorb a lucrative free-agent contract. For the Patriots, weaponizing the offense might need to wait until the draft.

DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and don't necessarily reflect those of the organization. Read Full Disclaimer

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