Sunday 7: Is DeVante Parker the No. 1 WR the Patriots needed?


1 – On some level, Bill Belichick answered the calls of media and fans alike over the weekend with New England’s reported trade for Dolphin's wide receiver DeVante Parker.

Nearly anyone who’s expressed an opinion about the Patriots this offseason has discussed the need for the team to add to the wide receiver position, preferably a No. 1 target to help Mac Jones take his game to the next level in his sophomore season.

And Parker’s addition to the depth chart makes sense on most levels.

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He’s indeed a big-name, big-bodied (6-3, 219) former first-round pick under a pretty reasonable contract that pays him salaries of just more than $5.5 million the next two seasons with corresponding salary cap charges of just more than $6 million a year.

New England didn’t give up a ton for Parker, sending a third-round selection to the Dolphins in exchange for the receiver and a fifth-round pick.

Not bad at all for a target who at his best caught 72 passes for 1,202 yards (16.7 avg.) with nine touchdowns in his top NFL season in 2019.

For a Patriots team with questions about talent in terms of pass catchers as it slogs through a pretty lackluster offseason, Parker is indeed an intriguing addition.

But that’s not to say that Parker doesn’t bring questions with him to Foxborough or that he answers all the questions the Patriots have at receiver. Nope.

First, the 29-year-old Parker’s health and production have fallen in over the last couple years. That breakout 2019 season was the only season of his seven-year career in which he was on the field for every game. He’s missed time throughout his career to a variety of injuries, including nine games over the last two years.

There is also the question of whether, even at his best, he’s truly a No. 1 wide receiver. He’s never been to the Pro Bowl. He’s notched more than 70 catches or more than 1,000 yards just once in his career. And despite his palatable paycheck, his former team has invested heavily at the wide receiver position to draft Jaylan Waddle in the first round last spring and trade for Tyreek Hill this offseason.

Belichick and New England know firsthand what Parker can do to a defense when he’s healthy and on his game. He put up eight catches for 137 yards against Stephon Gilmore as the Dolphins upset the Patriots to close out the 2019 regular season, one of three 100-yard games against New England over his career.

Parker is a nice addition to the Patriots complement of wide receivers. He brings size, experience and upside to the outside.
Optimistically, he’s a proven possession type receiver and playmaker. He should and almost certainly will help New England in 2022 if he’s healthy.

But Parker is not the true No. 1 receiver most fans have been lusting after to pair up with Jones for the foreseeable future. At best, Parker is a talented veteran with upside for the next few seasons. At worst, he’s an injury-prone, complementary receiver thrown into a relatively crowded competition at the position that probably still lacks a true go-to guy for Jones.

2 – It’s worth wondering if the addition of Parker to the mix alters the Patriots perceived need at receiver heading into the NFL Draft later this month. Many mock drafts and analysts had posed the possibility that New England could look to the receiver position early in the draft, maybe even at No. 21 overall. But Parker’s addition, ongoing rumors of the Patriots having interest in Odell Beckham Jr. and other top needs could now make a receiver selection in the first or second round a bit less likely. It certainly depends on how the board falls on draft night, but it would be a shame if the Patriots passed on a young receiver with true No. 1 potential simply because of the addition of the veteran Parker. For a team seemingly taking a long-term approach to talent acquisition this offseason, adding a high-end rookie receiver should still be a top consideration if the value presents itself.

3 – It only took Patriots owner Robert Kraft about 10 minutes to express plenty of interesting comments this week at the NFL meetings in Palm Beach, Fla. A lot of attention went to Kraft lamenting his team’s lack of a playoff victory in the last three years as well as his continued critiques of Belichick’s recent dismal drafts prior to last April’s rebound success selecting young talent.

But it was just as interesting to hear Kraft talk about free agents from last year’s spending spree “who didn’t perform well” and New England’s “talent that hasn’t been tapped into.”

Though there are a number of possibilities of which players Kraft may have been alluding to – or group of players – the first name that has to come to mind is tight end Jonnu Smith.

Smith landed a four-year, $50 million contract in New England last March. He’s the second-highest paid tight end in football. Yet he had just 28 catches for 294 yards with one touchdown in a dismal first season in Foxborough. He played in 16 games, but failed to make much of a positive impact and at times was a detriment to the offense.

Of course Smith never had more than 41 catches or 448 yards in any of his first four seasons in Tennessee. So it’s debatable how much production he might offer that hasn’t been “tapped into” or whether he simply is what he is at this point in his career. If it’s the latter, then what he is might be one of the most overpaid players in the NFL with three seasons left on his deal that includes a cap number of more than $13 million in 2022, which is fourth-highest on the team.

4 – Just ahead of Smith on the Patriots’ salary cap list is another 2021 free agent disappointment who Kraft could be talking about in veteran receiver Nelson Agholor. The former Eagle and Raider has a cap charge of just under $15 million. That’s a lot of dough for a guy who caught just 37 passes for 473 yards with three touchdowns in 15 games played. With the arrival of Parker and the developments of Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne, Agholor may not be in line for too many extra chances to prove himself or improve his worth this fall, the final year of the two-year deal that brought him aboard from Las Vegas after his 2020 season in which he averaged by far a career-best 18.7 yards per catch with the Raiders.

5 – While noting his disappointment in the return on his investment into the offense last year, Kraft also said that he’s hopeful regarding “changes to take advantage” of what some of the underperforming players do best. Given that longtime respected Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels moved on to become head coach of the Raiders this offseason, Kraft’s comments are particularly interesting. First, they can be seen as little other than a criticism of McDaniels’ ability to get the most out of those players in his final season in New England. Given that the Patriots have not named an offensive coordinator replacement and have chosen to install former special teams coach Joe Judge and former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia on the offensive staff, it will be interesting to see who exactly is helping Belichick make the changes to the offense and what those changes might be. Given the makeup of the staff at this point, it’s hard to fathom the Patriots are better equipped now to maximize offensive talent than they were a year ago under McDaniels’ proven leadership.

6 – The NFL announced the details of the league’s offseason workout program this week. Phase one of voluntary program begins on April 18 in New England, which includes two weeks of activities limited to meetings, strength and conditioning and rehab. The second phase of the program includes three weeks of non-contact on-field workouts. Phase three includes 10 days of organized team activities (OTAs) over four weeks, still without live contact. The Patriots OTA sessions are scheduled for May 23-24, May 26, June 1-3, June 13-14 and June 16-17 with the team holding its mandatory veteran mini-camp from June 7-9.

7 – The NFL voted to alter its overtime rules for postseason games this past week. The updated rule will guarantee both teams a possession in overtime in playoff games only. While the change is seen as a direct response to the Chiefs win over the Bills in the divisional round this past January in which Buffalo’s Josh Allen never got a chance to touch the ball in the extra period of his epic shootout with Patrick Mahomes, it’s not the only Kansas City game that may have played a role in the new format. Patriots fans will remember fondly the AFC title game after the 2018 season in which Tom Brady and Co. advanced to Super Bowl III thanks to a 13-play, 75-yard march to open overtime with Mahomes a helpless spectator at Arrowhead Stadium. Unbiased fans of both classic playoff shootouts probably agree with the rule change that could have brought even more excitement, drama and history to those memorable matchups.

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